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From office work to studying a BA (Hons) Creative Writing

By: Sarahjane

Jo Walton, 2nd year BA (Hons) Creative and Professional Writing student at University of Plymouth, reveals how she became an adult learner after working in the same office for 9 years and wanted to do something new.

What made you want to study higher education?

I was in a rut. After 9 years in the same office and 20 years to push until retirement, I needed more. I’d taken an apprenticeship through my job and gained a BTEC level 3 in Business Administration, but it wasn’t enough. The experience had reignited my passion for learning and there was no turning back. After being turned down for a level 4 course and then coming second in a job interview, I had a very sad face indeed.

What steps did you take to become an adult learner?

I attended a university open day ‘to see’ if there was any chance of them wanting to teach a fed-up 47-year-old. Everyone was so positive, and it was a real boost after the stream of rejections I’d received. I felt I had to be here, doing this.

I left feeling excited and optimistic and even the Student Finance was approved with no issues. Four months later, I collected my Student ID and was studying BA (Hons) English and Creative Writing with Foundation at the University of Plymouth.

I passed my Foundation year and transferred onto the new BA (Hons) Creative and Professional Writing course in September 2020.

How did you manage a study/life balance?

The recommendation is at least 30 hours of study per week. Treating the course as my job helps me structure my day.  I start ‘working’ at 7:30 am as I work best in the mornings and attend all the scheduled lectures and seminars. This equates to 9 hours per week ‘face time’ with my lecturers: 1 hour teaching and 2 hours seminar time per module. I refuse to miss any.

Outside of this, we are expected to do prep work, background reading, assignments and any group work we are given. Being rubbish at exams, I am delighted that my degree is entirely participation/coursework based.  However, this means I must be consistently good and there is no last-minute cramming for me.

Time management is key if you want to take advantage of all the additional opportunities the university provides and stay on top of your work. For example, the careers service offers mentoring and a myriad of courses to upskill yourself; the societies and sports facilities available are numerous as there is something for everyone from boxing to yachting; knitting to nursing, musical theatre to meditation; visiting lecturers, authors, theatre/dance productions; employer roadshows; and volunteering opportunities.

The hours I spend as a Creative Writing Society Committee member count as voluntary work; I was one of the editors for the university’s Ink Journal 2022 publication this year and I am a Student Ambassador.

I also have the capacity to undertake freelance proofreading and copy editing and I get to see my son in his school plays.

What have you enjoyed or gained from studying in addition to your qualification?

The degree has been great for my mental health as I am using my brain creatively and doing something I love. My physical well-being has also benefited as I can take exercise or escape my desk whenever I feel like it (I’ve lost 12 kilos too). My greatest challenge is self-discipline, but there’s nothing like a deadline to focus the mind.

Have you faced any barriers during your studies?

I turn 50 this year but haven’t found being older a problem. There is a huge age range across the campus from the barely 18-year-olds to those in their 60s and 70s. I find the younger students are kind and inclusive, and I’ve learned a lot from them.

What tips do you have for those considering higher education?

If you are considering a degree, I would advise you to make sure your finances are in order as that is probably my biggest obstacle with childcare costs and bills to pay.  I have no regrets about taking the leap and applying. It is absolutely the best thing I have ever done, making me realise you are never too old and I love that.


Inspired to take up your own student journey or want more information on becoming an adult learner? Sign up to the NSSW Adult Learner newsletter for information and resources straight to your inbox.

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