Can it be worthwhile to study part time whilst working full time when you are over 35 or even 45 years old?

Having been a divorced Mum at home bringing up a child and on limited money the only way to advance my career prospects was to study part time. Before giving up full time work to be a parent I had studied at College full time obtaining RSA Stage I & II Secretarial Skills. My first full time job was working for a Cement Manufacturer working as a Telex Operator, then as a Typist followed by a Word Processor Operator. Initially I attended College during the evenings and obtained RSA Stage III typewriting and 80 wpm shorthand. Any youngsters reading this will wonder what on earth am I on about, but those over 40 will know.

No Employer is going to hand a well paid job to someone if they have no up-to-date qualifications/skills. Therefore it is important to take a long hard look at yourself and ask ‘What can I offer a prospective Employer that other Candidates cannot?’. Be honest, as working for someone is all about give and take not to mention a team effort. You want to be paid, but you have to be able to ‘deliver’ for your Employer. Let’s face it there are thousands of people out of work and so you have to have that bit ‘extra’.

If you are a mature person i.e. over 35 yrs old, then you will have had, hopefully, some experience of working coupled with everyday life situations to put down on a CV.

Not everyone in life is an academic, but, there is hope for us all. I left school with one O Level, grade C in English Literature. Lucky for me Mid Kent College offered and still do offer Access courses which are ideal for people returning to work after an absence from the workplace. As they are under 16 hours per week, unemployed persons are allowed to attend, free of charge as I believe the Government pay the College ‘per head’.

Myself, I attended Mid Kent College at Horsted (which has now moved to Gillingham, Kent) part time for 3 years. To start with, the first course for one academic year, which was free, was an Access to Business Studies and Basic Book-keeping course. The course enabled people of different ages to study IT, English (communications), Mathematics (GCSE equivalent), a bit of Law, some basic Book-keeping and Business Studies. My proudest moment was passing the mathematics (exams were modular and allowed concentration on one area of maths, sit an exam and move on to the next module) such as Geometry and Trigonometry which I failed at school. Yet at College I obtained exam results between 90 – 99% which was not easy. The difference was I was older and more determined than ever to pass. The End of Year exams, along with projects throughout all added up to points for people wishing to go to University. I had my child to think about and to encourage at school and therefore time-wise and financially I could not go to University. At the time I worked 5 days a week part time as a Lollipop Lady and cycled to College.

People are very helpful at College, Lecturers, other Students, Staff and Career Personnel. They all want Students to obtain their best. At the time I was at Mid Kent College, Horsted I was fortunate to win a prize for ‘achievement’.

During the second and third years at College, I studied Law under the Institute of Legal Executives (ILEX). At the end of the second year I was very lucky to receive an award, my best so far, a statute of a Legal Wig. It was the biggest trophy there at Prize Giving and I was so thrilled, words just cannot describe. Having never worked in or with Law, I received the ‘Jan Shaw Prize’ for my efforts. It really did make all the hard work and stress of sitting exams ‘well worth it’. Then there was the third year to finish the rest of the areas of law not studied in the second year. During that time I still had my Lollipop job but only working 4 days a week and still cycling.

After sitting exams in May during the second year at College (studying Law) I then attended another course called ECDL (European Computer Driving Licence) which had just come out. Again that was modular which suited me. The ECDL was a new Computer course covering Word, Access, Excel, PowerPoint etc.

Those 3 years at College were my passport to gaining employment in a completely different environment than I had ever worked in before. My CV looked FAB as it showed to a prospective Employer that I might be mature, over 35 yrs old, but I was committed and had the ability to learn totally new subjects and skills. Adaptable and not afraid to learn. We are all different in the workplace but together Employees with different strengths and weaknesses blend to make a strong team by complimenting each other.

Everyone can make choices over the years, to either upgrade their qualifications/skills in order to progress up the work ladder, even though it means certain sacrifices have to be made such as not going out much socialising, apart from the Summer holidays etc. Or, they can choose to stay in a rut in a job they are unhappy in, with no prospects because they cannot be bothered to put that extra effort in. Seriously, what choice is there?

Life is too short and yet we all need to try and achieve the best we can. It really doesn’t matter whether you got good marks at school or not as real life is much different and more focused when you get older.

Most people today do not have a private pension, they only have a state pension to look forward to (if it is still around in years to come) and therefore it is so important to work full time and study part time for as long as possible.

I passed the first 2 years of the Institute of Legal Executives (studying law) and wrote off for a job within a Legal Firm. I had never worked in that environment before. To my amazement I was offered an interview straight away and a follow up interview with the Solicitor whom I was to work for. What a momentous feeling it was when I was offered the job of a Legal Secretary. I was so excited. Unfortunately that Law Firm was not interested in allowing me to continue studying part-time for one day a week for the next two years. I worked very long hours there but learnt so much. I then moved on to a better job with a pay rise nearly equivalent to half the salary to what I started out on. From then on I specialised on being a Completions Clerk and having left studying behind me for five years I needed to update and continue with Law.

I’m in my late 40’s now and just about to finish a Law Degree (LLB Hons) which will have taken me 6 years to complete. I will be starting my 6th (final) year in September. Yet previously at the back of my mind the thought of going to University was never going to materialise until a friend working elsewhere mentioned our University of Kent, on the doorstep, which actually offered part time evening Degrees. It didn’t take me long to get signed up. Yes, six years seems forever and yet the time has gone by so quickly.

I cannot describe the stress of taking 2 weeks of my annual leave to revise and sit exams each year and then the pure relief when the exam marks are released and ‘I’ve passed’ each time. I will get this Law Degree next year but I’ve no idea whether it will be a 2:1 or a 2:2. At my age, just to pass will be FAB.

For you youngsters, you need a 2:1 as you have your whole lives ahead of you and hopefully a long very long interesting career.

Along the way, working and studying, I’ve met all sorts of people and have made some long lasting friendships.

Studying has given me back my personality I had when I was younger. Now some might think ‘mmmmmmmm’, but to me it means I’m my own person once more. I’m not afraid to face new challenges and that shows you are still alive and kicking.

When my Degree is completed next May, my part time studying will continue. I shall be enrolling on a Legal Practice Course (LPC) for 2 years ( it would be 1 year if full time). The beauty of this will be that this side of learning is more of a practical nature, i.e. a lot of form filling and a lot of hard work. So maybe I’ll pass those exams too.

I can’t wait!

At the end of the day though, my job comes first and my studying albeit so important to me comes second.

I am so grateful to the College at Mid Kent and to the University of Kent for allowing me to have the opportunity of fulfilling my ambitions and obtaining a career which I love. Every day is different.

Also, I have to mention Medway Council as they help people who are mature, not earning too much money who wish to attend University. They give a Grant towards the many books that are required and then if an Applicant’s salary is very low they will, following a financial assessment, help towards some of the University fees. How good is that?

I’m still a Student Member of the Institute of Legal Executives and am now an
Associate of the Institute. The letters after my name are “A.Inst.L.Ex” and next year I’ll be able to add “LLB(Hons)”.

If anyone has managed to get to the end of this Article, without falling asleep, please do not give up studying if you are working. Any update on your qualifications/skills shows Employers that you are more likely to be capable of adapting to changes in the workplace rather than fighting it.

I strongly urge everyone to update some part of their qualifications / skills every so often as no one knows when they might need to get that CV out again. Going back to part time education gives you more avenues to go down when looking for employment and gives an Employer more reasons to want to employ you.

I love going to work

Astrid Garland A.Inst.L.Ex
Legal Assistant
V E White & Co Solicitors