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How have you found being a mature student at the University of Chester?

As a mature student I was really anxious when I first came to Chester.  I started with a Foundation Year and was going on to do three years’ undergraduate study.  I assumed everyone on my course would be much younger and they would not want to talk to me.  During my first Freshers’ week I had to force myself to come on to campus.  Fake it till you make it they say.  So, I smiled, a lot – even though I wasn’t feeling it inside.

But one of the great things about Chester is its community.  The student population is really diverse, and there’s lots of older students.  Everyone is welcome here, and younger students do talk to me. They talk to me on my course, in the cafés, at the gym and, when I had mustered up the courage, in the societies I eventually joined.  I value the opinions of younger students, and they seem to appreciate I might bring a different perspective because I am older.  I’m way past my prime clubbing age, but I love to hear about nights out over coffee.  We go to the cinema, theatre, walking, quizzes, eat out, play board games, and drink lots of coffee!

Four years on, my sense of belonging has grown. I’ve finished my undergraduate studies and am now doing a Master’s in the Sociology of Sport and Exercise at Chester.  Deciding to stay was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Why did you choose to do a Foundation Year?

I didn’t have relevant qualifications to apply for an undergraduate course – no A Levels or equivalent certificates, and no UCAS points.  So, I had always thought entry to university was reliant on me obtaining additional qualifications.  But then I discovered there is no minimum educational or UCAS requirement for mature students applying for the Foundation Year at Chester.  It’s all about life experience and commitment to study, assessed through an interview with admission on a case-by-case basis.  I attended an Open Day, then got in touch with the Centre for Foundation Studies, who were so encouraging and gave me the confidence to consider applying.

For me, the beauty of the Foundation Year was the student finance, which covers not only the course fees but also provides a maintenance loan to help with living costs.  This meant I could devote all my time to studying, rather than having to balance lots of different commitments.  I’ve spent years as a working mother and was tired of juggling.  Student finance meant that I didn’t have to!

Before making a choice, I looked into access courses.  But while I could get funding for full-time course fees, I couldn’t get a maintenance loan like I could with the Foundation Year.  Since I have bills to pay, a full-time access course was not an option.  I considered part-time courses that would allow me to continue working so I would have an income.  However, as I explained above, I wasn’t keen to carry on juggling things in that way.  All indications were that the Foundation Year was the best option for me.

The final element that nailed it for me was that the Foundation Year could give me a taste of university life.  I would be “at” university from the start.  I had access to all the University’s facilities, could join student clubs and societies, and start meeting new people.  I simply didn’t want to spend a year anywhere else!

What was your favourite part of your Foundation Year?

Meeting lots of different people, of all ages and backgrounds was probably one of the best things about my Foundation Year.  In fact, the biggest piece of advice I would give to anyone interested in this course is to be open to all the different experiences and different people you are going to meet.

I would also say that I really enjoyed the lectures.  There are a wide range of courses covering many topics and the lecturers, who were really knowledgeable, made it all so interesting.  I had so much to talk about, not only with my fellow students but with my friends outside university, too.

I know it sounds a bit cliché, but I also learned so much about myself.  At the beginning, I didn’t have a clue how to approach an assignment, but the lecturers were always available to help.  By the end of the Foundation Year, I was much more confident about myself and my abilities. 

What support did you receive in your Foundation Year?

The Foundation Year academic staff were always so friendly and helpful, no question was too trivial.  Lectures were an hour longer than at undergraduate level, so there was plenty of opportunity to ask questions – but the lecturers made themselves readily available to students outside of lectures, too.  In addition to course lecturers, I also had a Personal Academic Tutor (PAT) .  My PAT helped guide and support me throughout the year, and I felt they were really invested in helping me get the most out of my studies.  Also, because the Centre for Foundation Studies is part of the University, I not only had access to academic support from the library staff and the dedicated Academic Skills team, I could also access wellbeing support services.

Coming back into education after such a long time, the Foundation Year taught me the key skills required for university study, for example critical thinking and effective research strategies.  It gave me the opportunity to try out what works for me, and what doesn’t, without it having any impact on my overall degree.  More than anything else, this is what increased my confidence so that I felt ready to start my undergraduate course.

What was your proudest / greatest accomplishment during your studies?

I think I am most proud of the change in my attitude towards study and towards myself. Like most students, I’ve had ups and downs during my studies. I have always struggled to really enjoy my own successes in life, preferring to focus on the achievements of others instead.  But now I would say I quietly enjoy the highs and am certainly more resilient to any knock-backs because I understand this is all part of the learning process.  That was one of the biggest takeaways from the Foundation Year: not always knowing what to do is part of learning, but I was more confident that whatever the problem, I would find a way to tackle it.

What were you doing before, and how much have things changed for you?

I was working full time in an office before I came to Chester and had been in the same job for over 20 years.  The people I worked with were great, but I was getting bored of doing the same thing.

Perhaps the thing I value most about university life is that, apart from timetabled lectures, my time is my own and I feel liberated from the nine-to-five routine.  I can study whenever and wherever I like, and my free time is no longer restricted to evenings and weekends.  I love the range of opportunities to try new things at the University and, if you are not already a Chester resident, in the city itself.  Plus I really appreciate all the student discounts!  I enjoy learning about new things on my course, and this has changed my outlook on life for the better.  Life is just more interesting now.

What did both you and your family think about your decision to return to study?

Personally, I was nervous and excited at the same time.  I was worried about giving up full-time work, about whether I was good enough to study at this level, and about whether I would fit in.  Money was a big concern, but knowing I had student finance really helped. Then I found out about other things, such as University of Chester bursaries  and student Council Tax relief, and that made the decision so much easier.

My immediate family had mixed views.  Everyone wanted to be supportive, but at first, they did wonder if I knew what I was doing!  However, as time has gone on and they see how happy I am, everyone tells me how pleased they are that I made the decision to go to university.  My son always thought this would be an amazing experience for me, and still tells me how proud he is.

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