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I woke up at about 4am on New Year’s Day. At first, I refused to get out of bed, but my mind quickly filled with a huge ‘to do’ list I had to deal with. Top of the list was my latest university assignment. I simply couldn’t sleep and feeling totally awake and with a quickened heartbeat, I got up at precisely 4.18am and set to work.

The Graduate, lifelong learning
The Undergraduate would be more accurate than The Graduate to describe my circumstances…but then I couldn’t use this image!

There was a vaguely ironic twist to my actions. As I was getting up, I could hear a loud New Year’s party at a neighbour’s house wrapping up.

Party aside, I often find I am at my most industrious in the early morning, and this certainly proved to be the case on this occasion. I made huge strides in the ensuing couple of hours before the family woke up.

Back to higher education to become a graduate, if not The Graduate

What I have written above amounts to a confession of a sort. I have, you see, returned to higher education. For several months now and with the support of my amazing wife and family, I have been studying for a BA(Hons) and all going to plan, a significant, mid-life career change is in the pipeline.

I am realistic to the fact various challenges lie ahead, but my long-term aim is to obtain a Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE). This would open numerous doors for me to work in teaching.

At this stage I’m not being too specific about which path I shall follow as there are many different options for the qualified teacher. Primary school teacher, secondary school teacher, further education, adult education, tutor, teaching English as a foreign language, the list goes on. There are a couple of options I am particularly keen on. For now, however, I am keeping my thoughts to myself as I am still figuring it all out.

I should also add that I am several years away from qualifying. This is a long-term thing that fits quite nicely with when Izzy, my youngest daughter, will start at secondary school.

How did this desire to become The Graduate come about?

I had been considering studying for a degree for a little while, but thought I’d do it in a few years time. It all came to a head in September when I was offered places to study not one but two different Masters degrees (not bad for someone who had only obtained GCSE maths a few months previously!).

I then discovered I had a problem. Two problems in fact.

Problem one: A Masters degree is incredibly sexy, but a highly specialised MA would have been useless if my aim was to go on and work in education. In fact, having a Masters without having a BA(Hons) would probably have disqualified me from studying for a PGCE.

Problem two: When I was younger, I obtained a Higher National Diploma, roughly equivalent to two-thirds of a BA(Hons) degree. This meant I could use my previous study to count towards a BA(Hons), shortening the length of time I had to study from three years to two years. The problem? There was a time limit on when I could transfer my previous study credits and time was running out.

It turned out I had to start studying in the 2021 / 2022 academic year if I wanted my previous study to count towards a degree. If I didn’t, I’d have to go right back to the beginning and start studying for a degree from scratch.

I didn’t know what to do: Masters or Bachelors? I had many sleepless nights and consulted with a few different people. Ultimately, I felt the BA was the better choice as it gave me more options.

Having studied GCSE maths via distance learning, I thought I’d study for a degree this way as well. There are many options for the distance learning student these days. Many universities have some kind of online offering.

It requires a lot of discipline, but I am really enjoying it. I’m studying two subjects, one looking at the sociology of families and young people (tying in nicely with my blogging activities) and the other is English language focused.

My position on the higher education system

This does, of course, place me in a slightly awkward position as I have not been quiet about my thoughts on the higher education system. I stand by what I have previously said: I think it is ridiculous that, in the UK in particular, kids hit the age of 18 and are expected to go to university.

Why are we not encouraging youngsters to do apprenticeships? Why not study vocational qualifications? Why not take a year or two out and work before studying? They’re corralled into an expensive education system when they’re too young to know what they want to study and it’s totally daft.

Very few youngsters are mature enough to live away from home at the age of 18. It’s at that point in life that most are, naturally, a bit directionless. They’re exploring relationships and possibly finding themselves in situations where they are exposed to drugs, alcohol and all manner of temptations.

This is when they need adult guidance. Instead, we shove them out the door to live in high density housing with other immature teenagers. Added to that, they return home weighed down with huge debts (£45,000 on average).

I genuinely feel sorry for youngsters. I think we’re doing them a disservice, but mass university education has been the accepted norm for 25 years so most parents went to university at the tender age of 18. As a result, they simply accept it and expect their offspring to do the same. I think this stance needs challenging and challenging vociferously.

What I feel I am doing is lifelong learning. After years of being my kids’ main carer, I am slowly getting to a point where they will be less reliant on me. I need to plan for the future.

In the future I’d like to do something different, and I am in a position where I can study (via distance learning) and requalify while also looking after the kids. It’s a situation many mums have faced. I simply happen to be a dad.

Until now, my Higher National Diploma (HND), a vocational qualification focused on the media industry, has served me supremely well. As it happens this is my second spell as a mature student. I didn’t go to college straight from school. When I did my HND I was in my early twenties and I believe that qualification opened more doors for me than a degree would have done.

