Returning to Education Midlife
My Experience of Returning to University from our Founder, Paula Gardner
I have to admit to always having a feeling of regret about not doing so well at University the first time around. I went to the University of Kent to study English Literature and obtained a 2.2. I know why I didn’t achieve the results that I had hoped for: I was too busy being sociable. I was the editor of University magazine Phoenix, and the office manager for the student counselling service, Niteline. I also held down various student jobs including working in a bookshop, delivering leaflets, double glazing telesales and serving behind the bar at a number of pubs. I certainly didn’t waste my time, but I’ve always had a nagging feeling that I could have done better academically.
Going back to University in my forties was a chance to prove that for myself, as well as a vital step in forging a whole new career. I needed my Masters in business psychology to be able to move from PR and marketing into a career that I knew suited me better at that time in my life. Only you can know if the investment in time and money will be worth it. It was for me, without a doubt. Here are a few things that I learned from my experience that may help you make your mind up…
It’s financially scary
There’s no doubt about that. There were many times when I almost didn’t go ahead. It’s so easy to think that the money could be spent on a holiday/clothes/the house/my pension, but in reality, the experience that I gained is well worth the financial cost. Some people, who operate from a sense of fear, may well try to persuade you that it is a foolhardy step. If you come across someone like this, it can help to remember that, even though they may mean well, they are projecting their own fears onto you
You will grow
Even if you can’t see how you will use it in your career, it may still help in ways you cannot imagine. My self-confidence has grown along with my focus and time management, all of which have had a positive impact on my work.
You will meet loads of new and interesting people. I love meeting people but before returning to University, I was coming across the same type of people again and again. By doing my MSc I have met people from all different walks of life and all different ages
There may be help
There is often financial help offered. I received 50% funding from the EU after applying for a scholarship. Many institutions have grants on offer and it may be worth phoning admissions to find out what’s on the table. Other students I know have got reductions for loyalty (i.e. going back to their previous University), or by paying the whole amount upfront. If you are a woman studying a STEM subject, there may be additional funding available
Learning is enjoyable
I have always loved learning and even now try to get along to a few workshops or courses each year. At University you are not just polishing skills, you are learning something entirely new. I had spent the last few years with my head feeling woolly. I had even started doing those brain training exercises to try and keep sharp, but all that is gone now. The intellectual stimulation I am getting is keeping me sharp and there is now a pure enjoyment that can be found in learning that I had completely forgotten.
The University experience is fun
I got a kick out of spending time in the library. Call me a nerd if you like, but it’s thrilling to realise how much learning (and not just your own subject) you have access to.
It can save you money
You can get a discount with your student and rail cards. A small point but it can help. You can get savings at restaurants, when buying clothes, and booking tickets for attractions.
It is diverse
I had worried about being the oldest in the room, but I wasn’t, by a long way, and my previous experience in the business world really helped when it came to presentations and speaking up in class. I found it was easy to think about practical applications for many of the things we were learning, because I had that real-world experience.
It is hard
Time management was difficult at times, especially if you are involved in group work, of which our course had a great deal. However, if you love your subject, or have a strong end goal, you can do it. I devoted one whole day a week to my college work and this carried me through.
If you’ve been thinking about returning to University, or even going for the first time, I can promise that it will change your life in ways you couldn’t imagine.
Paula Gardner is a career psychologist and coach and the founder of The Redundancy Recovery Hub. Author of The Career Pause and Pivot, Paula regularly coaches clients around moving forwards after redundancy. Having changed career mid-life, and previously ran her own PR and marketing agency, Paula’s USP is her real life experience as well as psychology and coaching know how.
Look out for Paula’s psychology based tutorials, or book a one to one at members’ rate here.