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Carrie Lee

Students' Union Sabbatical Officer at Blackpool and The Fylde College

It was a really valuable stepping-stone for me to take the Access to HE course prior to my degree as it gave me both a wider understanding and better insight into what my degree would entail.

Carrie Lee

Before starting the Access to HE course, I was a self-employed retailer, specialising in handmade personalised gifts. Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control I had to give up the shop unit that I had been renting and continue the business online for a short while into the course.


It was the closing of my shop that made me step out of my comfort zone and consider returning to education as a non-traditional mature student. I looked at online courses and found the Access to HE Diploma in Social Sciences which really appealed to me. After reading up on the course, I spoke to my friend who had signed up for the same course on-campus. I decided I wanted to know more, so attended an open day where I was able to speak to a course tutor. The course sounded so interesting and the fact my friend was also attending was a bonus. I signed up on the spot.


Having had to close the shop and lose my income, financial concerns were inevitable. I was worried that returning to education and buying any required resources would be an additional burden. However, being able to get an Advanced Learner Loan paid for my tuition fees and a regular monthly bursary provided by the College meant this was something I didn't need to worry about. While I never used it, all students were also made aware of a hardship fund should they need to apply. As a mum of three and a wife, another concern was how I would make time for my coursework, but the workload was more than manageable.


Having continued my business from home, and given the nature of the job, demand peaked around Christmas when I also had assignments due. This was definitely the hardest time for me and after working 15 hours for several days in a row I decided something had to give. After Christmas, I chose to close my business and focus purely on my education.


Overall, the students were friendly and supportive, with a range of ages and variety of backgrounds - some have remained good friends. The tutors were knowledgeable and their passion for what they taught really showed. This made the experience even better and the learning much easier. It was a really valuable stepping-stone for me to take the Access to HE course prior to my degree as it gave me both a wider understanding and better insight into what my degree would entail.


I applied to Blackpool and The Fylde College for my degree after completing the Access to HE course. The degree was with the same tutors, so I already knew their teaching style, and I liked that we were in small groups meaning that the learning was much more personal. I received a conditional offer almost immediately and the only requirement was that I passed the Access to HE course. An additional incentive was that completing my degree resulted in the Advanced Learner Loan being written off.


The Access to HE Diploma most definitely prepared me for university. I started my degree with an understanding of how the College operated, their expectations and their grading system. The subjects I studied were linked to my Diploma, which meant I started the course with prior knowledge. This was a significant advantage to me.


When I started my Diploma, I lacked self-confidence - the thought of presentations induced genuine fear and I found myself constantly comparing myself to others. However, throughout my degree I completed many different presentations, including most recently at the Lancaster Undergraduate Conference, something I never thought I'd have the confidence to do!


After four years of education, I have obtained my first job since graduating as the Students' Union Sabbatical Officer for Blackpool and The Fylde College. I hope to support the students by putting them at the heart of everything I do, ensuring they have the very best experience possible, and encourage them to begin and continue their very own success story in academia.


I would say the more you put in, the more you will get out. For me it has been life changing journey, both personally and academically. Four years ago, when I first signed up to the Access to HE course, I wouldn’t have believed I would achieve everything I have. It's been hard, but so worth it and if I could go back in time I would do it all over again. If you have thought about doing it an Access to HE course, sign up, you won't regret it.