The Student Room Group

Mature student considering my options, feeling lost

Hi all!

I've used this forum a lot in my past, but always as a lurker. Didn't think I'd ever find myself posting here!

Anyway, I'm a 25 year old finding that I made a huge blunder after A Levels. At GCSE, I breezed through with a (I think respectable) result of 2xA*, 7xA, 1xB and 1xC result. At A-Level, I was expected to be a AAA student, at least. I actually received BCD. At the time, I held a lot of resentment against my upper school, as I was frequently pushed to apply for Oxbridge and never wanted to. I ended up feeling like a number for them, and ultimately everything felt unimportant and that there was nothing I could do to be "good enough" for others. Coupled with staff being fired / leaving and not replaced, I just didn't feel cared for or important. With time and maturity, I've accepted responsibility for my part in the results, though I must admit some frustration with the way I (and my A-Level classes) were treated remains. I've also realised that my concern about how others felt is unimportant - I should've been focussed on *me*.

It felt like the world fell apart around me - and I'd essentially been led to believe that was the end of it, no options available to me, I'd failed. So I hastily jumped into work in roles which I've found unfulfilling.

Time passed and I realised my error, and have been left with a huge chip on my shoulder. I don't have the qualifications or opportunities I should have had if I'd focussed on myself more, and in an effort to rectify that, I began a BSc Computer Science remotely, online, with the University of London.

This too, I'm now finding, may have been an error. Luckily I'm early on in the course, but the structure of the course (or lack thereof) is proving difficult for me, coupled with working full time. I don't think this is the correct division of concerns for me - and I'm seriously considering dropping this degree, completing an access to HE course, working part-time and eventually attending a (hopefully good!) University in person. The idea being that I'll have a "better" degree, which will ultimately open up the doors I'm desperate to find, and perhaps more importantly, I'll have more structure, as well as the same opportunities as any other uni student.

To be completely honest - I'm not entirely certain why I'm posting this. Perhaps it's a sort of quarter-life crisis I'm experiencing. I wonder if there's anyone else who finds / found themselves in a similar position, who might be able to provide some advice as to whether I'm approaching this from a sane perspective, or share experience, or otherwise just share thoughts? Would Russell Group be viable with an approach like this?

The following isn't entirely the case, but assume that finances are not a concern to me - I believe I can make this plan work in that regard.

Thank you all for taking the time - it's very much appreciated :smile:

Scroll to see replies

Reply 1
I was only a year younger than you (with similar A Levels) when I went to do my undergrad degree at an OK local-ish (RG) university with a deceptively good phil department (and importantly, someone specialising in the stuff I really wanted to do). I've since read for other qualifications at Manchester and Oxford, have a terminal degree etc.

I was in your shoes, or pretty much, and I have zero regrets about jibbing off my crap job to go do a degree.
Reply 2
Original post by gjd800
I was only a year younger than you (with similar A Levels) when I went to do my undergrad degree at an OK local-ish (RG) university with a deceptively good phil department (and importantly, someone specialising in the stuff I really wanted to do). I've since read for other qualifications at Manchester and Oxford, have a terminal degree etc.

I was in your shoes, or pretty much, and I have zero regrets about jibbing off my crap job to go do a degree.

Thank you for your reply, that’s quite encouraging. Reading around it seems that I may have a shot at applying for uni as I currently stand, with my (admittedly not as good as I’d like) A-levels as they are, and work experience / my “story.”

Did you do anything extra prior to applying to uni, any additional courses for example?

I’m very grateful for your time, thanks again :smile:
Reply 3
Original post by Mouzey
Thank you for your reply, that’s quite encouraging. Reading around it seems that I may have a shot at applying for uni as I currently stand, with my (admittedly not as good as I’d like) A-levels as they are, and work experience / my “story.”

Did you do anything extra prior to applying to uni, any additional courses for example?

I’m very grateful for your time, thanks again :smile:

I didn't do anything - I tried to get a philosophy A Level in but had no joy finding something affordable.

