Thursday, 3 May 2018

Things a mature student needs to consider…


My initial blog explained my rationale for embarking on university at the age of 37; the considerations I’d weighed & measured, my drive to create the future I want and the joy of receiving an unconditional offer for my first choice uni. Since then, however, the reality has kicked in… how on earth do you put yourself through a full-time university course when you get limited financial support and you have children and sizeable financial commitments?

I’ve received inspiring counsel from some mature students that have managed to juggle their adult responsibilities & persevere with a degree – including children. Admittedly, they’ve all been women. The financial support available to a mother, who’s considered the ‘main’ parent, is different to someone in my position. Let me be clear, I’m not suggesting the transition to mature studentdom is easier for a woman; in fact, many aspects far more challenging! But my constraints are a little different:

·         I’m a ‘part-time’ father – as heart-breaking as that reality is, it does enable me more freedom of time to pursue and commit to my university/re-training aspirations
·         Financially, however, I don’t receive any financial support from the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) – that, necessarily, goes to their mum

Right now, with university starting in approximately 4 months, I have hurdles that I need to successfully bypass if I’m to make this work. Some are personal to me and many are relevant to most mature students (I would presume).

Personal to me; I hurt my back doing Crossfit and then boxing almost three months ago. It will be my second discectomy in four years! On 8 May, I will  go under the knife for the fourth time in four years (including heart surgery & hernia surgery too). All being well, I’ll then have a period of rehab, before returning to work in June. By the time I get to September, I aim to be fit and healthy, ready for the challenge.

Relevant to many mature students; how do you juggle the time constraints from each part of your life – for me, this is university, being a father and work. Financially, my commitment to those three areas are just as vexing. In an ideal world, like many younger university goers, I’d have the freedom to commit as much time as I want to university; the lectures, the studying, the social life… but, in reality, I will need to find a way to commit ample time between three worlds. I have a financial responsibility to support my children; without a level of financial support, my babies can’t remain in the home they love – both in terms of maintenance for their standard of living and the lending I’m repaying that enabled us to secure the home in the first place.

I have applied for every form of student financing that I may qualify for. As I didn’t go to university in my past life, I qualify for the uni fees to be covered (until their future repayment) with a student loan. I’ve also had notification that the maintenance grant will be payable in the first year. This currently leaves me with a large shortfall. Sadly, I’ve been informed that I can’t apply for one of the university grants until September – as crazy as they seems to me – so I will have to budget without this, as there are no guarantees I’ll benefit from (what I understand to be) a limited number of support payments they’ll make.

So, I’ll need to work. In fact, assuming I don’t benefit from a university grant, by my calculations, I will need to work for between 2 ½ and 3 days a week (minimum) alongside my ‘full-time’ course.   That’s just to get by and meet my commitments. Will I be able to agree to part-time hours with my employer? I’ll have to update you on that in due course as I’m living in hope as it stands… Will I realistically have the time each week to work & achieve what I want at university? I’ll have to update you on that too as the timetables aren’t available until August…

I’m fortunate to have a financial services career behind me, with years of giving and assessing financial advice.  I know how to budget.  I know how to be realistic. My advice, if you’re in my position, is to be proactive. The stress of the unknown will build. Apply for every form of student financial support possible. Be realistic with your sums for the first year at university – including; children, accommodation, travel, food, having a life when you get some free time, loans, a buffer… my advice is to consider a 12 months period. To consider all eventualities for that period and put a price on them (including potential car problems, birthdays, Christmas, etc). Once you know what financial support you qualify for, you can subtract it from the total and then consider your options for meeting the shortfall.

While there are still many variables that I wish I had answers to, I’ve done everything I can for now.  That’s reassuring. Before long, I will hopefully be healthy, working (and therefore back in a position to negotiate a part-time role with my employer) and I’ll have full clarity (aside from the university grant) for what student financing I qualify for.

You’ll likely need a plan A… B… C… maybe even D. My plan A involves spending some of the week living in the halls of residence, where I can fully commit to university life. But will this be possible?  Will I need to stay in Bristol all week and commute to university when needed? Time will tell.

No one said chasing your dreams would be easy. As a mature student, the odds are stacked against you!

1 comment:

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