'It's never too late'

Mature student Sue writes about her journey to Oxford

"When I wondered aloud to my family about returning to the university education I had abandoned more than three decades earlier, my daughter googled: 'mature student, English', and handed me her laptop. Exactly one month later I was offered a place on the foundation course she had found, run by Oxford's Department for Continuing Education (ContEd). It was demanding but fun, and we were preparing for our midpoint exams when the course director asked matter-of-factly which of us were planning to apply to Oxford. 'Make sure you look round Harris Manchester College,' she said into the slightly stunned silence. 'It's for students over twenty-one. We'll guide you through the application process.'


Indeed they did, which is why I'm now beginning the second year of an English Language and Literature degree here at Harris Manchester College. HMC is one of the smallest colleges in the University and definitely the friendliest, with students aged between 21 and 77 from all over the world. Everyone has an interesting story about how they came to be at the college our Principal calls the home of second chances, where the motto on the clock tower reads: 'It's later than you think... But it's never too late'.


Getting used to the workload was tough at first, and I definitely had moments of wondering if I was really up to it. Learning Old English was fascinating but challenging, and I struggled to absorb a whole new grammar and vocabulary at the same time as reading up to five books a week for the Victorian paper. But the HMC tutors are as concerned about students' welfare as their academic achievement, and we were encouraged from the outset both not to succumb to Imposter Syndrome and to ask for help if we needed it. When I mentioned my difficulties to the senior tutor, extra language lessons were promptly arranged. Living in College during the first year also meant I could really focus on my course work - HMC's wonderful, friendly team of admin, catering, housekeeping, IT and maintenance staff seemed to have learned everyone's name within a week and made College feel like a second home.


As at all Oxford colleges there are many opportunities to try out new activities: in my first year I rowed, joined the chapel choir, swam in the University pool, the Thames, and Hinksey Lake; had a crack at getting on to University Challenge, and failed entirely to master the art of punting. But of course the main reason I'm here is to study English, and it's still exciting to attend fascinating lectures by experts whose names can be spotted on the spines of books in Blackwell's, to use the incredible libraries at HMC and the English Faculty, plus Oxford's vast online resources, and to breathe in the wonderful smell of old books in the Bodleian."


Punts on the river in Oxford