In the end I got sorta lucky in that the institution I went to let me in with achieved grades, despite them being 'old', and on a widening participation ticket as both a 'mature' applicant, and as one from low-participation, poor background.

What this basically meant was they let me onto the course despite me not having anywhere close to the AAB-ABB range they wanted from fresh applicants. A stroke of luck, and not something I took lightly. It paid off for them and for me in the end.

I hope that you get sorted, I'm really big on people going to university later on, I think it's really good. Preferable, even.
Reply 4
Original post by gjd800
I didn't do anything - I tried to get a philosophy A Level in but had no joy finding something affordable.

In the end I got sorta lucky in that the institution I went to let me in with achieved grades, despite them being 'old', and on a widening participation ticket as both a 'mature' applicant, and as one from low-participation, poor background.

What this basically meant was they let me onto the course despite me not having anywhere close to the AAB-ABB range they wanted from fresh applicants. A stroke of luck, and not something I took lightly. It paid off for them and for me in the end.

I hope that you get sorted, I'm really big on people going to university later on, I think it's really good. Preferable, even.

An unsatisfying working life certainly seems to be the greatest motivator one could have! If I’d have gone straight out of school, I’d have made the same mistakes as I did then. Now, however, education actually has great appeal and I’m ready to throw myself at i and give it my all. My younger self may be shocked. It’s speculation, but I completely believe I’ll end up with a better result now than I would’ve “way back when.” I guess I just needed the context!
(edited 2 months ago)
Reply 5
Original post by Mouzey
An unsatisfying working life certainly seems to be the greatest motivator one could have! If I’d have gone straight out of school, I’d have made the same mistakes as I did then. Now, however, education actually has great appeal and I’m ready to throw myself at i and give it my all. My younger self may be shocked. It’s speculation, but I completely believe I’ll end up with a better result now than I would’ve “way back when.” I guess I just needed the context!

Relate totally to this. I'd not have done what I have if I had gone into it at 18, I wasn't in the right mindset or the right stage of life.
Reply 6
May I ask - were you studying a level maths and are you considering a CS degree elsewhere?
Reply 7
Original post by ajj2000
May I ask - were you studying a level maths and are you considering a CS degree elsewhere?

I studied A-Level maths and achieved a B. I know I was capable of more, though. My A-level results are my main rationale behind considering an Access course, but I think I’ll apply via UCAS for 2024 and see what happens - worst case, I do the access course and reapply next year.

I would be switching to a different, on-campus uni, in my ideal world.

Thanks for your reply :smile:
Reply 8
Another question;
The course(s) I'll be applying to are BSc Computer Science or adjacent (Computing, software development related). My work experience, informally and under different job titles, has included a fair amount of "software development." I've written python scripts which two separate businesses rely on for daily operations, as well as a React / Django full-stack application for one company to simplify their internal processes.

While I'm aware that actual software development is only a small part of computer science courses, is it likely that (good) universities will take this into account with my application?

Additionally, given my lacklustre A-Level results, and completion of 5 BSc Computer Science modules (with high expected grades, 70%+) elsewhere, for the 2024 application year, would I be in with a better shot applying for foundation years, or would it be in my best interests to go straight for year 1? I have fears that applying to year 1 may lead to rejections and therefore wasted choices, where I could instead have applied for a foundation year.

Thanks again all!
(edited 2 months ago)
Reply 9
Original post by Mouzey
Another question;
The course(s) I'll be applying to are BSc Computer Science or adjacent (Computing, software development related). My work experience, informally and under different job titles, has included a fair amount of "software development." I've written python scripts which two separate businesses rely on for daily operations, as well as a React / Django full-stack application for one company to simplify their internal processes.

While I'm aware that actual software development is only a small part of computer science courses, is it likely that (good) universities will take this into account with my application?

