My first experience of university – the open day.

I was nervous as hell when this came around. It was a saturday and although Id been at college with other adults attempting to return to education few had made it through to the final exams, 9 out of 21 to be exact. Two other younger guys were applying to the same degree I was but with a child at home, no money and a lot of pressure I didn’t socialise much and gave most in my class the bare minimum of time in between classes. The short version, I went to the open day alone. I’d looked up the university map, found where I needed to be and arrived fifteen minutes early than recommended.

At first I thought Id arrived at some kids open day for students who planned on going to uni in about 5 years time but no. I was greeted by a student representative who looked no older than the other children present, I was in the right place I was told. I took heart in seeing a number of other mature men and women walking around in reasonable abundance so I felt a little more comfortable. That was until it became apparent that some of these children had brought their parents! In fact from seeing the queue forming to go into the lecture theatre most had and it had occurred to me that I was even older than most of their parents. As we were ushered in to the lecture theatre I was pretty sure that I was not treated as a potential student and it was assumed I was there with my son or daughter. I gently excused the sales pitch and headed on inside.

Id only ever seen a lecture theatre in movies and most did not look like this, it was huge, wasn’t done in traditional wood materials and was packed out to the point that a lot of folk were standing. The course modules were relayed to us and some very young looking students told us of their first days at uni and how it was tough leaving home for the first time and how to get by without mummy and daddy. I had left home as soon as I could back in those days and worked for a living, oh how things have changed. Although I would be lying if I didn’t say I relied on my parents for short sessions of crashing in my old room at times. The whole episode was over quickly enough, less than an hour and it mostly concentrated on why come to my city, which Id lived for a very long time anyway, and all the great things you could do in the evenings after school. I would have preferred more school content but Im guessing they didn’t want to scare away potential customers. From the amount of dropouts and transfer requests I have seen at my course since I would definitely think they should do less on the fun and more on the academics and basics skills required for computer science.

I left as Id arrived, I sought no further information and headed on down the road alone. There were some groups and clubs there and I left feeling that emphasis was on clubbing nights in the area and the non school side of things, which might just be what attracts these kids to university over a sensible career move. If I think back to when I was 17 or 18 I wouldn’t even have contemplated going anywhere that didn’t have a nightlife I suppose so it probably works. Having said all that, it was only about 3 weeks before my final exams of my foundation course and overall I left feeling excited about finally going to university, not of the clubs, drink promotions, the ornithologists club, fine dining or kick boxing my city had to offer. Id done all these things already and it was time to finally move my life into a direction I wanted rather than being at the mercy of the wind. I still had to pass the highest level mathematics pre university requires but I was optimistic and was doing well so far. I knew a lull lay before me, I would have my exam marks within a month and 2 months before all the school kids did so would have to wait an aching 3 months to hear if Id been accepted. My next topic in a few days time.

And so it begins…

My return to education at 44 years old after losing almost everything

Although a little late in the school year Ive thought about doing this for quite a while. I guess I first wanted to see if I could slog it out and make it past the first round of exams to work out whether it was even worthwhile. All i can say is I’m still here. I could write a big long intro here but I wont. I’ll break it down over the next few days into things like first impressions, how I feel being more than twice everyone else’s age etc. Then I’ll follow on with a diary type system. I will give a small background as to how I ended up here.

I started working in IT support in 1994 for a local medium sized firm that provided specialised services, I started off learning Unix and then switched to Windows NT. Over the years I gained good working knowledge of networks, servers, desktops and applications and at around 2000 became employed within the finance industry. I worked for a large bank and faced redundancy around 2007. I moved off to another bank and again faced redundancy which I finally took in 2011. I was earning a good salary and on looking around for another position there were two problems, lack of work and a serious decrease in salary levels. I had been thinking of getting into software development for a long time and the degree was the only route in, from speaking to my programmer colleagues at my previous employments. So I decided to plan my way in so that by Septembers intake in my local college I would be all set and ready to go.

With no prospect of permanent work and contract work being very poorly paid at times and sparse, I defaulted on my house and lost it, as well as my car and a few other things. Within a few months I was worse off than the day I started working. There was no way I could even think about the catastrophe that had befallen me nor allow it to consume and disillusion me as I would have been lost in despair as my debt is so vast it would take me unto the end of my days to break even at a huge monthly cost. So with how I feel about banks in general ,my hard work I put in working for them to be tossed out as collateral damage, then finally trying to negotiate a deal to save my house to which they had no intention of listening – they can shove it all. Its actually quite liberating in a way but I guess thats another topic for another day when I’m off on holidays.

Anyway back on track. I enrolled in a local college full time and got things tight with regards to money, very tight. I did a foundation in computers which I did very well in and applied and got accepting to university. I was hungry at times, I walked many miles as I couldn’t afford the transport and some days I couldn’t afford to go in. I moved around houses with plenty of upheaval and did I also mention during this time my girlfriend had a baby. We now live in social housing after having owned our home, a car each, all the toys a man needs and plenty of European trips each year. What a difference a year can make. But in that time I was accepted to university providing I got the grades which I did and that made it all worth while. By the time my child is 4 years old and about to start school I will have my degree and be a contributing member of society once more.

Tomorrow, while I am supposed to be working on an assignment, I will give some thoughts on my first open day at uni before I was due to take my foundation exams. It was quite a shock.