Returning to university as a mature student

Date 12 September 2023

Beverley describes her thoughts and feelings on returning to the University of Northampton to study a Master’s degree, and shares her insights on life as a mature student.

Beverley Heeley

Returning to university in my 40s was somewhat daunting to say the least. Back in 1993, I studied my undergraduate degree at Northampton, when the University was Nene College and Waterside Campus hadn’t yet been conceived.

I had a successful career in sales and account management but after the birth of my daughter, I was very unwell and couldn’t return to work. I focused all of my attention on motherhood.

During Covid, like many other people, I reassessed my life and decided to retrain in a field in which I’m passionate – the mental health of children. I decided I wanted to become a counsellor and so researched courses/qualifications and decided to apply for the Counselling Children and Young People MSc course. After completing a written piece of work, and an interview, to my surprise I was offered a place on the course!

On my first day I was all-consumed with nerves, but I kept reminding myself that we were all in the same boat. That first day quickly became a week, the weeks turned into months, and I’ve just completed my first year!

The course is everything I dreamed it would be and way more besides. I enjoy the mix of theory and skills practice, coupled with work placement. It’s challenged me on every conceivable level – mentally, academically and emotionally, and considerably more than I imagined.

I did wonder about the ages of students on the course, i.e., was I too old for this, would I fit in? I needn’t have worried though, as the ages of my cohort range from 20s – 50s, and my closest friends are aged between 23 and 45.

I also had reservations around the academic side of returning to university. Waterside Campus is state-of-the-art and it’s a far cry from me visiting the library at the previous campus back in 1993, grabbing some books and handwriting an assignment! There are on-campus Librarians, including Academic Librarians, to assist with research and writing. I was a regular visitor when I first started!

An area which caused me considerable anxiety before starting my course was my own mental health. I have a diagnosis of bipolar and at times can become quite unwell, requiring additional support. The onset of this was when I was in the middle of my undergraduate degree. I received support from the University back then too, but as things have progressed generally in the field of mental health, I know there is now more support available.

Throughout my first year, my personal tutor has been my bedrock – reliable, available and approachable. I’m not sure I’d be where I am without him. Also, as part of my Disabled Students’ Allowance award, I qualify for an Occupational Therapist at the University, who’s been fantastic.

Enrolling on this course has been the best thing I’ve ever done for myself – in fact, I feel rather emotional writing this. From a pretty directionless, 19 year old me, who arrived at the University in 1993, to 49 year old me studying for a Master’s degree in her chosen field.

If you’re a mature student considering returning to study, I would say don’t hold yourself back, just ‘go for it!’ I did and it’s completely changed my life.

Beverley Heeley, Counselling Children and Young People MSc student
Beverley Heeley

Beverley enrolled on the University of Northampton’s Counselling Children and Young People MSc course at the age of 48 and has just completed year one of a two-year programme of part-time study.