It was 21st April 2016, and that was that. I stood outside Cadman library having just handed in my final year project (a 10,000 word novella called Strangers), and felt a sense of pride almost equal to the day my daughter was born.
My journey began on the 22nd April 2013. I was 25 years old and fed up of companies telling me, “I’m sorry, we are going to have to let you go, we just can’t afford to keep you”. This, as well as prospective employers only wanting graduates, was when I made the decision to go to university. It wasn’t a new idea, I had been toying with it for years. The should I, shouldn’t I dance was performed in my living room almost on a weekly basis and I think everyone was tired of me saying I would, but not. After browsing the Staffordshire University website, I found the Step Up course, and it was perfect. A 10-week programme, that would give the education skills I was lacking having attempted (and failed) half a year of college almost a decade before hand. Generally, I achieved good grades in high school, and achieved reasonable results in my GCSE’s. But the sixteen-year-old me was a master of her own destiny, and obviously knew what was best for her so she drifted in and out of jobs and eventually being a mother took precedence.
On that fateful Monday, I put my big girl pants on, and attended my first Step Up lecture. Afterwards, my head was spinning. I didn’t know which way was up, or indeed if I could actually continue with my intended route. But with my sheer pig-headed determination, I pushed through the nagging feeling that I was going to fail, and I passed. As the weeks wore on, I got more confident in what I was doing. Lectures on research skills, gave way to Harvard referencing, the difference between a subjective and an objective opinion, and how to navigate Summon and RefZone. All these things, along with the fantastic support of all the Step-Up team (especially Rachel, who is phenomenal at what she does. Thank you very much for helping me with my dreaded UCAS application and my personal statement!), and also a few Student Ambassadors, made me feel that the sky wasn’t the limit at all. My only limit, was the amount I pushed myself.
About half way through Step Up I was given a conditional offer on Staffordshire University’s BA English and Creative Writing course. Even though said degree is predominantly writing creatively (in the way of short stories, poems, non-fictional writing such as reviews, blogs and a magazine, and even an artists portfolio), I almost got through it WITHOUT having to write an essay, the transferable skills I had learned on the Step Up course ensured that I hit the ground running, and didn’t fall flat on my face within my first year. My confidence only grew with each assignment I submitted, and I was able to critically analyse set texts, and take on board and understand writer’s techniques that resulted in an 80% in one module. Thanks to Step Up I had started to create a logical and linear thought process that I had been lacking, due to my personality disorder and mental health issues.
I won’t lie to you, juggling university and Motherhood/Partnerhood, has been tough too. But luckily for me, my daughter is absolutely fantastic. Lydia was even been able to attend a few lectures with me when she’s been poorly, or when those dreaded inset days have reared their head. Seriously, the lecturers are THAT understanding! I think my journey has also, in part, been for her. It was always essential for me to lead by example and let Lydia see what can be achieved. Seeing her Mum at university has inspired her to become a marine biologist, just like her idol, Sylvia Earle (can I just say that she does a really good impression of David Attenborough too, if you give her 50p).
I graduated in July 2016 (something that I never thought I would do), at the same time I was awarded one of two highly commended writer prize in the Stoke-on-Trent literary festival, and in September of the same year I had my very first short story published, and then another in 2017 (*cough cough, both anthologies available on Amazon or from Immanion Press, cough*). I would like to take this opportunity to say that you can too. If you are thinking about it, take the plunge. The Step Up course opened the door to a world that is so far removed from what I was used to in my brief stint at college and in high school. University has a more relaxed paced (which suits those of us whose spirit animal is a koala). It does get a little hectic come deadline day, but if you remember that organisation is the key to success, you’ll be fine. If you think you’re too old for it, you’re really not. If you need that bit of extra support, no matter why, it is always just an email, a phone call, or a discreet conversation away. It may sound a little cliché, but if I can do it, anyone can.
For more details on how to apply for the next intake of Step Up to HE follow the link: http://www.staffs.ac.uk/stepup
Ashley Cotton Step Up to HE Award Leader