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Has anyone gone back into Higher Education?

(57 Posts)
susanb Thu 15-May-03 20:25:18

I am looking for advice; I am seriously comtemplating giving up my parttime job and going back to University to do a degree with the aim of becoming a teacher. I have weighed up the pros and cons and have worked out that with the financial help I'm entitled to we would be slightly worse off than we are at the moment (although obviously I would have to pay back the Student loan in the long term). Presently I would say we are comfortable financially - we don't have any problems paying the bills but haven't holidayed for years and have one old banger to get around in.

Basically I'd like to know if anybody else has attempted a degree full time with kids. I have a supportive partner who works full time, and a couple of family members who could help out with our son who also starts nursery in September 5 mornings a week. Does anybody think I'm nuts or should I just keep plodding along with my present office job (which is pretty boring but very flexible!!). The university is also about 20 miles away so I'd have to look at travelling time/costs as well and I'm not sure about book costs and things like that.

I would appreciate ANY advice. Thanks

meanmum Thu 15-May-03 20:28:30

I haven't done it but I admire you for it and think go for it. I'm off to do my Masters this September but that will be part time. I'm questioning my sanity too.

I think others have done it and will give you better advice and everyone will definitely support you. Follow your dream.

Tortington Thu 15-May-03 20:43:16

i did it with 3 kids. i had to chose my options carefully. i could fit a fulltime course in two or three days which meant i could work fri sat sun mon ( for instance) so i did the degree but didnt study some units i would have liked to becasue "real life" got in the way and the coursse had to be arranged around pick your units carefully to fit in with childcare arrangements and work

susanb Thu 15-May-03 22:16:50

Thanks for your replies.

Custardo, I would also be interested to hear about the actual amount of time you spent studying each week - I was told by the Uni that I would be expected to spend about 15 hours there per week which would account for about 1/3 of my study and obviously the rest would be private study; I am already trying to figure out when I would fit it all in. Saying that, a friend of mine did a History degree a few years ago and managed to fit it around 3 kids without too much problem. She must be Superwoman!!

jasper Thu 15-May-03 22:43:27

susanb my sil has just done exactly this and recently qualified as a primary teacher and now has a full time job and LOVES it. Her three kids are all at secondary school.
She said it was really hard work but well worth it.

Tortington Fri 16-May-03 00:40:39

for practical reasons i couldnt do 15hours per week, however when i used buses i read on the bus, i read on the loo, i read everywhere when i could.

but you get to know the skips and the cheats and how to get the best books the cheapest and which lecturer is a beast and which isnt - and the scams to get essay extentions and which lecturer is likley to give them.

also use you personal tutor - they will tell you what is expected of you and should be o f help.

TBH, i used to plan my essays two days beofre the deadline and then write it the night before.

god knows how the lecturers minds work - when i did all my research and thought i tried my very best i got shit marks - when i wrote an essay after being slightley pissed i got a fab mark!

maybe thats the answer - write essays whilst you are pissed!

Tortington Fri 16-May-03 00:48:43

also you dont have to read ALL the books, beg borrow or steal them use the index and footnotes and quote passages to back up your theory - as long as it fits in you dont have to read the whole thing

dont spend your money on new books, look on the notice boards and buy from year two students the books they bought for the course you are now studying - and they need the money! the library - and not just your local library - a city library- the uni library, get the uni library staff to help you out.

remember books arnt your only resource, tv, video, films art may all be resources too.

as for the practical studying - you MUST have YOUR OWN SPACE - doesnt have to be your own room - but it must be an area of work which everyone knows is strictly yours - get a noticeboard and ppost it notes to stick points on the wall that you donw want to forget when writing an essay.

take a recorder to class - or a laptop if you are a good typer - and record your own notes - remember you will need to shorten things and to abreviate- so remember you have got to be able to remember your abreviations and read you own shorthand.

and unlike me - dont leave things to the last minute.

c'mon teachers and lecturers and ex students out there - what are the other cheats and hints?

