What is it like returning to the classroom?

August 4, 2021 - Martin Currie

If you've been out of education for a while, then the thought of coming to college and returning to a classroom setting for the first time in years (maybe even decades?) might be quite daunting. 

However, I want to put your mind at ease straight away and let you know: you have no need to worry. And here's why.

Firstly, there are so many other people in the same boat. Being a 'mature' student is not a rarity. Statistically speaking, 1 in 4 students studying at Ayrshire College in 2020-21 were older than 25. So the chances are there will be people in your class approaching college with a similar mindset.

We know that many of these 'mature' students come in with this mindset - the worries that they are too old, that they won't fit in, and even worse, that they'll fail. We know because we talk to them. Whether that's because they've approached staff for support (more on that later) or because we've approached them for case studies, or for our annual survey taken at graduation, which involves collecting feedback from students about their experiences throughout the year.

The number one soundbite that comes from these conversations is: "I was worried about returning to education." Then, without fail, they go on to say things like "I had no need to worry", "everyone was so friendly and helpful", "I've got so much confidence now", "I've made lifelong friends here" and "It wasn't what I thought it would be like".

So what is it like?

Well, it's not like school. If this is your first experience of further education then let me reassure you that you'll not be sitting at a desk from 9am-3pm and putting your hand up for permission to go to the toilet. You're an adult, so you'll be treated like one.

A typical full-time course involves coming to college two and a half/three days a week. Every class is different but generally speaking you'll encounter a mix of theory and practical work, involving individual tasks and tasks where you're working in teams.

Remember when I said being a mature student is not a rarity? I'd also like to stress that it's not a hindrance. You'll likely be coming to college with more life experience than school leavers, whether that's because you've already entered the world of full-time work, have started a family, or have other caring responsibilities.

This experience often comes in handy when problem-solving or working in teams. In fact, for some courses where you don't 100% meet the entry requirements through qualifications alone, we'll take into consideration your interest level and experience to determine whether you're suitable for the course.

So know your worth and that you will be bringing value to the classroom.

Of course, like any student you may experience some difficulties. We can't promise a linear student journey, there's likely to be plenty of ups and downs. Don't be too harsh on yourself if you struggle at any point, everyone does.

The good news is there is a ton of support available to our students. Of course, within the classroom environment your lecturer and your classmates will be there to support you. But if you have issues that you don't think they can resolve, we've put together tremendous teams of support staff to assist you. They'll have seen and heard it all, so don't be scared to come to them with your problems – this applies to any concerns you have outside of college work.

Our Student Services team will be able to signpost you to the correct people to speak to. Whether that's Student Funding, Inclusive Learning, our three College Liaison Officers (Drug and Alcohol, Mental Health, Police), Counselling, the Student Association, or even external agencies.

Finally, I should probably address the elephant in the room and mention Covid-19 and the impact that's had on college. Put simply, the college experience in 2020/21 was very different to 2018/19.

We've moved to a 'blended learning' model, which is basically a mix of online learning and classroom learning.

Although the vaccines are having a positive impact, Covid-19 has not gone away, and so there are still things you need to know about how we're keeping students and staff safe on campus. We've put together an 'All you need to know for 2021/22' page on our website that will let you know our arrangements, how to access digital support and answer questions like 'will the coffee shop be open?' (answer: yes!). It's a long page so it might be worth your while using Ctrl + F to search for keywords to questions that matter to you.

I hope this article has reassured or enlightened you about returning to education. Remember to talk to us if you have any concerns – we’re here to help you. Good luck!

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