An interview with Susannah Harper, recent graduate from Gateway to HE, Full-time BA (Hons) Social Studies
How did you hear about Gateway? What encouraged you to apply for the programme?
At the time I had just had a huge change in my personal circumstances, my husband and I had separated and I felt I needed to find a way to support myself and my two little girls independently. I was looking at access courses online, and stumbled across Gateway from a recommendation from a friend, and a quick google. I decided to put in my application just two days before the deadline, and after an interview (which was more like an informal chat with Steve), I was accepted onto the program.
Did you feel that you could balance the course alongside other existing work and family commitments?
The gateway sessions I attended were organised in 2½ hour blocks, which I found incredibly helpful in reducing my commuting time to the university and ensuring I could find childcare. I decided to attend the day-time sessions, when my girls would be in school, rather than the evening sessions, and in fact I dropped a day at work to take part in the programme. However I felt that the programme was offering me such a great opportunity to be able to study at Warwick, and unlike other access courses, a much shorter route onto a full degree program.
How did you find the program?
I found Gateway incredibly challenging, but at the same time incredibly enjoyable. It quickly became the highlight of my week. I found what we were learning so interesting. However, I was 38 when I started the program, and had taken part in no formal studies since my GCSEs. I disengaged with my studies at 15 and had left school with just two GCSEs. I was completely new to academic writing, and I was using my brain in new and completely different ways. I’ll admit that I spent half an hour in Steve’s office crying that “I can’t do it!” However, Steve was such a continual source of support, and so patient, understanding and interested, that I felt supported to give it a go. In class, for example, he made us all do 30 minutes of writing, just to prove that academic writing wasn’t as scary as we might have built it up to be in our heads – and to slowly give us the confidence we needed. I did in fact successfully complete Gateway, and following Gateway I went on to the Social Studies degree and then chose the Health and Social Policy degree pathway, where I have just graduated with 1st class honours!
Congratulations!… How did you fit completing a degree around your life? How did you fund the degree, and was there enough funding support available to you?
I decided to become a full-time student when I started my Social Studies degree, and received the governmental tuition and maintenance loans so that I could afford to do this. My maintenance loan application took into account that I had two young dependents at home, and so awarded me a higher loan because of this. I also received an additional grant from Warwick which I wasn’t expecting. I’m not really sure how I balanced studying and looking after my girls, but I somehow bumbled through! My timetable was a little restricted, but I was able to build my timetable around childcare arrangements. I also had the library I could escape to study during the day whilst they were at school, and spend some late evenings there. As well as this, I had gained a peer support network from the Gateway course of other people going through the same thing as me, and we supported and advised each other via a Whatsapp group.
How has taking part in the degree benefited you? Would you recommend it to others?
I would absolutely recommend this program to others. Despite the hard work, and dealing with some sense of impostor syndrome, it was 100% worth it. I really feel that the world has opened up for me. Not just on a practical level – such as better employment opportunities – but more so on a personal level. I have gained so much confidence, and learnt so much, I feel my whole future is now different because of this degree. And not just for me, but also for my girls. My eldest is just going through her GCSEs, and I have a much better understanding now of what she is going through and how to support her. I feel it has been so good for them to see me go through the challenges of completing a degree and overcome those challenges. It is really life-affirming for me that I have had the chance to do this. I am now looking at studying a Masters in Social Research with Sociology at Warwick. As Steve advised me “just keep going for as long as you can” and that’s what I think I will do.