“I was in my forties, you don’t go back to college in your forties.”
That was Samantha Mathieson’s first thought when a friend suggested that she return to education.
Fast forward four years, and 46-year-old Samantha now holds a Master’s degree in Finance and Accounting.
She returned to Ayrshire College this week to talk to us about enrolling at the College and how that decision has changed her life.
“I was born and bred in Scotland but moved down south years ago. When I came back, I really struggled to find a suitable job. I’d worked in management almost my entire life, but found that employers were now looking for qualifications to go with that experience.
“I’d never had a prolonged period of unemployment before and wasn’t sure what to do. Someone suggested going to college but I didn’t know anyone who had gone back to college, to me it was just for young people who were leaving school.
“I went along to the Kilmarnock Campus and spoke to Student Services. I was honest in saying “look, I don’t know what I’m doing here.” They had a chat with me – asking me about myself, my experiences and where I wanted to be in the future.
“Gerry D’Agostino, a lecturer from Accounting, then spoke to me. Immediately I said “I’m absolutely hopeless at maths.” He told me not to worry. Then I said “I don’t do computers.” Again, he told me not to worry.
“He convinced me – a couple of weeks later I was signed up for HNC Accounting.”
The course began and Samantha admits she struggled early on. She was returning to education after 25 years away, after all.
However, she found that as an older student, she could apply herself better than most of her classmates. She wasn’t going out every night living the student lifestyle. In comparison younger students seemed to retain information better than Samantha.
She said “We quickly got together to learn from each other. I would teach them planning and how to set up study plans. They would show me techniques for remembering things.
“Coming to college is a big step when you’re older, it’s scary. You have bills to pay and families to look after. I know a few people who have gone straight back into university and they’ve found it too tough. University’s a whole different way of learning. It’s more ‘here’s your stuff, off you go’. College is great, the lecturers will get you into it slowly and will guide you through the coursework.
“Guidance is a massive thing at college. When I first came here it wasn’t all about learning my course. It was also about the life skills I picked up with it. I thought, being an older student, I couldn’t learn anything else. But I did. I’ve changed so much in the last four years.
“So much so that I’m actually volunteering for the Red Cross. Four years ago I’d never have considered that.”
Samantha acts as a mentor to the current Accounting students at Ayrshire College, visiting once a week to give advice and answer any questions they might have, as someone who’s been there and done it as a student.
After college she went on to the University of the West of Scotland in Ayr and got her BAcc degree, before gaining her Master’s degree in Paisley.
“The current students are all really interested,” She said.
“They ask things like ‘How do you find the time?’ and the honest answer is you don’t at the beginning. It takes dedication and application.
“Two months before I was due to sit my exams at university, I broke an ankle and thought that would be the end of it. But I said ‘no, you’ve come this far’. I broke my ankle in March and passed my exams in May. I was over the moon that I could do it with a broken ankle!”
Samantha’s final piece of advice for anyone thinking of becoming a mature student is “I’d encourage them to speak to someone at the College. It might not be for them but at least they’ll get a greater idea having spoken to someone who knows best. Come and speak to the guys here, they’re absolutely brilliant at giving you advice.
“It’s amazing coming back to college.”