What is it like studying Access to Higher Education?

10 June 2015

Bernadette Van Gaalen returned to education to study a Social Science – Access to Higher Education Diploma at City and Islington’s Centre for Lifelong Learning at Finsbury Park.

After completing the course, which universities recognise as the equivalent of A Levels, she is now set to study Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Goldsmith’s University. This is what she had to say about her experience on the course and to encourage others considering returning to education:

Why I took the course

I entered back into education at age 27 after a huge gap which made me feel at first huge anxiety over my own ability to learn and achieve. I had previously in the year failed to complete another course at another college due to child care constraints and feeling alienated by the age range of people on my course. I left feeling dejected and unsure if I could ever make it to University at all.

I attended an interview and initial assessment at City and Islington and managed to speak face to face with my would be tutors, all of which were down to earth approachable and made me feel instantly at ease. 

The first few months - finances, logistics and balancing home life

The first few months of the course were hard for me, with my home life in disarray and my children and I becoming homeless shortly before I started. I was attending class from a hostel and found it extremely difficult to concentrate fully on my studies. I felt nervous meeting new people and felt too ashamed to talk about the situation my family and I were in. However, I quickly began to notice through class discussions that many of my classmates were also facing difficult challenges in their lives and there were an array of different backgrounds which helped ease my sense of alienation. It made me feel more at ease that we all had a story to tell, and as a result coming to class felt a lot less daunting.

I accessed the counselling service at the College, which was a great help at times when I really needed to talk.

What the teaching is like

During class, the assignments set were of an academic standard which I hadn’t really experienced before. The classes are taught in a way that make you believe in yourself, and encourage you that you are there because you deserve to be and are good enough. The teaching methods are varied, but with a shared consensus of demystifying academia and widening its entry points. All of my tutors have genuinely (from the beginning) made me feel that I could and would achieve, even when I felt I could not understand some of the work.

My teachers passed on their knowledge in a way that expressed their own personal love, emotion, and passion for their subject. As a result of debates and set work I have been learnt new levels of critical thinking, to question and deconstruct what I thought I already knew to be true. 

Why it is worth it

This experience has been an enlightening journey which I have taken so much from. To anyone considering whether now is the time to enter back into education, I would urge you to go for it; this course is a special means of getting you where you want to be. You will experience teaching that reaches beyond the classroom and changes your ideas and enhances your life opportunities in a really a short space of time. For me, it has given me resolve and a true belief in my ability to achieve as a student, woman and mother.

To all the students, tutors and co-ordinators that make Access happen I thank you, and to all the prospective students this is where it begins, a new chapter in life.

To help fund her course, Bernadette took out a Government funded 24+ loan. If she goes on to complete her degree, she will not have to pay a penny of it back. Find out more 24+ loans

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