Here we are, this time writing on something very personal. I should have probably added this part when I started this blog, sorry for that and thank you all for your feedback! As requested, in this post I’m going to write about starting University at 26, my story as a mature student.
If you are not new this blog, you know already that I’m very, extremely shy. This is probably why I started doing it, because writing rather than talking works much better for me. I have always been the “guy behind the scenes”, it’s part of my character I guess.
My “working” life before starting University
Growing up I wasn’t really interested in studying. I just wanted to finish secondary school (high school) and be done with education forever. I could not be bothered to go to University and spend more years studying and living a “broke” financially life.
My plan was to work any job and be independent. What I mean by that is basically living my life and making new experiences; travelling, getting a car, partying with my friends and so on. So I started to work where I could, and I inevitably fell into the hospitality and customer service vortex.
I have worked everywhere, hotels, restaurants, cafes, pubs, conference centres, call centres, shops etc. The more years I spent changing from place to place looking for the “perfect work environment”, the more I started to regret not going to University.
I was stressed and unhappy, I felt undervalued and I knew I was worth more than that. Don’t get me wrong, there also some pros in living that life, so it is worth briefly mentioning some of both.
Pros of living that life:
I was independent, and despite a salary always near or slightly above minimum wage, I was financially “stable”. Throughout those years I made really good friends at work and we had lots of fun! We travelled together, partied together, sometimes lived in the same flat.
I really think that this environment created the bubble in which I was living in. I could not see out of that box, and I was valuing too much the pros of living like that. The problem was that I had started to get used to it, even worse.
Cons of living that life:
Was I really financially stable? I certainly had enough (not always) to pay rent/bills, for some pints with my pals, and for some travelling time to time. But what about savings? The future did not look promising at all and I could not certainly be living that life forever. Relying on customers’ tips and doing extra hours to earn more.
On top of that, complaining everyday with my colleagues about long working hours, early shifts, finishing late and so on. Moreover, having to deal with stressed managers and weird customers on a daily basis. Why did I need to take on board their problems?
Building up ambitions
It took me few years to realise that the cons offset the pros by miles! I was probably blinded by friendships and got used to that life. I was so busy that I could not think about anything else in my spare time other that relaxing when possible (and complaining).
At some point I tried to progress in the hospitality industry itself. I wanted to become a manager to earn more and have more career satisfaction. Wearing a nice suit, having responsibilities and managing others, I really wanted to progress! It is at that point that I started to build up ambitions.
However, I had to face reality as well. Progressing in such industry is hard and takes ages. By progressing I don’t certainly mean becoming a supervisor, team leader or anything like it. Anyone can do that quite easily (with effort and dedication) and in relatively “short” time. By looking at their lifestyle, stress and salary, in my opinion it wasn’t worth it.
I wanted to become general manager of an international hotel or fine dining restaurant. Dealing with huge brands, hospitality chains and such, earning high salaries with massive bonuses, enjoying companies’ benefits such as international travels and so on.
Why I wanted to start University
The reality was quite simple, no qualifications meant fewer (close to 0) possibilities to get where I wanted to, right at the top. What did the general manager of the hotel I was working in have? A university Degree. I remember when working there, so many times I had to serve younger people (guests) than me. They all had various fancy jobs and their companies were covering all expenses. What did all of them have in common? A University Degree.
Same for when I was working in a fine dining restaurant. Every Friday night I would see tons of younger people having fun together with food and drinks paid by their companies. Again, what did they have in common? They were graduates. Similar situation when working in a conference centre, serving young people with brilliant careers attending super fancy events sponsored by their employers.
I never really had anything like it in hospitality! So I wanted to be on the other side too, feeling appreciated and valued, be the one attending rather than the one serving.
Making the step and starting University
It became an obsession, I wanted to change my life, a career change that would ensure high earnings and satisfaction. I needed that University Degree. I was 25 when I started to gather information on that matter. Few months later I was attending an intense full-time foundation course in order to meet the entry requirements.
