Going back to university and graduating at 38, Donna’s second chance

Here we are again with another mature student story. I am collecting these stories on my blog with a clear purpose: to encourage people who are considering going back to university but are held back by fears. If this is your case, you are not alone! Everything it’s possible, and hopefully these stories will make you realise that.

It doesn’t matter why you want to go back to university; it could be a career change, a passion, or just personal interest. Neither at what age; you could be in your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s or whatever, it’s never too late. It doesn’t matter if you can do it full time or only part time; it’s not a race nor a competition, it’s a journey.

Do you want to help me in this project? If you would like to share your story, or know someone who would, we’ll get it published. You can get in touch via the Facebook page of this blog, or the Reddit community.

Don’t worry if you can’t, you can still help a lot by sharing these stories on social media and help them get to more people, thank you! In any case let’s now go through Donna’s mature student story.

Going back to university, Donna’s mature student story

Hi, my name is Donna Morfett, I am thirty-eight years old, and I have just graduated from the University of Bedfordshire. I am single and live at home with my mother and my little Yorkshire Terrier Trixie, and I am a part time supervisor at Greggs.

I first went to university when I was eighteen, as its what everyone done. At that time I had got horrible A levels as my grandad was seriously ill throughout. I ended up with a C in Geography, D in English Lit, E in General studies and a U in the computer course I took at college as I wasn’t able to do the subjects at school I really wanted to. I chose my university entirely based on proximity from home, not what the university or course would offer me. Big shock, I hated it and quit before the year was up.

I then went and worked in a company for fourteen years, working my way from the bottom, right up to management level. I basically grew up there and learnt a lot. However, all that was to come crashing down in February 2016 when I was suspended and ultimately fired. It was unfair and I fought it, but they left me in a no-win situation. I was happy and well paid in that job and knew I wouldn’t leave of my own volition and swore if I ever did, I would go back to university.

When I was fired, after getting over the shock, I decided to apply. I was initially going to do a teaching degree; it was something I thought I wanted to do for a while. However, in some stroke of madness I decided I would study Forensic Science! I again chose my local university, but by this time I had a dog suffering diabetes and he needed care.

Back to university as a mature student, how was the course?

The course was as fun as everyone expects it to be, I learnt and experienced some amazing things. I held skulls, done facial reconstruction, fingerprinted, used luminol, extracted DNA and so much more. Yes, I did have to wear the white suits and everything else, and man those things are HOT!!

I decided to do Forensics as my other passion, books, led me there. Being a huge fan of Kathy Reichs, Tess Gerritson, Patricia Cornwall etc; who write fiction as well as doing the job in real life. I learnt about the body farm in Tennessee too and would love to visit!

I forgot or chose to ignore the Science part of the degree. That was difficult. It had been such a long time since I had studied it at school that I didn’t remember a single thing. There were aspects of it I didn’t even know.

This didn’t get any easier as it progressed and meant the last year was incredibly difficult; especially when you throw in a global pandemic and basically teaching yourself. I found that by 38 I really don’t care why molecules and atoms do what they do and couldn’t get it to stay in my head!

Thankfully my access to university wasn’t too difficult, despite my awful A levels I got in with an unconditional offer. Funnily enough I wish I had perhaps done an access course for the science aspect of it.

Switching from studying part time to full time

I’ve done my first year of university as a part time student, which I thought would be an easier workload, but didn’t really turn out to be the case. I done one unit per semester but lost all the friends I’d made as they carried on. My tutor was incredible and made sure I never felt left out, and I will respect her forever for that.

Part of the reason for doing this was because I had been offered a job as an Assistant Manager in Greggs and thought dropping down to part time after only a month was a bit out of order. My manager was always understanding about my need to study and when I needed to take time off for exams. I am grateful for that.

I think the initial shock of being thrown back into education soon passes, and you get into the flow of university life. The fact your peers are on the whole half your age doesn’t matter. We all clicked, as there was very much a we are all in this together mentality, especially towards the end of the second year.

By the end of the first year of my part time studies I knew I wanted to do it full time. I wanted the full experience and also to get it done. I absolutely loved every moment of my university experience; all the fear I felt that first day passed quickly.