Additionally, given my lacklustre A-Level results, and completion of 5 BSc Computer Science modules (with high expected grades, 70%+) elsewhere, for the 2024 application year, would I be in with a better shot applying for foundation years, or would it be in my best interests to go straight for year 1? I have fears that applying to year 1 may lead to rejections and therefore wasted choices, where I could instead have applied for a foundation year.

Thanks again all!

Cardiff has a software engineering degree which started several years ago with a lot of publicity for being very closely linked to industry. I haven't heard much about it since (not significant as its not my field). That might be one to look into and reach out for advice about applying.
Reply 10
Original post by Mouzey
I studied A-Level maths and achieved a B. I know I was capable of more, though. My A-level results are my main rationale behind considering an Access course, but I think I’ll apply via UCAS for 2024 and see what happens - worst case, I do the access course and reapply next year.

I would be switching to a different, on-campus uni, in my ideal world.

Thanks for your reply :smile:

Having A level maths (although a fair few years ago) is a big deal. Probably complicates things by expanding the possible routes. Will ponder! Any particular universities you are interested in?
Reply 11
Original post by ajj2000
Having A level maths (although a fair few years ago) is a big deal. Probably complicates things by expanding the possible routes. Will ponder! Any particular universities you are interested in?

Well, I'm aiming high - possibly higher than is realistically achievable, but I'm willing to take an extra year to do either a foundation year or an Access course, or for particularly highly rated institutions, I would consider doing both (Access + foundation year) if necessary. When I was expected to get higher grades, I was smitten with Southampton, and Birmingham in my choices as well. I'm still in the process of researching Unis again at the moment, but if somewhere like Southampton or Birmingham would be available to me with / without the aforementioned additional years, that would be incredible.

One course I've found which I'd love to get into - if at all possible - would be the University of Cardiff's BSc Applied Software Engineering. I know it's less generalised than BSc Computer Science and more practical, but as an aspiring software engineer with some informal programming under my belt (which two separate businesses now rely on for daily operations), I'm confident in the specific area of Software Engineering. That said, I would be far, far from disappointed with BSc Computer Science, and it's much more prevalent at "good" universities.

I might be aiming too high, or living in a dream world - I welcome honesty if the above seems unachievable, or re. the grind that may be involved. You may also notice that location is not necessarily a concern to me - I'm young enough that I can still move away from my current home in Bedfordshire without too much concern!

Currently, my plan is to aim high - apply to these Uni's at (foundation year? Year 1?) and see what comes of it. If it's rejections across the board, then I'll know I need to get the Access course under my belt, and can reapply for 2025.

Anyway, I'm rambling - feedback very much welcome and appreciated!
Reply 12
Original post by Mouzey
Well, I'm aiming high - possibly higher than is realistically achievable, but I'm willing to take an extra year to do either a foundation year or an Access course, or for particularly highly rated institutions, I would consider doing both (Access + foundation year) if necessary. When I was expected to get higher grades, I was smitten with Southampton, and Birmingham in my choices as well. I'm still in the process of researching Unis again at the moment, but if somewhere like Southampton or Birmingham would be available to me with / without the aforementioned additional years, that would be incredible.

One course I've found which I'd love to get into - if at all possible - would be the University of Cardiff's BSc Applied Software Engineering. I know it's less generalised than BSc Computer Science and more practical, but as an aspiring software engineer with some informal programming under my belt (which two separate businesses now rely on for daily operations), I'm confident in the specific area of Software Engineering. That said, I would be far, far from disappointed with BSc Computer Science, and it's much more prevalent at "good" universities.

I might be aiming too high, or living in a dream world - I welcome honesty if the above seems unachievable, or re. the grind that may be involved. You may also notice that location is not necessarily a concern to me - I'm young enough that I can still move away from my current home in Bedfordshire without too much concern!

Currently, my plan is to aim high - apply to these Uni's at (foundation year? Year 1?) and see what comes of it. If it's rejections across the board, then I'll know I need to get the Access course under my belt, and can reapply for 2025.

