Going back to education at 27 years old was a terrifying thought. I was spending 11 to 15 hours behind the wheel of a lorry by myself five to six days a week, and poor GCSE results had imprisoned me for over a decade. Not to mention that I had financial obligations and self-doubt and worried that I would be the oldest person in the class.
I wasn’t eligible to join any courses that offered A levels because my GCSE grades were substandard. But and I did not want to spend two years redoing them before going on to A levels, nor could I afford to.
In 2013, a fellow lorry driver and now friend, Tony, turned my years of wondering about medical degrees into determination to achieve one by taking me to visit the University of Cambridge. I was immediately drawn to Cambridge’s peaceful charm, architecture and heritage, as well as its innovative science and medical education. I felt the urge to go to university and bring an educational focus back into my life.
In December 2014, City and Islington College offered me the chance to join a pre-access course it was trialling. It was just six months long and three days a week, so I could work at the same time.
I struggled with maths, but the college offered support classes and personal tutorials. With hard work and full support from my maths tutor, Winston Scotland, I went on to receive a B grade GCSE and an A in English, and passed the in-house science exam. More importantly, I received an offer to join the college’s access to higher education diploma (medicine and medical biosciences).
It was one year long, which was ideal. Tutors on the course helped with personal statements and references for university and we had an on-site Ucas adviser who guided students through the application process. I needed relevant work experience to apply for medicine, so every Monday into Tuesday I would attend college and then work a night shift as a carer. I would be awake for 27 hours and allowed myself only five hours’ sleep before studying again. Looking back, those were the hardest times.
I never made it into medicine; trying to balance studying and gaining relevant work experience with earning money meant I could not focus on the UK Clinical Aptitude Test, which determined whether or not I would be accepted. I was not upset at the time; I was proud. I had obtained decent grades and could still go to university, which is exactly what I did.
In September 2016, I was accepted on to the University of Westminster’s BA honours biomedical sciences course. The course required a deeper scientific understanding, but thanks to the study skills modules from the access course, I had already learned how to write in a scientific style and how to give presentations, as well as Harvard referencing.
As a mature student, I worried that I would not learn as well as the younger students or would be ostracised for being older, but I was wrong and my peers respect me for who I am.
Now 31 years old, I am in my third year of studying biomedical sciences at the University of Westminster, on target to achieve a first class degree. I am receiving industry-leading training as a biomedical scientist and have been honoured on the university’s dean’s list. All of this would not have been possible without my access to the higher education diploma from City and Islington College.
Next year, I will graduate and register as a qualified biomedical scientist. I plan to apply to study medicine again, now that I am more experienced and have a deeper knowledge of the application process and the career that it leads to. I may teach in the future or take up research.
Most importantly, I have something now that I did not have before education; I have options for the future.
Bradley Moon is a biomedical science student at the University of Westminster.
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