I was focusing on my future and I had a clear objective, I was studying hard and nobody could stop me. Then I had to decide which Degree subject to apply for and write a personal statement for my application. Hard choice, but the business world always attracted me. Becoming a top manager, negotiating important commercial terms, closing deals, I wanted a career along those lines.
I did not want to restrict myself to the hospitality industry, although everyone suggested me to apply for Hospitality & Events Management. So I applied for International Business & Finance instead. In my personal statement I threw everything I felt, my work and life experience, but mostly my ambitions. Surprisingly I received an offer from all Universities I applied for, it was time to pick one and start!
Starting University at 26
Before starting University and officially becoming a mature student, I had to face a big barrier made of questions and doubts. Is it too late? Am I too old? Will I be successful and find a job after? These were ruining my sleep, but not only. I wasn’t sure if I would integrate among younger students; not even if I would perform at their level.
I was stubborn, I sorted my student finance but I did not want to take any maintenance loan (this was a mistake and I actually regret it!). The idea of having a huge debt did not sound that good to me, even though I would only need to repay it if earning above a certain threshold. But that wasn’t the point, I took it as a challenge with myself, didn’t want any help.
“Mother hospitality” was a good teacher for managing my time and money. I kept working part-time and increasing/decreasing my working hours according to my study schedule; although I would work full-time during summer as well as Christmas break, Easter break and so on. I will always be thankful to hospitality for that, it gave me that flexibility I needed to support myself financially.
Moreover, the full-time student status gave me access to numerous discounts, from council tax exemption to transportation, from groceries to personal shopping. I was pretty much in the same financial situation as I was when working full time, I did not feel poorer at all!
My time as a mature student at University
I spent 4 years at University, the exact expected time to complete my Degree with honours. I have experienced lots of things, met many extraordinary people, but most important I changed my life. At the beginning I was scared, 4 years sounded like a long time to me, but it really “flew” fast.
I’m not going to lie and pretend everything was perfect, I had a lot of ups and downs. During the first two years I was trying to answer those questions I had. Remember the ones mentioned earlier? They were all inexistent! Luckily those two years did not matter that much, I used them to settle in.
My real University experience started in year 3, although I wish I did not waste the first two. What do I mean by waste? I did not “live” University at all. I used to isolate from others, not getting involved in extracurricular activities, going back to my flat as soon as lectures were finished and so on. Putting it simple, I did not feel “appropriate” for the environment, not a good fit.
It was in year 3 that I realised and accepted that I was indeed “different”. I believe mature students face a slightly different experience than the rest, but it’s just a matter of perception. If you manage to change that perception, you will change the whole experience!
This is what really matters for many students, although I don’t particularly agree with that. At the end of the journey, I managed to get a First-class Honours Degree. It wasn’t easy (I was on course for a 2:1 but thanks to my dissertation and last exams I turned it into a first).
I think mature students have an advantage in that. I did not feel the same pressure and stress that younger students were experiencing during exam periods.
Why? I’m not sure, but my idea is that my previous life of working full-time, dealing with managers, customers and so on was the secret. I was used to managing pressure, plus the idea of going back to that life was pushing me forward.
In year 3 I started to make really good friends to share notes and study together. I began to “follow” those who seemed to be destined to success. I was getting involved in extracurricular activities, expanding my network and establishing relationships also outside of University.
My last year was the hardest, not only because I was writing my dissertation, but also because Covid had a huge impact. It doesn’t matter know, University challenges are good because they prepare you for what comes after.
My life after graduating from University
This is what really matters! I had a clear goal when starting University at 26: to change my life and fulfil my ambitions. I graduated in the middle of a pandemic and had a “virtual ceremony”, not exactly what I wanted. My academic journey was over, and I could not even celebrate with my loved ones!
If that wasn’t enough, the job market looked tragic, things were not promising at all! The world economy was going towards a deep recession right when I was supposed to start writing my successful mature student story.
I thought I would find a job easily with my CV: a First-class Honours Degree; years of Hospitality work experience; extracurricular activities such as consulting projects for real companies and academic competitions; two internships, one for an SME consultancy business (here I explained how I got an internship as a mature student) and another for a multinational financial company; and few insight weeks.
