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

How to discover what you like to study – and what you don’t….

Mature students returning to education after a long time out are often undecided as to what they may want to study as an undergraduate. This is true of many of our Go Higher Diploma students embarking on the part-time, one-year access programme here at the University of Liverpool. Others come to us with firm ideas of where they want to go next and stick to their initial aims throughout. There are always students, however, who begin the Go Higher Diploma firm ideas of their undergraduate pathway but then change their minds, sometimes quite dramatically

– for example from Business Studies to Egyptology, or Psychology to English (and vice versa).

This is not surprising: there is such a range of opportunities for study at degree level, especially at Liverpool, that a typical Go Higher student will not be fully aware of the full range of options available until they until join us. Indeed, they may think only in terms of the subjects they covered at school years ago, or consider only single honours when at Liverpool they can combine subjects and follow joint honours. Students can also shape their studies according to their own specific interests by studying up to 25% of their degree in another subject alongside their main undergraduate pathway via the University’s Honours Select system.

Thanks to the design of the Go Higher programme, students are able to experience a range of disciplines across the arts, humanities and social sciences and are encouraged to open their eyes to the range of undergraduate options available. They are required to study and be assessed on a range of subjects, including English, History, Philosophy, Psychology and Sociology in the first semester so they get to know how the different disciplines operate. Since they are taught in the same way as undergraduates – and by tutors who are also researchers and teachers elsewhere in the University – Go higher students get an experience of higher education which is very different to following an access course in a further education college or non-university institution.

Of course, we cannot teach all the subjects you may like to study as an undergraduate on Go Higher. However, we try to expose our students to as many as possible. To this end we also run a series of Guest Lectures which involve academics from various departments coming to give a talk to Go Higher students to tell them about their department and research, and to answer. In the academic year 2015-16 our guest lecturers include academics from Politics, Film Studies, Criminology, Ancient History/Egyptology and more.

All of these strategies are designed to help our students discover what they like (and what they don’t) and, more than that, to discover and develop their academic talents and strengths. This self-knowledge is an important element in achieving personal success, both at University and in the world of work. And for mature students it is vital – something that is a strong concern for Go Higher and the University of Liverpool more widely. The University is developing strategies to ensure it welcomes and nurtures mature students; we recognise that older people, often with family and/or work commitments, will have different needs and experience higher education in a different way to school leavers.

To get an idea of what it is like to study at the University of Liverpool as a mature student, take a look at the opinion of our students on this short film that has just been produced. Some of these students are ex-Go Highers who are now in the middle of their undergraduate degrees, others are mature students who have followed other pathways into higher education.

So, what is the moral of this story? Multi-disciplinary study has multi-advantages, especially for mature students at access, pre-undergraduate level. It is never an issue with Go Higher if you have made up your mind about your undergraduate degree or not, as long as your choice is within the arts, social sciences or humanities (not science or related) we can give you what you need to make the right choice for you.

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