Anyway, I'm rambling - feedback very much welcome and appreciated!

Will ponder and revert.
Reply 13
Original post by ajj2000
Will ponder and revert.

Thank you very much, I do appreciate your time and any input you can offer :smile:
Original post by Mouzey
Hi all!

I've used this forum a lot in my past, but always as a lurker. Didn't think I'd ever find myself posting here!

Anyway, I'm a 25 year old finding that I made a huge blunder after A Levels. At GCSE, I breezed through with a (I think respectable) result of 2xA*, 7xA, 1xB and 1xC result. At A-Level, I was expected to be a AAA student, at least. I actually received BCD. At the time, I held a lot of resentment against my upper school, as I was frequently pushed to apply for Oxbridge and never wanted to. I ended up feeling like a number for them, and ultimately everything felt unimportant and that there was nothing I could do to be "good enough" for others. Coupled with staff being fired / leaving and not replaced, I just didn't feel cared for or important. With time and maturity, I've accepted responsibility for my part in the results, though I must admit some frustration with the way I (and my A-Level classes) were treated remains. I've also realised that my concern about how others felt is unimportant - I should've been focussed on *me*.

It felt like the world fell apart around me - and I'd essentially been led to believe that was the end of it, no options available to me, I'd failed. So I hastily jumped into work in roles which I've found unfulfilling.

Time passed and I realised my error, and have been left with a huge chip on my shoulder. I don't have the qualifications or opportunities I should have had if I'd focussed on myself more, and in an effort to rectify that, I began a BSc Computer Science remotely, online, with the University of London.

This too, I'm now finding, may have been an error. Luckily I'm early on in the course, but the structure of the course (or lack thereof) is proving difficult for me, coupled with working full time. I don't think this is the correct division of concerns for me - and I'm seriously considering dropping this degree, completing an access to HE course, working part-time and eventually attending a (hopefully good!) University in person. The idea being that I'll have a "better" degree, which will ultimately open up the doors I'm desperate to find, and perhaps more importantly, I'll have more structure, as well as the same opportunities as any other uni student.

To be completely honest - I'm not entirely certain why I'm posting this. Perhaps it's a sort of quarter-life crisis I'm experiencing. I wonder if there's anyone else who finds / found themselves in a similar position, who might be able to provide some advice as to whether I'm approaching this from a sane perspective, or share experience, or otherwise just share thoughts? Would Russell Group be viable with an approach like this?

The following isn't entirely the case, but assume that finances are not a concern to me - I believe I can make this plan work in that regard.

Thank you all for taking the time - it's very much appreciated :smile:

@Mouzey
Hi, I've taught on Access to HE for 10 years so I can give you some advice about that if that is the route you take.

You can apply for an Advanced Learner Loan to cover your Access to HE studies, which would be completely written off once you complete your degree. There are many good Access programs out there online, however some of the very best are based in a Further Ed College - which ever course you take make sure it is validated with an awarding body, it is Open Awards for the North West for example.

Access courses are very much in vogue with foundation years being more expensive for the public/government so Access got a bit thumbs up from the Government's Auger Review of Higher Education a few years back.

Marc
Arden University Student Ambassador
Reply 15
Original post by Arden University
@Mouzey
Hi, I've taught on Access to HE for 10 years so I can give you some advice about that if that is the route you take.

You can apply for an Advanced Learner Loan to cover your Access to HE studies, which would be completely written off once you complete your degree. There are many good Access programs out there online, however some of the very best are based in a Further Ed College - which ever course you take make sure it is validated with an awarding body, it is Open Awards for the North West for example.

Access courses are very much in vogue with foundation years being more expensive for the public/government so Access got a bit thumbs up from the Government's Auger Review of Higher Education a few years back.