I made hundreds of applications for graduate schemes and jobs. If you are not familiar with those, they are quite tough and time consuming. They involve several stages, from numerical and verbal tests to video-recorded Q&A and actual interviews.
Was starting University at 26 a mistake?
I was quite depressed. I began to think that starting University at that time had been a huge mistake. Companies were not replying, and when they were my application was “unsuccessful”. Most graduate programmes were stopped or delayed to the next year intake due to Covid.
In some cases I would get to the final stage (let me tell you that it is hard to get trough the reasoning tests!) and deliver amazing presentations and individual interviews with hiring managers. Nothing, all unsuccessful. I even started to think that my age of 30 was the problem!
In fact, throughout the stages I was not required to reveal my age, but obviously when reaching the final interview they would see a graduate “adult”. I thought I would need to go back to hospitality, but the industry was living un unprecedented crisis and nobody was hiring even there. That would have been a defeat for me, I was hurt.
Not giving up on my ambitions!
I didn’t want to fail, I had a clear objective when starting University as a mature student and I kept reminding me that. If there were some graduates jobs available, then somebody was getting hired. Why not me? Those starting salaries were well above what I used to get in hospitality. Moreover, with less working hours as well as a fixed work schedule that would allow me to plan my hobbies and activities (finally). I wanted that at all costs!
So I did not give up and I started to practise verbal and numerical reasoning tests as much as I could. I bought several books with psychometric exercises containing answers with explanations (really important!) and completed them several times until I fully understood the mechanism. Meanwhile I kept expanding my network, particularly on LinkedIn as well as attending virtual events and career fairs.
I kept trying until..
I got an opportunity! After going through all the stages of an application for a two-year graduate programme, I received an offer for a top financial company! I will never forget that day, I was speechless. There were only 15 positions open for graduates all over the UK offices, and almost two thousands graduate applicants.
Let me repeat that, 2000 applicants for 15 roles! I made it, I was one of those fifteen. Obviously I accepted the offer straight away.
My new life, starting University was a success
At the time of writing this post, one year has passed from accepting that job offer. I have been mainly working from home due to Covid, but I visited the office a few times, another world! The opportunities are endless and international, and I have already been offered a permanent position after finishing the graduate programme.
I cannot wait for the situation to go back to normality so that I can start to experience the business world. In terms of salary, thanks to a much higher hourly wage rate and company’s bonuses, I’m already earning almost double the money I was getting in hospitality.
All of that working 8 hours a day Monday to Friday with no overtime. If there is something I’m missing from hospitality, that is certainly the relationships with colleagues. I miss those days a bit, with everyone being on the same sinking boat, complaining everyday but still working hard, helping each other all the time and so on.
Why I started this blog
I’m not going to lie, it feels good to help others. During these years I have been encouraging my friends and “ex-colleagues” that were stuck in unhappy lives and hated their jobs. I wanted to see them changing their lives like I did. Some of them followed my advice and are currently studying for their passions and dream jobs.
Others did not start University but they went back to education through professional courses and trainings. I will never take credit for that, I just gave them a little nudge. I know what it feels like to be be a mature student, that’s why I also feel I must help others.
During lockdown I saw desperate people all over the news, jobs losses, entire sectors struggling, small businesses shutting down and so on. I wanted to help as many people as possible to change their lives and reinvent themselves. At the same time, I still was (am) the super shy guy, it’s part of my character.
My Personal Blog
Then I had the idea of starting this blog, it would allow me to help and encourage others while staying “behind the scenes”. Feel free to wander around the various posts, I have written quite a few and I will continue doing so.
I talk about everything I have experienced as a mature student in the UK, my failures and my accomplishments. I also have a contact page if you need to get in touch for anything, or a Facebook page if you prefer.
Who knows, starting University or any other form of education might not be for everybody and does not guarantee a life change or a career change. However, if you never try you will never know.
I would never ask you to subscribe or anything like that! But please if you think my posts are helpful, I would really appreciate if you could share them. It means a lot to me. This was my story in a nutshell, thank you for reading!
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“However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at” – Stephen Hawking