GFW contributor Faith Richardson, currently in her final year of Fashion Communication at Northumbria University, was 23 when she started her course. Taking time out following her A-levels to work, pursue her hobbies and discover what she really wanted to do with her life, Faith has no regrets about being a mature age student. She tells GFW about the journey which took her from Olympic-level Equestrian Eventer to Fashion Comms graduate, and the lessons, setbacks and successes she’s had along the way.
Allow me to introduce myself; my name is Faith, and I’m in my final year of Fashion Communication at Northumbria University. I’m 26, which puts me firmly in the “mature student” category. I made a conscious choice to be a mature student when I finished my A-levels, and had no idea what I wanted to do at university. As everyone around me was shipping off all around the country to their new student lives, I decided it wasn’t for me. Not yet, any way.
Since I didn’t know what I wanted to do, the idea of wasting the funding and my time to end up with a degree I probably didn’t want just didn’t appeal to me. I’m sure there’s plenty of young people currently in a similar position, maybe reading this now just before sitting your A-levels, and thinking “I really don’t know what I want to do either.”
I’ve had the most amazing experience being an older student, one that I’m pretty positive I wouldn’t have had if I’d just gone anyway when I was 18. What I’ve found is that, as an older student my priorities are totally different than they were at 18.
At 18 I was far more interested in the social aspect of uni than, say, doing the actual work. I’d have gone on all the nights out, I wouldn’t have had the discipline to make it to an early lecture and I wouldn’t have committed so much time to actually doing my work.
I started by taking some time out from education altogether, where I worked in retail and club promoting and after a couple of years, some great jobs and some terrible ones I felt ready for education again, albeit in a totally different area than the one I’d originally thought I wanted to work in: I started studying Equine Management at an agricultural college in Northumberland!
I’d ridden and owned horses all my life and it seemed like a natural step to learn more about them and work in an industry I was already a part of out of choice. I worked for the college, caring for the horses over the holidays, and one Summer I moved down to Gloucester to work for an Olympic-level Eventer. The hours were long but I enjoyed working outside, and being around the animals, but I realised that this realistically isn’t something I could do for the rest of my life.
By this point I was 21, and felt much more level headed. Working on the Eventing yard for 17 hour days gave me a huge leg up when it came to work ethic and getting jobs done, and it taught me how to live alone and fend for myself. It also gave me several broken toes, but we won’t get into that.
“There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to life plans.”
Unfortunately, manual labour, working with horses and some bad genetics meant that my bad back eventually gave out, I slipped 3 discs and ended up needing corrective spinal surgery. I ended up bed bound, unable to walk more than a few hundred metres without a walking stick and at 22 my mother had to help me wash my hair. Honestly, not so glamourous. However, these life experiences were again a driving force and helped me get my act together.
Once I’d sufficiently healed, I applied for Fashion Communication courses at several universities, and got accepted for each one I interviewed at. That was three years ago, and now here I am, about to (finally) graduate!
Coming into student life older and just a little bit more serious — and frankly sick of the road blocks life had put in my way — I found that the work was my number one priority, and I’d learnt enough life skills along the way to be disciplined enough to put in the hours and turn up for the lectures and find myself work outside my degree, too.
I also feel like the “real world” feels a lot more real and necessary to work towards when you’re creeping closer to 30 than it does when you’re 20 or 21. Don’t be put off at the thought of being the oldest person in your class – I’m older than everyone by almost half a decade and I honestly don’t even notice most of the time.
There’s plenty of amazing things you can learn in between getting to university — travelling, working, volunteering (or ending up bed bound like me) — are all valuable life experiences. There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to life plans, so there’s no point forcing yourself to do something you know isn’t right just because friends, teachers or parents think you should. You’ll know what’s right – and if you don’t — you can enjoy figuring it out in the meantime.