Marc
Arden University Student Ambassador

Thank you for your reply! :smile:

A summary of my current plan is as follows:
1) Apply to Universities likely outside of my current reach (Cardiff, Southampton, Sheffield, Birmingham, and one other)
2A) See if any provide offers and if I achieve an offer and it appeals to me, enrol in the course and attend that Uni
2B) If no offers are received, spend the next year studying an Access to HE course, really throw myself at it, achieve good grades. I'll be leaving my full-time job to ensure that I have the proper time to allocate, and I am lucky enough to have the circumstances to be able to do so. I live and breathe my area of intended study, and already have some Year 1 Computer Science BSc Modules under my belt, including programming, theory, and mathematics modules. I know that I am capable of high grades - though I am uncertain that my BSc modules will even be considered with my UCAS application, as a side note.
3) Use my newly awarded Access to HE qualification to reapply as a more appealing candidate, likely to the same unis.
4) Attend one of the aforementioned Universities

However, should I need to take the latter route, I do have some concerns about Access to HE - namely that they are not treated by the (admittedly highly rated and potentially out of reach) universities as equivalent to A-Levels for applications.

Southampton, for example, states; "Access to HE Diploma: Not accepted for this course. Applicants with an Access to HE Diploma in a relevant subject should apply for [relevant foundation year]".

Cardiff states; "We accept a combination of A-levels and other qualifications" however, does not explicitly list Access to HE in it's requirements anywhere on the course page. It's a notable omission, though they do state elsewhere that it's accepted for "most" courses.

Birmingham has; "Access to Higher Education: Not considered. Please see our Foundation Year programme as a route to our courses."

Sheffield, at least for one relevant course, does accept Access, albeit with very specific requirements: "Award of Access to HE Diploma in a relevant subject, with 45 credits at Level 3, including 24 at Distinction (to include 12 Maths units), and 21 at Merit" - ensuring the maths module is included is a small chore, as it's not always advertised by course providers.

What I'm getting at is that it appears that at least some of these Unis, again, likely due to their high rankings and my aspirations, require both Access to HE + foundation year as a prerequisite to my possible attendance. Despite claims I find that Access is equivalent to A-Levels, for some universities at least, this does not currently appear to be the case. I would've thought that a mature student showing aspiration and a keenness to learn could count for something, though I understand that there are concerns regarding one's academic ability when returning as an adult. That can make a 3 year course, in reality, a 5 year commitment. If that's what I have to do to accomplish what I desire, then so be it - but I wonder, is it the case that some applicants circumvent the foundation year with Access, even at the higher rated institutions, by achieving exceptional results at Access? Are you aware of any stories which show a slightly more positive outlook for a mature student in my position, or is it likely that I'll be lumped with the additional year's student loan?

Thank you for your time - and sorry for the wall of text!
Reply 16
Original post by Mouzey
Thank you very much, I do appreciate your time and any input you can offer :smile:

Hi. Sorry for the slow response. I've tried to do some research (not had much time unfortunately) and it seems that there have been significant changes since I last looked into this subject and corresponded with people in not dissimilar circumstances to yourself who were researching options on their own account.

My guess is that you are also having trouble finding applicable success stories?

I can't recall exactly when I last looked into CS admissions for mature entrants and in particular those with high aspirations. I think it was two years ago. The situation then was (for higher ranking universities - say RG plus 5 or so others):

very hard to get in through access courses. Some said they would accept them but specified a certain level of maths content. The people looking into this route were not able to find any access courses which met the requirement and were understandably cautious about taking risks.

Very few (basically none outside of Southampton) offered routes through foundation years and the Southampton entry requirements were not particularly clear. Nottingham appeared to be helpful for mature entrants so may be worth checking out.


Interestingly there were lots of routes into engineering type degrees (mech, EEE) but not CS. Very much a CS specific issue.

One factor is that most (but not all by any means) of the more competitive CS degrees require a minimum of grade A at A level maths. Two guys who were successful going the access course route also did maths A level to meet the standard.

Again - this was a case of CS being a tougher ask to get into than most other degrees. Universities which would be very happy with an access course for a business degrees were not really accessible for CS through that route.

