As the final year of my undergraduate degree drew to a close I would like to say that I felt nervous, but the truth is that I had been feeling nervous for the past 4 years. Deciding to return to education as a mature student with a husband, children and a bottomless laundry basket was never going to be easy. But the question of what came next, after I had completed my access course and undergraduate degree, had always loomed in the background. It was a question which grew closer and more urgent every year but for which I had no definitive answer. I still have no definitive answer. But maybe I’m jumping ahead in this story a little bit. Let me rewind…
I was raised in a working class family in Manchester. I did well in school, particularly in English, and always had a love of reading and writing, but my family just weren’t university people. So, when I left high school with a few Gcse’s to my name I got a job as receptionist, then as an office junior, then as a sales assistant in a fancy dress shop (I actually loved that job. Did you know that no one is ever sad or angry while shopping for fancy dress costumes?) Anyway, at the age of eighteen I became a mother, and shortly thereafter a single mother. I’ve no regrets about becoming a mother at such a relatively young age, and honestly I’d do it all again because at almost sixteen years old that child is everything a mother could ask for. But I’m getting ahead of myself again.
I eventually met the man who would become my husband and together we had another child and then, about five years ago, as I was in the midst of filling out nursery applications for my youngest child, my eldest child was visiting potential high schools and I was coaching him on the importance of good grades and pursuing a career you loved, I began asking myself what came next for me?
It was time to start thinking about my own career, but those long passed Gcse’s qualified me for nothing at all and those few months as an office junior all those years ago weren’t going to count for much on a job application. So, after a lot of thinking and talking and thinking a bit more, I decided it was time to go back into education. My passion for reading and writing had never left me, so I found an access course at my local college which covered English alongside a couple of other humanities, with the intention of moving on to an English degree afterwards.
That’s when the question was first formed somewhere in the back of my mind…
“And what then?”
I wasn’t expecting miracles when I first started college, I’d been out of education for a long time after all, but I liked my teacher and the class was a small and tightly knit group whom all got along well. And then my first essay came back – distinction. Then another. Then another. Then the short story and poems that I had sent to The University of Manchester were accepted. By the time that first year was over I left college with the equivalent to three A’s at A-level and an acceptance onto a double honours degree studying English literature and creative writing at one of the best universities in the country. Not bad for a housewife fresh of the council estate, and certainly more than I had ever expected from myself. As I prepared myself to move on to the next phase of my education the thoughts of “I’m not sure I can do this” were replaced with the thoughts “I can do this.”
And yet that other question still persisted.
“And then what?”
It turns out that I love university life. I’ve met some amazing people. I’ve felt inspired and fulfilled and motivated. I’ve also felt stressed-out and tired and on the verge of melt-down. But my family and friends were endlessly supportive of me. I learned how to balance out the workload with raising a family and keeping a home running, but there have also been times where I’ve felt like I was failing at both. When people asked me how I managed to juggle a full time university course around having children I would joke that it was easy – I simply did both badly. It was a half-truth that I passed off as a joke to avoid getting into the real meat of it all, I suppose, and maybe I’ll get into all of that another time.
So, here I am; at the end of those three years in university awaiting news on my final grade but with the question of what comes next still largely unanswered. I say “largely” (as opposed to “completely”) because I have currently have an offer to return to the university this September to begin a part-time master’s degree in creative writing, so I supposed that’s next, but that’s only part of it.
Unfortunately there isn’t much funding help for master’s students, and it seems incredible to me now that we ever managed on just my husband’s salary for all those years when I was staying at home with the children. That’s why I have decided to study for my master’s degree part-time, so that I can find a job. I had hoped that I might find a position as a part time junior copywriter, or really anything even remotely related to my degree, but my many job searches don’t agree with me. That question of what comes next is now a question of “what comes now?”
I honestly don’t know.
Perhaps the perfect job offer of a part-time copywriter or junior editor position is right around the corner. Perhaps I’ll find a job in a little fancy dress shop where the people are always excited and smiling. Either way I will still be writing and moving forward, both in my master’s degree and right here, and after that, who knows what will come next?