If I wasn’t looking to change career, I probably wouldn’t be studying right now. Education is a completely different field and it’s one of the few fields where entrants probably should have a degree (or there is at least a justified argument for insisting entrants have a degree, the same cannot be said for most forms of employment). My age and my circumstances have simply come together to make this the right time for me to study for a BA(Hons). If I had done it when I was 18, and I did nearly go to university in my teenage years, I’d have messed it up.

As for my blogging activities, perish the thought I will be giving them up. I enjoy it too much. Sure, I may have to post a little less but I am going nowhere. I have, after all, got several years of study ahead of me before I can change career. The upshot is, I love blogging!

It’s going to be a busy few years so do wish me luck. If you have experience of returning to study in later life, please do leave a comment below, I’d love to know how you found it and how things worked out for you.

8 thoughts on “The Graduate: My university confession”

    1. It is proving to be quite the journey Eddie! Not that I intended or planned it, but gaining the GCSE in maths was the beginning as I couldn’t countenance a career in education without it!

  1. I too am looking into going in to teaching. Not to the extent of higher education though like yourself. More early years / KS1.
    opportunities have come about for me this year, so we’ll see how it goes.

    Wish you the best of luck John, I can see you as quite good teacher.

    1. Ah, KS1, that requires a specialist PGCE if I recall correctly? Very best of luck Damion. Men who have been stay at home dads are in demand as teachers I am told.

  2. Good luck with that John – pleased for you.
    I’ve always echoed your thoughts on higher education and the often ridiculous notion that some jobs “require” a degree. When it comes to studying for a PGCE I actually don’t always agree that a degree is a must-have for being a teacher. As a 20+ year stalwart of the IT sector, I am often grief-stricken at the state of ICT teaching at secondary school and how ill-prepared students are for the real world. I see very little in the way of inspiring kids and getting them excited about IT beyond smartphones and TikTok. I know I could teach the curriculum with my eye-closed, but teaching is more that delivering a curriculum…

    1. Well, yes Dave, I do agree to a point actually. It is interesting that the school sector is – in theory – very highly regulated and expects you to have a degree and PGCE. Yet the reality is academy schools and independent schools can recruit anyone from any background (not something they generally tend to do, but they have the right to). Compare this to the further and higher-ed sectors which can recruit absolutely anyone! I don’t recall computing being taught at all well when I was at school, but that was a very long time ago.

  3. Hi John,

    I graduated in 2019, at 38. My sons were 3 and 9 months. I study a BA (Hons) in Business Management, as a distance learner. It will be tough, it will be challenging, stressful, but it is possible (I blogged about it here https://www.cyberdadblog.com/2021/04/studying-for-degree-with-family.html). If I can support, let me know. I got very good at structuring my life around my studies.

    I also posted these top 10 tips on my University’s forum, and it was very well received. Hopefully it helps you too!

    1. Never think you are too old or stupid to learn. Everyone can achieve results, with the right approach, support and focus. Studying is not a competition. All my younger siblings and colleagues graduated years before me!

    2. Distance learning is tough, drop-out rates high. It’s all the studying of a student, none of the fun. It’s all on you, quite isolating and tough, stay focused. Many people could not do this!

    3. Organisation skills are your friend, especially if you have kids or other responsibilities. Plan everything, know your submission dates in advance and when you plan to complete the work.

    4. Visualise yourself graduating and why you started this, to stay motivated.
    5. Don’t compare yourself against other students. Easy to do, but everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Some people may look great in discussion forums, but are they submitting great assignments?

    6. Don’t waste potential study time and streamline your time. This is key if you have big commitments, like a family and a demanding job. Read textbooks and listen to the lecture-casts on your commute or when the kids go to sleep. Use the downtime, prioritise study over social media and Netflix if possible.

    7. Don’t beat yourself up about a poor grade or module. I screwed-up a marketing module once, but still passed it eventually. A bad module has no impact on your final grade at level 4 and limited impact at the higher levels. A good module grade will correct a poor one.

    8. Take a break from studying occasionally. I had a couple of module breaks, for holidays and also the birth of my kids. Reboot, reload and recharge where needed. Full time students get the whole summer off!

    9. Get buy-in from work where possible. I was lucky, as my employer provided 40 percent towards my course fees. If you can’t get funding, they may offer some flexibility, like working from home. If you are doing a project that benefits your workplace, this can be classed as work and you may be allowed work time to do it. If you don’t ask, you don’t get!

    10. Join Facebook/WhatsApp groups with other students. I only did this towards the end, but wished I’d done it sooner. Studying this way is lonely, so talk to other people going through the same thing. You’ll make some friends, who you can talk to on graduation day and beyond.

    Good luck!

    Cyber Dad Blog (Lee)

    1. Thank you ever so much Lee! Yes, I am certainly finding I have to be organised and social media is increasingly taking a back seat (hard as a blogger!). As it happens I have just completed quite a tough module and I don’t know what to expect mark wise. Bit apprehensive, truth be told. I do also think us older, committed students have a lot to offer so I am certainly keeping then end goal in sight. Thanks for your comment and advice. Really appreciate it.

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