Access to Higher Education, Mature learners, Sociology, Student Experience, Student Stories, Widening Participation

A life changing experience, by Anthony (class of 2017)

Anthony with his son at the Go Higher Celebration

Hello! My name is Anthony Fitzpatrick and I started the Go Higher course in 2016 and I have just completed my BA Sociology. It has been a journey that seems to have lasted a few weeks rather than four years. I was often told that my degree would be over before I knew it and that really is the case.

I have lived in Liverpool all my life and I left school in 1995 with no qualifications whatsoever. I went from one job to the next without ever finding a role that would lead to a career. In 2005 I became a Liverpool Hackney driver and in 2012 I switched and became a Liverpool private hire driver and remained as such until the beginning of my second year of undergraduate study. I am a single parent and could only work whilst my son was in school, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to provide for him. I have to say this was a very difficult period in my life, I wanted to provide a better life for my son, and I knew something had to change. In 2015 I attended Newsham Adult Learning Centre to study GCSE English. At this point my aim was to write at least one qualification on my rather empty CV. In the last lesson before the Easter break of my GCSE English course, the tutor informed us about an access to higher education course ran by the University of Liverpool called Go Higher. Whilst my initial aim had been to get a qualification that could secure me a better paid job, I saw the Go Higher programme as an opportunity to expand my aims and ambitions. I applied and was accepted to join the 2016 cohort.

At this point I have to mention that although my initial aim when entering adult education was to have a qualification and maybe find more secure employment, I knew that completing the Go Higher programme would lead to an undergraduate opportunity. My aims and ambitions changed; my ambition was to complete Go Higher and start an undergraduate course, so I set short term goals that consisted of me completing the assignments I had been set. Nothing more, nothing less. I did not want to put undue pressure on myself by saying ‘I have to do this degree, or I can’t have a career’. This mindset helped me to enjoy what I was learning, and again my ambitions, and aims changed. I just wanted to learn and the more I studied the more I enjoyed it.

When I reflect on my experience during the Go Higher programme, there are three areas that particularly stand out for me. The first I will mention is the University campus. I had been a Liverpool resident all my life and was an experienced taxi driver, yet I had never walked through the campus. It really is a beautiful, peaceful area of the city that could be considered a hidden gem, yet it is not hidden it is open, with some of the most beautiful buildings in the city. After being in the University for four years, I miss the campus during the holidays, and when I am back, I feel a real sense of belonging. I have spoken to other students and staff who feel the same. The daily lockdown walks with my son consists of us walking from our home in Everton to the same spot on campus. That is how much I love and miss being there.

The second I have to mention is the staff. They are all friendly, supportive people who want you to achieve your goals. I read another blog that described how the feedback they received from the staff was helpful to them and for me it is the same, I would not have been able to produce the work I have without it. Another element for me was a little more personal and I have to highlight James and Claire. Being in their lectures felt like reading a book you cannot put down or a movie you watch over again; you do not want the lecture to end because you could listen to them all day. From the day I was interviewed until the day I graduated from Go Higher, the staff played a huge part in giving me the confidence I needed to believe I was capable of doing the work.

The final area is how much Go Higher prepared me for my undergraduate degree. The structure of the course is very similar to what I have just experienced as an undergraduate, so I knew about meeting deadlines and managing my time effectively. By the time I started my undergraduate degree, I already knew how to use the library, the student intranet, and how to reference my work which was a huge advantage for me over other students that had to settle and adjust into university learning. I did not need to adjust as I had been part of it the year before. The only issue I had during Go Higher was my own decision about taking sociology or philosophy for my undergraduate degree.

At this time, the UK was coming to the end of the Brexit campaigns, Donald Trump had been elected as US president and there had been a re-emergence of right-wing and left-wing ideology in politics. I felt that studying sociology would enhance my career prospects at a time when there was quite a few changes happening in society. The political climate all over the world is still changing and especially in the UK with Brexit, trade deals, COVID-19, welfare reform. All these areas and much more are covered by sociology and going forward, sociologists are going to be needed to measure and analyse the effects on society.

The first year introduces you different sociological thinkers and theories, and it introduces different aspects of research, which lay the foundations for the work you do in years 2 and 3. The module options you are given in years 2 and 3 cover a wide range of subjects and all of them relate to contemporary society and the issues different communities face. My main focus was gender and welfare, although there are quite a few modules to choose from so you get to follow your own path of what interests you. You could go anywhere with them; crime, race, class, politics, gender, risk, education are all areas that are covered by the sociology modules. As the University of Liverpool is a research university, throughout my 3 years in sociology I studied a number of different research methods, ranging from interviews and surveys to ethnography, observation, and using photography as research methods. I have to say, the research methods I have been taught in workshops have been fascinating and will be a huge advantage for a career or for postgraduate study. And they are not too difficult!

The support I received from the Go Higher staff continued in the School of Law and Social Justice I have found every lecturer, seminar leader, and administration member of staff to be kind and helpful and if you need them they will support you. What was a surprise for me when I started is that some of the lecturers and module leaders are world-renowned academics in their specific field of study. Learning from them and reading their books has been a real pleasure and privilege for me. To sum up in a couple of words what I’ve learned over the last 4 years, I would have to say, I’ve learned how the world really works and how society is, has been, will be and can be impacted by various decisions, be them political, cultural, corporate, or individual. In a sense, it has been not just an eye-opener, but THE eye-opener. It has been a life changing experience for me and the positive impact it has had on my son, who knows campus as well as any member of staff or student, will hopefully be a life changing experience for him. I have loved every minute of my 4 years at the University of Liverpool and I’m hoping to start a MA social research methods in October as do not want my journey to end just yet.

4 thoughts on “A life changing experience, by Anthony (class of 2017)

  1. Great to read this, I am just going into three year go higher has changed my life. Good luck with your results and your future with your son.

  2. Thank you for taking the time to write this . I am starting same access course with Go Higher in September. Also a single parent I have been increasingly nervous about managing my time but I am looking forward to it much more now. Thanks again

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