Access to Higher Education, Mature learners, Student Experience, Student Stories, Widening Participation

From Small Acorns Mighty Oaks Grow! By Gary Stevens, 3rd year psychology student

Before I began this journey, I was fortunate enough to get a job straight out of school. My exam grades were far from overwhelming and, at 18, I had no real work experience yet it seemed I had landed on my feet quite successfully. I remember people telling me how I could forge a great career in the civil service. As time went on I remained in my job but I was never truly satisfied. I always felt as if something was missing but could never put my finger on it. I would try and discuss this with my family and ask their advice which was simple… “You have a good job, don’t throw it away”. Or…  “It’s a safe job, so stay put and get a pension.” Stupidly, and against my gut feeling, I listened and stayed put.

[Image: Taking part in my first psychological study…. I was diagnosed as normal]

While I did get a pension nothing much changed. Days turned to weeks and weeks to months. Eventually those months became years and the 18-year-old boy that had started that job was now 29-years-old, unhappy and in exactly the same role. Additionally, my “safe” job was going through a huge change with building closures and redundancies becoming a very real possibility. If there was ever a time to change it was now.

I did regret not trying harder in school, even when I got my job it was more due to luck rather than any real academic achievement. I was always curious as to where I’d be if I had made different choices at 18 and gone to university. While I desired change and a new challenge, I think most of all, I wanted to see if I could do it and get my degree. It was my wife who directed me to the Go Higher course at Liverpool University and after a quick phone call I was booked in for the assessment. I remember turning up for my English and maths test in a full suit, I was certainly dressed to impress but, upon arrival, I found that it wasn’t such a formal affair and casual clothing would have done the job. However, I seen this as a positive as I would definitely be remembered and stand out from the crowd. My logic paid off and I was welcomed on to the Go Higher course for the 2015/16 intake.

I didn’t really know what to expect from Go Higher but I knew I wanted to be taken out of my comfort zone and the course did not disappoint. It was split into three stages and involved everything from essay writing, presentations and report writing. While I was there to learn I also wanted to gauge my own potential and see how far I could actually go. I decided to set my sights high and achieve a grade that would allow me study psychology at Liverpool University. I would like to add however that the Go Higher course is accepted by multiple institutions and plenty of the people on my course went on to a degree at different universities… one of the many benefits of Go Higher.

The course was definitely an eye opener and certainly challenging, especially for someone who had spent the last 10 years working. While I was out of my comfort zone, I did have a lot of support from the staff and the other students. It’s a great environment to be in, the tutors are all experts I their field and teach with such passion. It was a far cry from the memories I had of school. Additionally, while on the course we had access to all the benefits awarded to the full-time students such as the library, the guild and, best of all…. the discounts! #studentlife

Looking back, I was much better doing it at 29 than at 18 as the younger version of me would have only wasted the opportunity. As a “mature student” we have the benefit of life experience and making mistakes, something we don’t get at 18 years old.

Arguably one of the best things you get from the Go Higher course are the transferable skills you pick up along the way. Things such as time management, prioritising work, and communication skills. These are all bi-products of the course that, even if you don’t go on to do a degree, give you much more confidence and general life-skills. This was also picked up on by the other students on the course. While we all came from different backgrounds, were different ages and all had our own reasons for being there, we all felt were gaining something more than a Go Higher certificate, we were taken out of our comfort zones and experiencing something new.

In 2016, I passed the go higher course and received the grade I wanted to study psychology in Liverpool University. As I write this I am in the third year of my degree I can honestly say I have never looked back. The whole experience gave me the confidence and skills to not only persue my degree, but also gave me a great foundation to work from when the I began my first year. The skills and advice we were given on the Go Higher course has helped me right through my time at university and an additional benefit is that the friends I made on Go Higher are all still here. While they may be studying different subjects, we all keep in touch and still support each other when we can. It was a fantastic experience and as I look towards a masters or even a PhD, it’s crazy to think that it all started with Go Higher.

Photo of the Go Higher Graduation 2015. Spot me in the middle in my grey suit.

1 thought on “From Small Acorns Mighty Oaks Grow! By Gary Stevens, 3rd year psychology student

  1. Hi Gary,
    Very inspiring read, Thanks!
    I hope to embark on the go higher program soon and also study psychology.
    Wish you the best on your future studies ?

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