Back to school

Katie shares her story about returning to study following a long break while she worked. From the initial anticipation of choosing a course and applying, through to the differences of then and now, Katie looks at the value of the mature student experience… By Katie Hall

Just over two years ago I started to attend postgraduate open days, visiting universities across the UK. Part of me thought I was pandering to a bit of a fantasy of doing that creative writing MA I’d fancied for the last fifteen years. Part of me thought I might just be taking the very first steps of really making it happen, and turning the dream into an achievable goal.

I had detailed but nerve-wracking conversations with course convenors, asking pages of irritating questions, feeling over prepared and underqualified. I felt I was too old at 36 (What was I thinking?) and very out of touch with academic life.

However, these meetings armed me with the information I needed to both make a decision and make an application. I was able to choose the course, the MA in Writing here at Warwick, that felt the best fit for me. As well as the course structure offering the most choice, it suited me to come “home” to my undergraduate university, and the initial visit told me I’d feel as comfortable as I did all those years ago when I strolled around the campus full of too much confidence for a twenty-year-old. (Where did it all go?)

Once I was offered a place, things started to move really fast. There was a lot of admin to navigate: enrolment, module selection, paying fees, student loan application. Unlike before, everything is done online now. This was quickly followed by a barrage of emails with timetables and course reading lists and assessment information. I had to get to grips with the library catalogue and search system before classes had even started! One of my discoveries blew my mind – the amount of content available as e-books. As a part-timer based in London, my access to the library is limited, so this has been a blessing.

I nervously attended the induction session where I was able to meet both my lecturers and fellow classmates. Despite feeling very insecure about being “old” and “past it”, I was delighted to find that I wasn’t the only person on the course returning to study after a long break. I wasn’t the oldest, and there was, in fact, a real mix of both life and educational experience in my cohort. My fear of being surrounded by digital-savvy millennials who could do everything at ten times my speed was put to bed. My classmates have definitely been one of the highlights of the MA.

Once classes started, I quickly got orientated and settled into a routine. I think it is worth taking advantage of activities like Welcome Week to find out what’s happening at the University outside of your own department.

There are some major differences to my campus and course experience from the first time round. For example, email. Every communication is sent to my Warwick email address. I found that within the first few weeks of term I’d received more emails than my entire 3 undergraduate years. However, once I was set up online, I had access to an amazing range of software to use on my own laptop – all of the MS Office suite, plus a huge range of other software to support study and research activities. The range of training courses to learn how to use the software is extensive, and worth a look, and all available for free to students. The concept of bringing laptops and devices to class has taken some getting used to but is also useful at times. I sometimes get odd looks taking out a notebook and pen.

I always knew that returning as a mature student, my priorities were going to be different from a straight-out-of-school undergraduate. I’d done the partying and socialising first time around. I’ve found that the additional events, research seminars and study workshops from careers and skills and the library available to attend are non-stop throughout the year, along with one of the big attractions at Warwick, the chance to audit (i.e. sit in on) modules beyond my assessed curriculum.  Making the most of what is available has really enhanced my time at Warwick.

My time at Warwick is fast coming to an end, and doing this MA and returning to University has been scary, challenging, exhilarating and life-changing. I’m now applying for my PhD in creative writing, and that is something I never thought I would be able to say.


Are you considering going back to university after a long break? How can you make the most of your time at the university as a mature student? Tweet us at @warwicklibrary, email us at, or leave a comment below.


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Cover image: Carrying books / element5digital / CC0 1.0

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