Tortington Fri 16-May-03 00:57:31

i also got my hubby to go out with the kids for the day - to give me quiet - and i moved my computer to my mums in the third year and i went there for weekends at a time!

remember you can take a year out too - i did as we were short on cash and to alleviate the pressure at home generally as hubby was studying third year at the time too!

hubby got through by working nights as a security guard - and doing all his studying whilst at work - then coming home and having 7 hours sleep!

susanb Fri 16-May-03 09:48:52

Thanks Custardo, thats a great help. I was told by an advisor about the books thing; if I do this, our income will go down a bit and I was concerned that we would be stretching ourselves too far if I have to pay out alot for materials.

What degree did you do? And has it helped you with your career? The negative part of me keeps thinking I could do all this and then end up with not a lot more (apart from a £12K student loan!!) but you can't go through life thinking like this, can you? I also haven't done any conventional studying for about 6 years. Anyway, I'm going to an Open Day today so shall find out more.

Tortington Fri 16-May-03 11:01:33

i did english ( dont laff - english i said - not spelling!) - i didnt have a career with high earning prospect - just pubs, asda, shops, factories, that kind of thing - so being skint was still the same - we were still skint - but we learnied to go to charity shops and second hand book stores for things. also if you havent been in a formal learning environment you should get some "essay writing" books - i know you probably could do it - but a refresher now may save you loads of time.

times will be hard but for me the earning ceiling of a max of 14-k ( if i was lucky and worked like a horse) was lifted - i feel like with hard work in my chosen career - i will not be stopped for lack of a qualification

just for information - it often times doesnt matter what discipline your degree is in as long as you have one. dont know if this applies to teaching - it used to apply to banking.

if you decide to - and/or you want a chat or talk feel free to mail me anytime on


marialuisa Fri 16-May-03 11:30:20

I work in an H.E. college which has a reputation for "specialising" in mature students/widening participation. Having previously worked in traditional unis i've been amazed by the support offered. lots of students here are in similar circs to you and they do very well. It may be worth finding out if you can claim more tax credit to help with childcare costs.

If you are definite about the teaching there is a scheme (LEA based) where you get paid (about £13k per year) to work as a teacher and gain QTS at the same time. Applicants have to be over 24 and have a degree in a relevant (preferably national curriculum) subject. If you can spare an afternoon to help with reading or something at your kids'school while you are studying this would help your application.

As for workload, as Custardo says, you soon learn what needs to be done, courses have very specific guidelines and learning outcomes now. Also most unis have study support centres.

Good luck!

CAM Fri 16-May-03 12:21:52

I did a full-time 3 year degree in anthropology and education when my eldest dd was aged 6 to 9 years old. Wrote my essays at night when she was in bed, made enormous use of one-to-one personal tutor, really picked his brains, attended every seminar (small group of 8) and was very picky about which open lectures I attended as some were rehashes of books presented in v. tedious way. Found it fitted very well around dd's school time and life (any lectures after 3.30 I didn't even contemplate attending). I just wonder how much easier the internet has made studying, no PC's when I did my degree, had to go to library or buy books and read them. Even had to type my extremely long dissertation (3 years work) on a typewriter for God's sake. How long did that take.
Luckily I loved my subject which was comparing the rastafarians in London with the "real thing" in Jamaica. (Ok Ok It was interesting at the time) Anyway I got a 2.1

ScummyMummy Fri 16-May-03 12:49:45

Custy I would love to read the essay you wrote while pissed. Absolutely unsurprised that you got a good mark for it. I think the advice you've given here is great.

susanb- I would say go for it but know yourself and your needs very well. I dropped out of a PGCE a couple of years back, mostly because I didn't have child care and wasn't organised enough- I actually needed MORE structure than the very flexible course offered, with the admirable view to attracting mums like me into teaching. Every time I didn't hand something in they understood! Soon I was way behind and couldn't catch up in the way I would have done pre-kids- forget everything else and really get down to business! So make sure you have good reliable child care and choose a course that runs in a way that will suit your working habits, would be my advice. Also, very much echo the idea of having your own space. I'm s'posed to be writing an essay for a very p/t course I'm doing now and I can't cos our computer's in the living room and I hate writing while other people are in the room. So have been bogging off to the library and taking annual leave from work so I'm nice and alone. Unfortunately I've been spending rather a lot of time on mumsnet so still have a long way to go on the essay...

griffy Fri 16-May-03 13:49:37

susanb - I'm hoping to stop full-time work soon to start a full-time PGCE, and I'm sure that it'll be just as impossible to fit in while studying as while working. As everyone else here has said, I think the key has to be reliable childcare giving you the time to study.

