Diary of a Student: Reflections of a Mature Student
Probably most people who decide to apply for university later in life do so after much consideration. I can’t claim to have done this. The opportunity arose and on an impulse I completed the online UCAS application.
I had one or two difficulties with the application because, being in my late fifties, I really didn’t fit the profile as a potential new student (my school, for example, has been gone so long that it doesn’t feature as an option on the form). I decided to go up to the university for help, and the first person I met was the fabulous Dr Kym Martindale. Kym immediately invited me in and then put me on the spot by asking which aspects of the course particularly interested me. I hadn’t really looked at the syllabus very closely; it was enough that it combined literature and creative writing. I’m sure Kym saw through me at once as I tried to bluff an answer but she was full of encouragement and such a great ambassador for the university that I came away with a much stronger ambition to get a place.
Everything happened very quickly. Within weeks I had been interviewed and to my delight and amazement, had been offered a place. I’d needed considerable coaching from my daughter, Polly, on how to write my personal statement, so I had not been over-confident. In a classic piece of role reversal, she then became my mentor throughout my time at Falmouth.
After the euphoria of having been accepted subsided, I began to wonder what exactly I’d done. At this stage I didn’t worry too much about whether I could do the work, they’d accepted me so surely they must think I was capable of doing a degree? No, what I began to brood on was my age. I was just going to be so much older than all the other students. Would I be totally isolated – a bit of a freak? My misgivings were reinforced when I was contacted by a young girl who said she had been assigned to be my student mentor. I wasn’t worried about leaving home for the first time, or being able to budget. My anxieties were very different and how could she possibly advise me?
It was reassuring, therefore, to go to the Return to Learning day before the course began and it helped to alleviate many of my fears. Amid the twenty and thirty year olds, there was a scattering of people of a similar age to me, including the English student who showed us round the campus. Of course we were spread across all courses and both campuses, so many people I didn’t ever see again but I made enough contacts to feel less apprehensive. I also learned that there were lots of resources on campus to help me when I needed it.
I didn’t attend many of the Freshers’ events, suspecting that they wouldn’t quite be ‘my thing’. In addition, I wasn’t living in student accommodation where many friendships are first established and I was definitely a lot older than virtually everyone else on the course. Despite all this, I made friends quickly and easily. What has struck me during my time at Falmouth is how non-judgemental and friendly everyone was. I can’t remember quite how, but from the first week I seemed to have someone to talk to, someone to sit with in lectures. Perhaps it’s because I’m chatty and talked people into submission, but also the seminars really helped me to make friends quickly. Groups were relatively small and we were made to work in pairs and threes from the outset. Some tutors also deliberately mixed us up every week, forcing us to get to know one another. Despite my earlier concerns I discovered that these much younger students were, without exception, kind, tolerant and patient with this older lady in their midst. So within days, my biggest worry had evaporated.
The work, on the other hand, was far more challenging than I’d expected. I was particularly fortunate because I didn’t have to work during the summer, so I was able to get ahead with the reading list. Nevertheless there was masses to read over and above the set texts plus I hadn’t written an essay for 40 years. I began to think I’d have been better prepared if I’d done a foundation course first, but the idea hadn’t occurred to me. Without doubt I put myself under unnecessary pressure because I realised early on that I wanted to do well. My long-suffering husband and I had given up a sybaritic sea-gypsy life so that I could do this, and it was costing a lot of money. However I rapidly realised that the tutors were approachable, friendly and keen to help. I used all the opportunities we were given to have personal tutorials. I also spoke to the librarians about effective use of library resources for research and consulted ASK when I was writing my first essays for help with the planning and structure. All these things were invaluable.
In my second semester I applied to join the Emily Barr workshops. I was thrilled to be accepted, only to be utterly intimidated when I attended the first workshop. I was the only 1st year amid 2nd and 3rd years and even post-graduate students. I had gradually become used to having my work peer reviewed in seminars but now I felt totally out-classed. I had never before been asked to write for five or ten minutes and then read aloud to the rest of the group. It was terrifying but incredibly good for me and I found the sessions just so inspirational. Doing these workshops was a pivotal point in my course; I began to think that maybe, just maybe I could do this.
The experience encouraged me to apply for other workshops and trips, and all of them turned out to be really useful. I had a fabulous time going to Stratford, loved the performances we went to and made some great new friends, (though I did worry that my snoring might keep the others awake!) Going to the North Cornwall book festival was another brilliant opportunity, listening to some amazing speakers and mingling with ‘real’ writers.
Polly kept telling me I was taking it all far too seriously, that I was supposed to be having fun. Well I was, despite not having any particular inclination to go out and party til the small hours. Some of my best memories are of sitting in the Stannery bar with other students, having a few drinks and sharing ideas. It was reassuring to discover that most people worried and got stressed about workloads and assignment deadlines. But chat wasn’t just about work, we talked about politics, nights out, relationships, music – anything and everything. I also went along to Spokes whenever I could and then on for a few drinks afterwards. I loved Spokes, the monthly open mic night, but never had the courage to stand up on stage myself. I wanted to, but I’m not a musician and I rapidly discovered I’m not a poet either, besides which I was completely over-awed by the level of talent around me; anything I tried to write would just be boring in comparison. My one regret is that it wasn’t until our awards ceremony dinner at the end of our 3rd year that I finally screwed up the courage to stand up on stage and speak.
So my advice to a new mature student is exactly what I’d say to any new student: it will be hard work but there are loads of people to help so try to relax, join in as much as you can and you will have an amazing time.