I did my Access to HE course part time, two evenings a week, over two years. During this time I continued to work full time as a Chief Petty Officer in the Royal Navy.
I was a little apprehensive about beginning an Access to HE course as I hadn't particulary enjoyed school, and had few formal qualifications. To my surprise, I found that I really enjoyed studying and, in particular, sharing ideas with other students. In fact, when the caretakers threw us out of the building at 9pm, we would often go to the local pub to continue our discussion over a pint!
I enjoyed the course so much that I decided to continue studying
Throughout the Access to HE course the course leaders treated us as full students of the University of Portsmouth, even arranging for us to attend some undergraduate seminars and lectures to have a taste of higher (rather than further) education. As such, I feel that the course prepared me well for degree-level study.
Before embarking on my bachelor's my plan had been to train as a teacher. However, I enjoyed the course so much that I decided to continue studying, and returned to university to complete a master's in public administration. While studying for this I was awarded a studentship from the Economic and Social Research Council. This covered tuition fees and living expenses for three years of doctoral research, and I received my PhD in European Politics in 2015. Around the same time the university appointed me as Senior Lecturer in Politics and Public Policy.
I never imagined that I would end up as part of the university's academic community
Study changes us. When I returned to study after many years away I never imagined that I would end up as part of the university's academic community. That I did so is entirely thanks to the friendly and supportive atmosphere that the Access to HE course provided.
There are probably a lot of people who, like me, didn't have a wholly positive experience of school, and as a result spent years assuming that academic study wasn't for them. For me, undertaking an Access to HE course changed that view. With the help of supportive, good-humoured and patient tutors it provided me with the tools and, above all, the self-belief to undertake a higher education course.
If you have a sense of curiosity, and you're willing to commit time to study, an Access to HE course is a fantastic opportunity.