In terms of workload, I did my first degree over 6 years by part time study in the evenings while working full time (pre-DS), and they recommended 6-8 hours of home study a week, on top of the three eveing classes - 6pm-9pm. I found that with some topics I could skid through without anything near that amount of home-based work. Other times it all took a lot longer.

With the PGCE I suspect that it'll be pretty intensive and am prepared for a tough haul.

On the subject of the student loans - I'm fairly certain that one of the (few) perks of going into the teaching profession is that your student loan is paid off for you - over a number of years of teaching. (I may be wrong about this as it doesn't apply to me, so I didn't pay that much attention!)

More info at the tta ( website, the gttr ( website, or the Times Ed Supp site (

Good luck

tallulah Fri 16-May-03 17:40:29

My story sounds identical to custardo & Cam. Went back to Uni full-time 10 years ago. I was working in a Call centre when I started, & they let me rearrange my hours to fit in with the course- I just changed each October. I worked 16 hours a week throughout the year, & had a casual waitressing job (as & when required) on top of that, for light relief.

I studied History & Social Anthropology. It was a module course, so each year I just picked those modules I liked the sound of that were taught the day I wanted to go in. I did have to skip some that would have meant going in for just 1 lecture, but did end up taking a couple of courses I wouldn't otherwise have chosen & thoroughly enjoyed them. Each class had 1 lecture & 1 seminar a week, and I didn't miss any.

I made the mistake the first year of allocating all my time, so I had a couple of days where I had lectures then dashed off to work. Not good. You need time to go to the library, & time to go for a coffee with the other students. What worked in years 2 & 3 was 3 full days at Uni & 2 full days at work. By the last year my youngest was 4, and had 3 mornings at playgroup, collected by grandad, one full day in the Uni nursery, and 4 afternoons at the local nursery. He is a very gregarious & sociable child!!

I did (& do) have a very supportive DH, who took the children out for day-long trips for every essay deadline. I would leave it till the last minute then spend literally all day Sunday from 8 am writing. I had to produce 20 essays a year ( 4 modules, 5 essays each), so it wasn't every weekend.

My children were 2, 4, 6 & 7 when I started, & I'm glad I didn't wait till they were older, like my mum told me to, or I'd never have found the time. I got a 2:1, which I was very proud of. My only caution would be, don't bank on it getting you somewhere (although, if you're planning to do teaching that won't apply). All the "graduate" jobs I applied for wanted 23 year olds, so I never did actually improve my job prospects.

susanb Fri 16-May-03 18:08:12

Hi everybody

Thanks so much for your fantastic advice and the website addresses. I am 95% sure I want to go into teaching although I realise that things can change; I could get involved with this and change my mind and I do have concerns that at the end of it, it would be 'a waste of time'. It wouldn't be so bad pre kids, but with one little boy and other commitments I obviously am not footloose and fancy free.

Saying that, I have an extremely supportive partner who would support me whatever my choice and has an annoying habit of looking at things very, very positively at all times!!

I have just come back from the Open Day; the tutor was very helpful and said they tried their best to help students with other commitments, in fact the college has lots of 'mature' students (I'm only 25!!). As I've mentioned before, my main concern is money as we'd be a bit worse off and the college would be a 40 mile round trip so I'd have to consider travel costs.

With regards to child care, my son will start school/nursery 5 mornings a week from September and I have a couple of family members who could help out. However, its hard to really plan ahead as I was told next year's semester hasn't yet been organised. All I know is that I would be at Uni 3, maybe 4 days a week.

I am a little nervous about the whole thing and wish I was happy to just plod along in my office job! - but continually find myself wanting more. I did very well at school and passed my A Levels but went straight into an Administration job pre son, which paid okay. However, my the time I left on maternity leave I was pretty fed up with the office drudge and stayed home with my son until he was nearly 3. I then wanted to go back and do something as I needed something else to think about but this office job has actually reinforced my feeling that it isn't what I want to do all my life. So its either retrain for something or find a different type of job.

