Toni Holt completed our Gateway to Higher Education programme and then progressed onto the BA in Health & Social Policy. Having recently graduated, we caught up with her to find about more about her time studying with CLL.
How did you hear about Gateway? What encouraged you to apply for the programme?
I felt that my children had all reached an age where I was able to be something more than ‘mom.’ I started to explore my options and decided whilst they were still at school, I would try to further my education. I enrolled on Warwick’s 2+2-degree course, however, a few weeks into the course my youngest child developed difficulties at school and was presenting with severe anxiety, and low mood and I had no option but to leave and concentrate on my son.
After a few months, things were progressing with his mental health and I started to explore my options again and came across ‘The Gateway to HE Course’ via a google search. I applied for the course via the CLL website and I was invited to attend an interview. This was not as scary as anticipated and was more like an informal chat with Steve Gascoigne, who teaches the course.
Did you feel that you could balance the course alongside other existing work and family commitments?
The Gateway classes were structured for a 2 and a half hours per session, once a week. You have the option of daytime or evening classes and I chose daytime as this would mean my children were in school therefore, I did not have to organise childcare. Having one lesson per week meant there was only a short amount of reading and homework required and only one day spent commuting. Unlike a college access course, the Gateway classes only ran for a few months making it a shorter and more viable option to study at Warwick University.
How did it prepare you for degree study?
I felt the course was invaluable in preparing you for university life. I had left school in 1989 with a decent amount of GCSE at good grades and had a place at college. However, at this point in my life, college was not for me and I had no interest in further education. The majority of my friends were at work and earning money and socialising whereas I could not afford too. I decided to leave college and earn a wage.
The Gateway course was aimed at building your confidence academically. The assignments and word counts were built up gradually as was the reading, homework and presentation/exam. Steve made the lessons fun and thought provoking and I looked forward to the weekly lessons. I really enjoyed learning and found every topic interesting and I felt I had learnt something new every week.
The course not only covered all the academic aspects of university but also the practical aspects. For example, we were given a tour of main campus, and a library session, which Steve incorporated into the course, whereby we met at the library and were given a demonstration on how to locate books, how the library worked and how to use our library account and cards. There was also lessons in how to cite and reference academic sources.
Steve was always happy to answer questions whether this was in respect of homework or where to buy the best coffee on campus!
I successfully completed the course and was accepted onto the Social Studies degree, which I chose to complete in three years, full-time. After two years I had the option to choose the Health & Social Policy degree route, where I have just graduated with a 1st class honours!
How much support did you receive from staff and other students?
I have to honestly say the support from the staff at CLL has been fantastic, during my time at University – two of my children broke their wrists within four months of each other, this resulted in one of them having an operation and both of them having many appointments. My youngest son came with me to classes and even lectures whilst he was off school.
I developed close friendships on the Gateway course, which have continued throughout the three years and afterwards.
How has taking part in the degree benefited you? Would you recommend it to others?
I could not recommend this course enough, it is hard work and I believe you get out what you put in. The course builds your confidence academically and personally and the lecturers support and believe in you, which in turn makes you believe in yourself.
Having a degree has given me the confidence to apply for vacancies I would not have considered beforehand. I have obtained full-time employment, which I had secured within a week of leaving university, I am a domestic violence support worker and this is a career, which I feel is rewarding and enjoyable.
My children and husband have seen first-hand the challenges and work that has been required to obtain my degree and are all proud of my achievements, this has given them all an insight that no matter what age or what stage you are at in your life a degree is a reachable goal.
Could the Gateway course be for you? Find out more about the courses here.