The joys and miseries of studying again

Is it worth returning to studying after a first career?

back-to-school-flickr-300x206I did not arrive at a career until I was in my mid-thirties. I took a degree in History in 1975 and thought I wanted to be a social worker. Three years as a support worker in two residential homes convinced me that this was a mistake, and I became involved in a project to provide work experience for unemployed young people. We ran a community cafe on Stroud High Street and also offered training in building and office skills.

By 1988 I was living on my own in Bristol with my two children, Ruth, aged six, and Ed, nearly three, and decided to train as a lawyer at Bristol Polytechnic. Ruth was at school, Ed came with me to the Polytechnic’s crèche which, fortunately, he enjoyed – he particularly liked the dinners when he had a proper pudding with custard. Not the fruit and yoghurt that mum usually provided!

The hard part was the sheer volume of information that I had to absorb. Of the three periods of study in my life, I consider this the most challenging and my success the most satisfying.

I worked as a family and childcare solicitor in Hereford for 16 years and was fortunate that I could leave that job before I got stale.

The death of two men – my father and a mutual friend – was the trigger for me to resume my study of classical Greek. Both men had studied classics at university and retained a lifelong interest in the subject. I had studied Greek at school and I know now that this was the key to being able to take it up again. I realised, when I started an Open University language module in Classical Greek four years ago, how much the brain retains – I would certainly have struggled to learn a new subject (like Russian, for example).

Mature student

For those of you considering a distance degree I would recommend the Open University. It offers academic rigour, support and mentoring through a personal tutor, and the opportunity to meet other students, both face-to-face at monthly meeting with the tutor and through telephone conferencing. My group still meets once a month to read classical Greek, at the Open University venue in Harborne, Birmingham.


One of the pleasures of studying as a mature student is meeting fellow students. This is a pleasure that I missed in my recent studies for an MA in Classics at University of Trinity Saint David, because I was a distance learner and so only met fellow students at the annual summer school. Isolation can be a problem – I think we all benefit from peer support.

I have now passed my masters degree with distinction and am about to embark on a PhD at the department of Classics and Ancient History at Birmingham University. The title of my thesis is Women in Herodotus: Agency, Authority and Rhetoric. I would love to hear from anyone whose interests are similar to mine.

I intend to do some teaching and mentoring at Birmingham once my research degree is underway. Is this a career move? Perhaps not, but I don’t feel ‘retired’ either.

  • nollob

    I am 64 and will graduate this summer with a BA(Hons). It has been a roller-coster ride and I often wondered why I was actually doing a degree at my age but I would not have missed it for the world. It has opened so many doors for me mentally. I would recommend it to anyone. I would love to continue with my studies but the cost is prohibitive but at least I now have the skills to continue alone.

  • wendyck

    I am 66 and have just received a BA in English from the Open University. Hard work at times but I honestly believe that everyone could do it with application. It has been of enormous benefit to me and is already helping me to pay my way and live independently. With regard to cost, at the time of studying, I was in receipt of Pension Credit and so was fortunate enough to have all my costs paid by the OU, with help towards the cost of books and IT support. However, I know that the funding rules have now changed for new mature students – more short sighted governmental thinking! – so I anticipate some contribution will be required, which may just place it out of reach for some. But ask the questions, it may not be as much as you think and it will be an investment in your future well being. If you can possibly afford it and it appeals – go for it would be my best advice.