Stories of second-chance students: ‘Now I don’t feel scared at all’
Four Access to HE diploma holders heading to university this autumn tell us how the course gave them another chance to build a better life
Tuesday 22 August 2017 11.05 BST Guardian
On A-level results day, students around the country found out whether they got the grades to secure their place at university.
But it’s not just smiling teens gracing newspaper front pages who discovered where they will spend the next three years. This is the first year that Ucas has included the Access to Higher Education diploma – which prepares people without traditional qualifications for university – in its points system.
Access students often missed out on the chance to go to university at 18 because they faced barriers in their personal lives. Here are some of their stories.
Aisha is a care leaver and single mum who has experienced domestic violence. She studied an Access to Higher Education diploma in medicine and biomedical science and has received an offer to study biomedical science at Kingston University London.
I thought I had lost my opportunity to go to university after I didn’t finish my A-levels. When my son moved into full-time nursery it seemed like the right moment to pick up the pieces. I wanted more for myself, and I felt that I owed my son a better life.
As a single mother, doing a one-year intensive access course at a concession price was a better option for me than studying and sitting A-levels at a private centre. The course gave me a routine as well as immense knowledge, as we studied a mix of A-level and first-year undergraduate material. It gave me the time to dedicate myself to my education without compromising on other aspects of my life, like looking after my four-year-old.
Previously, I struggled with my mental health, and even thinking about having to go out every day and meet new people was terrifying. Studying makes me feel independent and gives me direction. I’ve made new friends on my course, something I’d never found easy to do before.
I feel like I have already achieved so much by receiving offers from the likes of UCL and Queen Mary, University of London. Being the first in my family to attend university is a proud moment for me. I don’t think I know anyone who is so ecstatic about studying and exams as I am.
I worry about my social life at university, as I am older than most students who have just done their A-Levels, but otherwise I’m as excited as a child in a candy store.
Gemma is a recovering alcoholic and single mother who has experienced domestic abuse and struggled with her mental health. After completing an Access to Nursing diploma, she will study mental health nursing at Salford University.
In 2015 my college told me that I would never become a nurse because I was a recovering alcoholic, and that it was pointless doing the access course. This affected my confidence, but I had done some nurse training ten years ago (I left when I got pregnant) and just knew it was the career I wanted.
I decided to apply for mental health nursing because I have struggled previously with alcoholism, suicidal impulses and depression. The access course changed my life: I made new friends, and was able to be me and not just “Gemma the alcoholic”.
I was sober for a year before I started and wanted to prove to myself that I really was able to manage the workload. The course has given me the confidence to be university-ready. The staff were so supportive, especially when I opened up to them about my alcoholism – I didn’t feel judged at all.
Because I got high grades on the diploma I will automatically receive an extra £2,000 from Salford University as a scholarship, which will really help now that nurses do not get bursaries.
I feel that I am going to make a really good mental health nurse as I have been to that dark place where I wanted to die and really couldn’t see a way out. I have that valuable life experience to be able to put myself in other people’s shoes and give them hope.
When I did my nursing training in my early 20s I was frightened to death of everything; now I just want to face new challenges and I don’t feel scared at all.
Maria experienced a forced marriage and several years ago suffered a racially motivated attack which has left her with ongoing physical symptoms. She now runs self-defence and fitness classes for Asian women. She will study criminology at the University of Manchester, which she hopes will launch a career supporting and rehabilitating offenders.
Going to university has always been my dream. The access course was my stepping stone and it is one of the most challenging decisions I have made. I have a tendency to quit things halfway through but I was determined that this time things would be different.
Battling depression is something only a few people can understand. College was more of a personal journey for me and I did it to challenge myself.
One of the most important reasons for me to come this far is my daughter. I was once told by my ex-husband that daughters hold no value compared to a son, a mentality that still runs through Asian families. My faith is what kept me together and my favourite quote from the Prophet Muhammad is “lucky is a women whose first child is a daughter”.
I am going to unlock as many doors as I can and university is one of them. It is going to be a whole new world for me and the most exciting thing is that it will be my journey.
Shantal has a rare form of cancer, as well as mental health issues which mean she has not left her house in nine years. She is hoping to study physiological science at the University of Bristol.
When I applied to do the Access to Higher Education course I was really depressed and didn’t think I would even get on it. But I needed something. The course has given me a goal to work towards and a distraction from feeling ill. Now I have a reason to get up in the morning.
Ever since I was diagnosed with cancer, I have had no answers from doctors other than “it’s a very interesting case”. I need to find those answers.
I got married when I was 16 and so I didn’t finish school – I didn’t really think I would be able to go to university. My son did this course the year before me and it was his experience that made me decide to apply.
I’m extremely nervous about university and whether I will be able to cope, but I’m very determined and, if I’ve learnt anything from the last year, I know I will be able to get through it – I have to just take it one day at a time.
I’m really looking forward to being able to talk to people about diseases, investigate causes and find out why some people like me still don’t get answers.