Custardo, I too want to do English and probably History as a minor. Also, out of interest, what do you do now?

OldieMum Fri 16-May-03 18:15:00

Go for it, Susanb. Your lecturers will be very positive and supportive, I expect. I have taught quite a few mature students and they take the whole thing much more seriously than the other students and are often much more interesting to teach(something about education being wasted on the young?). One of them, with no A-levels, came in on an access course when in her thirties, got a First, did a PhD, published a brilliant book and is now an academic herself.

sammac Fri 16-May-03 19:09:59

I started a pgce when dd was 8 months old. I t was really tough financially as I had to pay my fees and got no grant plus ft childcare. Like others I worked when I could to help out things eg went back and did xmas recruitment for my old company during the october. Only thing I can add to the great advice was the support you get from fellow 'mature' students. Make use of each other and the things available- eg dh got loads photocopied in his work and saved me a fortune. We would all do this and it really helped.

susanb Fri 16-May-03 20:18:02

I am interested to hear that most of you worked whilst studying. We might be just able to manage financially with my Student Loan and my partner's wage so I could concentrate fully on study although it would obviously be easier if I did some kind of work if only for a few hours a week. Did everybody find it (relatively) easy to fit in work and full time study? Or do you think your studies suffered when you worked?

hmb Fri 16-May-03 20:31:23

I'm doing a flexible , part time PGCE. When you start the PGCE you will be eligable for a £6000 grant, which is not means tested. There are other means tested grants available, as well as student loans. You could also look at the graduate training program, where you train while you work, and are paid by, a school. Very hard work I would think, but it might suit your needs.

Good for you, and good luck.

susanb Fri 16-May-03 20:55:11

Hi Hmb

I have looked into doing training at the same time as my degree but there are no places available in my area to do this. I also think that maybe I would find it too much. I have applied for the Student Loan which is £4000 per year, although I will have to pay about £550 student fees per year so that has to come out of it. Other than that, I'm not sure that I'm entitled to anything else (my partner earns about £24K a year).

My other route was to do a degree through the OU -but this takes alot longer and in the long run costs more. My part-time job only brings about £5K in per year so its a matter of weighing up the pros and cons and making the sacrifice of being poorer for a while!

Tortington Fri 16-May-03 21:03:46

hiya again susan, i am a community development worker with a large housing assocation. this allows me to be flexible with my working hours to an extent with TOIL and FLEXI time and also fits nicely in with my personal "lefty" principles - and i really like working for a non for profit organisation - and the thought that if anything should happen tomorrow i will have helped at least one person in one way or another - i like that way of thinking. you could say teaching is the same. its something i do with passion rather than career goals, so am sure teaching is the same

am not very career minded - i might get to middle management in 5 years or so - but its not where i am aiming. i rather like being at grass roots level so to speak.

after many years of debt including student debt, hubby and i are just..just getting it together, i have the feeling things are gonna come good in another couple of years ( fingers crossed)

gosh that was a "this is your life" moment wasnt it

sorry if it didnt help - dont forget to mail me anytime should you want a chat

susanb Fri 16-May-03 21:47:51

Hi Custardo

It sounds like you are doing great, well done. I have to admit it really hit home when you said about doing a number of jobs and knowing you are never going to earn much over £14K. I know exactly what you mean; its very hard to take the leap into a 'career' without the proper qualifications (if you know what I mean!!)

I've took your email address down - I would appreciate someone to talk to if anything comes up, thanks very much.

Tortington Sat 17-May-03 00:27:09

not a problem - i would love too

Rosanne Sat 17-May-03 00:29:01

I'm going to start a PGCE in September after being a full-time mum for 4 years ( have a 4 yr old and 1 year old). I'm dreading leaving the kids but I hope long term to work part-time and have the benefits of term-time only working. I'll get the £6000 grant so I don't expect to earn anything after childcare. Not sure how I'm going to manage everything - I have no time to do anything at the moment but I'm just going to go for it! Good to read that others have done it and survived!

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