I learnt my way around, made friends, and felt part of the furniture within months. I laughed till I cried more times than I can count, ate more Maccy D’s than is healthy, having lots of Wetherspoons boozy lunches.

Mature student fears

I was scared I would be too different from the youngsters; that I wouldn’t understand a word they were talking about, and they would all be off partying and drinking and I’d feel like the mother hen. That couldn’t have been any further from the truth.

My fellow students were hardworking and dedicated, and we still spoke the same language. There were odd times in our WhatsApp group chat where I asked if they could translate, and the day I had to explain what we used to do before the internet was a particularly funny and equally depressing conversation!

There was a little element of mothering, especially in the final year, they came to me for advice, even though I was at the same level and learning the same as they were. I was touched they thought highly enough of me to do so.

Another aspect of being a mature student I found was the lecturers tending to treat you more equally. A lot of them were my age or younger which was disconcerting at first. There were a lot of shared jokes about stuff we went through at school or in our childhoods that the youngsters didn’t get.

The fear I wouldn’t be able to keep up was very real too, this one was more realised. That was partly my own fault for not doing the proper research into the course! The lockdown really doubled that. I knew I wouldn’t motivate myself to study online, and that proved to be the case during Covid.

Balancing life as a mature student

As for balance, I was lucky I didn’t have a family or children to worry about. I had an elderly dog who got more poorly as time went on. Plus I had to try and do an exam with him whining the whole time which was unbelievably stressful.

Moreover, I had dropped to part time work and sat in university even if I had a short day so I knew I would get stuff done. I made the library my friend and took a book with me everywhere, so even on work breaks I could at least refresh my memory. Being interested in the subject meant I didn’t mind reading around outside of lectures.

As technology has improved, so has the essay writing experience, and doing and submitting assignments, I had to handwrite them previously and take them to a magazine rack in the university building. Now its all online, with spellchecks, reference makers, checks for plagiarism. Its wonderful, I had to get over my preference for physical books, reading online is just a given now.

I don’t regret the decision to go back to university one iota. I have learnt a lot about myself, and how I learn. Moreover, I now have achieved something no one in my immediate family has so far. No one can take that away from me.

It’s a special feeling. I have fought the lowest mental health, and through the covid lockdowns and still made it, not with the grades I wanted, but not the worst either. My graduation day was the best day of my life so far.

Life after successfully going back to university

I haven’t thought too much about finance, I took all the money I was given, and will worry about paying it back as and when, being a mature student I’m pretty sure they wont ever be able to reclaim it all unless I get a super well-paying job, in which case, I doubt I’d notice it anyway. Living at home and working meant I was able to manage comfortably financially throughout.

During the lockdown I became heavily involved in the book community, and as a result have a thriving group where I support authors, read and review books, and interview them. All my spare time is given to this, and I love it.

I attend lots of book festivals too which are great fun. I hope to be able to get a job in this area ultimately, but I would love to teach forensics as a sideline, this is the big dream. Currently I am waiting to hear about a job as a teaching assistant in the science department of a high school. Hopefully this will be the first step to achieving this.

I also get to flex my forensic knowledge helping crime writers, and they also don’t find it weird or gross when I like to chat about what I’ve learnt. They are also weird and gross and fascinated. It can lead to some hilarious conversations.

I can open my inbox and be asked how long it would take a child to defrost or I’m going to bake a birthday cake for my victims, what poison should I use. I may even be dipping my toe into writing, and hope to use my forensic knowledge to help.

Any advice for people considering going back to university?

My advice to any mature students considering it, DO IT!! No hesitation, no question, just go for it. From what I saw walking around my small campus, there were students of all ages, some must have been in their 70s or above.

The majority of the student population is made up of mature students. Whatever your fears are, they will be unfounded. You’ll be welcomed into any fold of students as you navigate it all together. It will be the most wonderful, rewarding thing you ever do.

Links to my crazy online life:

Thank you Donna for sharing your story!

Thank you Donna for sharing your amazing story! Donna is quite active on social media, you can use the links above to follow her story or ask any questions.

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