Going to grown up school

Universities around the country are preparing to receive the new intake of Freshers as we enter another September.   And thousands of just-legals are preparing to go off to study and leave home for what may be the first time.

We hear a lot in the news about this as summer departs us, but we rarely hear about the ‘other’ students.  The mature students.  And, shock horror, the mature students with kids.

As of late Sept I will officially be an MSWK – a Mature Student With Kids (my own abbreviation, I’m pretty certain it won’t catch on). I’m going to get a new school bag, pencil case and notebook and then trot off to study a part time post-graduate course. And I’m beyond excited.

I’ve never been a mature student before. Last time I started any significant studying it was sixteen years ago when I became an undergrad at Lincoln University.

I was fortunate to be able to go off to university after my A-levels and, as an awkward 18 year old, I was a completely blank canvas for the molding and shaping that the university experience would do.   And mold and shape me it certainly did. I had a blast and I learnt stuff too so that was an added bonus.

Despite the fun and general awesomeness, I carried with me a narrow-minded expectation that everybody around me was of the same blank canvas, e.g. eighteen, just left home, most likely single, little life history, and just starting their learning journey. I didn’t account for anybody else in my cosy fantasy world. So when I did encounter the “mature students”, my friends and I used to look on in wander as if they were exhibits in a museum. Look! They carry flasks! Hey, they’re sitting right at the front! OMG they are actually asking questions! (Although there was no OMG in 1999 so we just did it the old fashioned way and said “Oh My God”).

And sixteen years ago I wouldn’t have even conjured up the image of a student with kids (you’ll be pleased to know my mind has become much less narrow since then).   The closest I got was slightly knowing (walking past in the street) another student in my year who was pregnant in our second year.    I wish I had been more perceptive and open to different situations then but that is with hindsight.

Now, as I start to think about my preparation, I’m completely on the same page as the mature students I used to mock. A flask? Of course I will need a flask, and probably some snack food and a bottle of water. In fact, I think I will buy a mini cool bag. And where else to get the most out of the lecture than at the front? After all, I’m a mature student, I won’t be rocking up after a heavy night out so I don’t need to hide at the back.

I visited my new university recently for my interview and I took with me (as you do) my mum, the kids, and a carefully selected group of The Teds to join us for the day. I was grateful to my mum for helping out looking after them as I knew I wouldn’t relax if I was worried about them and there was no way I could take them into the interview with me.
The university building itself was old and not at all set up to receive visitors with prams (though strangely, once you had managed to navigate the many steps, there was an accessible lift down to the café).

But the kindness of strangers prevailed and people helped us into the building, into the café, and I was able to set up mum, the kids and the bears in the café whilst I went for my interview. My son is too little to understand where we were going but I explained to my daughter, who is 3 and a bit, that I was going to ‘grown up school’. I hesitate to call it ‘Big School’ because that will be too confusing for her when she is going to ‘Big School’ next year.

I won’t lie, it felt strange being there with children. And there was a part of me that expected the other students (proper undergrad ones) to sneer at me and give me a look that said, “This is no place for kids.” Largely though, they were welcoming and didn’t bat an eyelash at the kids.

Perhaps, since I first went to university, times have changed so brilliantly that anybody, anywhere and from any background can become a student.

Of course I won’t be taking the kids with me when I start but it’s nice to know that they are welcome there and that I’m welcome there. I hope that I will be able to learn, study, and get the most out of this course, at the same time as managing my normal life of child-caring and working. I’m going to wholeheartedly embrace being a Mature Student With Kids.

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