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

Taking the scenic route to Higher Education by Alex Carabine

I never thought I would attend university.  I had so many failed attempts at higher education behind me that I was convinced I wasn’t smart enough, brave enough or good enough to be able to get through A levels, let alone onto an access course or even – heaven help me! – a degree.

I’m not sure how I worked up the courage to apply for Go Higher; I remember holding my breath and closing my eyes when I clicked “send” on my online application.

Somehow, I maintained my bravery through the interviews, assessments and the dreaded first day to discover that, actually, the course wasn’t nearly as insurmountable as I thought it might be.  The staff and tutors were incredibly supportive and every other student had the same glaze of fear in their eyes as we all made awkward first-day conversations.

It was brilliant.  And it was only once I was nose-deep in research and essay plans and notes that I realised how atrophied my mind had been before Go Higher; how bored I had been, moving like an automaton through a pleasant but unchallenging job.  Don’t misunderstand me: the course is not always an easy one.  There were times when I felt overwhelmed, and naturally there were modules that I felt I had to haul my way through in order to get to the fascinating lectures beyond.  This is actually one of the experiences that I am most grateful for:  if Go Higher had been manufactured to be a cake walk, I would be deeply suspicious of how likely I would be to succeed at degree.  The tutors aren’t afraid to set challenges because they know that it is only through difficult tasks that we learn our strength as students.

I wish I had known when I was applying for the course how exceptional the tutors are; I would perhaps have felt less anxious if I’d known in advance how enthusiastic and eloquent they would be.  Their passion for their subject is apparent in their every word and gesture, and my fellow students and I couldn’t help but respond with curiosity and interest in the face of such zeal.  The staff have made this course a pleasure where it may have only been a necessity, and I am endlessly grateful to have had to opportunity to learn from them.

I surprised myself in the course of Go Higher: I originally, for reasons based on practicality rather than passion, intended to study Psychology.  But as the course progressed, I realised that my heart lay with Cultures: English and History and Philosophy.  I looked forward to writing essays for these subjects – a confession which feels almost perverse.  A student, thrilled at the prospect of writing an essay?  Ludicrous, but true.  And so Psychology fell by the wayside, and I hope in September to study for a degree in English and Classical Studies.

Go Higher has given me the opportunity to stretch myself academically; through it, I have built my confidence and my self-belief that I am smart, brave and good enough to get on to a degree and – I hope – to excel.  I am so pleased that something like Go Higher exists for those of us who took the scenic route to higher education and I am thrilled by how much I still have to learn.  I have never before been so glad of ignorance.

Image from Project Gutenberg ebook of Old French Fairy Tales by Comtesse de Segur and illustrations by Virginia Frances Sterrett (Penn Publishing Company 1920)

5 thoughts on “Taking the scenic route to Higher Education by Alex Carabine

  1. Wow, reading your blog is bringing lots of memories back as a former Go Higher student. To say this was the best decision I ever made in my life would be an understatement. I was 29 years of age and stuck in a job which lead nowhere and I felt lost. In May 2008 I applied for the Go Higher course and started the September. During the 9 months of my course, I cried, laughed, and sweat blood and tears – but it was totally worth it. I met incredible people who turned out to be very close friends of mine, and still are 7 years later. I went on to do a BA in Business Studies at same University and it was during my degree I flourished and grew as an individual. I felt so proud of myself when I graduated in my cap and gown. Go Higher is and remains the best route into Uni, and over the years I have recommended it to a few friends who actually applied and completed the course themselves. Whomever created the Go Higher course, I am so grateful for the opportunity and hope the course continues to grow and thrive.

  2. I have applied for tbe go higher program and am hoping to start in september. After reading your post it has just confirmed to me that i have made the right choise and i am even more excited now than i was. Would you have any advice about the course and the process to getting on it i.e interveiw and assessment what to expecr etc. Any help would be greatly appricuated thanks

    1. Nice to hear from you Dominic. You will be asked to a short informal interview, so we can get to know you and you can ask questions and get to know us, and make sure Go higher will get you where you want to go. We ask you to do a small English and maths exercise when you come for interview (nothing too hard) just so we can ensure the course is right for you. If you need any more info, visit the ‘official’ Go higher web at or call the Go Higher office and speak to Anne who would be happy to chat to you. The number is 0808 100 6060

      1. thanks very much clair i just want to make sure i am more than prepared. to increase my chances of actually getting on the program.

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