From a quick look over the weekend there seems to be an ongoing issue gaining year 1 admissions through the access route. However there are way more possibilities for foundation years. If the maths requirement is a barrier @swansea jack1 has compiled a list of CS courses which don't require A level maths which could be a good reference.

While contacting universities it may be worth seeing if resitting A level maths would put you in a better position.
Reply 17
Original post by ajj2000
Hi. Sorry for the slow response. I've tried to do some research (not had much time unfortunately) and it seems that there have been significant changes since I last looked into this subject and corresponded with people in not dissimilar circumstances to yourself who were researching options on their own account.

My guess is that you are also having trouble finding applicable success stories?

I can't recall exactly when I last looked into CS admissions for mature entrants and in particular those with high aspirations. I think it was two years ago. The situation then was (for higher ranking universities - say RG plus 5 or so others):

very hard to get in through access courses. Some said they would accept them but specified a certain level of maths content. The people looking into this route were not able to find any access courses which met the requirement and were understandably cautious about taking risks.

Very few (basically none outside of Southampton) offered routes through foundation years and the Southampton entry requirements were not particularly clear. Nottingham appeared to be helpful for mature entrants so may be worth checking out.


Interestingly there were lots of routes into engineering type degrees (mech, EEE) but not CS. Very much a CS specific issue.

One factor is that most (but not all by any means) of the more competitive CS degrees require a minimum of grade A at A level maths. Two guys who were successful going the access course route also did maths A level to meet the standard.

Again - this was a case of CS being a tougher ask to get into than most other degrees. Universities which would be very happy with an access course for a business degrees were not really accessible for CS through that route.

From a quick look over the weekend there seems to be an ongoing issue gaining year 1 admissions through the access route. However there are way more possibilities for foundation years. If the maths requirement is a barrier @swansea jack1 has compiled a list of CS courses which don't require A level maths which could be a good reference.

While contacting universities it may be worth seeing if resitting A level maths would put you in a better position.

Hi again,

Please don't apologise - that amount of effort just to help me is humbling, I greatly appreciate the effort you've put in!
You've reached the the same conclusion as me, I believe - it appears that the entry requirements when considering Access courses is muddy at best. With that said, I did manage to find this access course near(ish) to me, which does appear to include a "Mathematics for Computing" module: https://southcentraliot.ac.uk/course/access-to-he-computing/

It's a bit of a gamble, but that, combined with my B at A-Level, and completion of both Computational Mathematics and Discrete Mathematics BSc Computer Science Year 1 modules from UoL (assuming good grades), should hopefully at least hold some water.

It's difficult to get meaningful responses from admissions teams regarding my specific circumstances. They must have an absurd number of enquiries, and likely have template email replies as a result. Couple that with an (understandable) inability to provide specific guidance as to whether or not a particular set of qualifications is likely to result in a place, and I find I'm basically throwing an application, blindly, at Universities and hoping that the admissions team are able to spare enough time to consider the complexities of my case.

I think I'm likely going to end up spending an additional 2 years on top of the 3 typical BSc years to achieve what I'm after, but I'll shoot my shot this year sans-access course and see what comes. If I need to grind out another year, circumstances currently allow me to do so - though the years off my life may be missed!

You are correct in your assumption that finding success stories has proved difficult - even finding others in similar circumstances, with similar aspirations has proved challenging at best.

Again, I greatly appreciate and would like to thank you for your effort and research - thank you.
(edited 2 months ago)
Reply 18
As a wild thought - do you need the access course? Id be nervous about taking one (in your position) without a few universities stating that they accept the specific course - not the course provider telling you it is great. I'm wondering if your current studies plus a resit of maths A level would be less wasted effort and more applicable?

If the money is not onerous might it be worth gambling with a few universities this year to see what happens?
Before anyone sits and completes an Access course you must contact your chosen universities and check they accept the course and ask what units/grades they require. Not all Universities accept it.

Quick Reply