As a recent graduate from the University of Leeds, I have up-to-date knowledge of what it means to be a non-traditional student here. This can mean several things: you could be a mature student, a student who is also a parent or carer (or care leaver), a first-generation student or any other underrepresented group.
For these students, coming into University can be a real challenge. Even though the spaces and structures of institutions such as the University of Leeds have not been designed for non-traditional students, it doesn’t mean we can’t fit in. So, to help you succeed and reach your potential, here are five things all non-traditional students at the University of Leeds should know before starting a degree.
1. Imposter Syndrome
When I started at Leeds, I had never heard this phrase, but I soon realized what it meant. Get familiar with the phrase, as you too may self-diagnose with imposter syndrome while you are here.
So, what exactly is it? It is a sense of insecurity in a space you feel underrepresented. During my time in Leeds, it was something I experienced while studying in a space that was not built for me. You might feel as if you are not good enough or worth it: that you do not deserve to be at university, that the assessments you submit are not worth the grades you get in return…
However, don’t worry too much about it. Jessamy Hibberd, a Clinical Psychologist, said: “This affects everybody, from all walks of life… from students to CEOs”. Even inspirational women such as Maya Angelou and Michelle Obama have experienced it.
This might make you feel as though you don’t fit in. If you are struggling with this sensation, find comfort in the thought that others might experience it too and it’s completely normal. Don’t let that stop you from reaching your potential. You deserve your place in Leeds and you deserve to be successful!
2. The Double Curriculum
The double curriculum does not affect all non-traditional students. If you’re not a parent, carer or have a part-time job while studying, then this probably won’t apply to you. The double curriculum is when you have more than one dominant responsibility in your life.
Lots of traditional students you will meet are lucky enough to be financially supported by their families. However, not all students have this privilege: in more cases than not, non-traditional students lack this economical support and have less time to commit to their studies.
Having a double curriculum can be difficult, but it’s all about balance: if you remain organized and somewhat on top of your work, you should be fine. If you’re unable to, don’t worry. Many people have experienced this pressure before, and there is a whole cohort of staff who will support you when necessary.
3. Find Networks
I cannot stress this point enough… With more than 38,000 students at Leeds, there is definitely a bunch of students just like you. One way to meet new people and build networks is through a Society. That way, you will find friends who have a shared interest.
There are a lot of societies open to new members, so it’s a given that you will find one that takes your interest. You can find information regarding all of these and more in the LUU Website.
4. Lifelong Learning Centre
One tip I think you will be told over and over is to get familiar with the Lifelong Learning Centre. This place is a safe haven for non-traditional students and somewhere any student will feel as though they fit.
My advice is to get to know a few staff members. They are so supportive, and they want you to succeed! They hold chilled-out and enjoyable mature student café regularly, with free coffee and cakes. You don’t have to be enrolled through the LLC for them to support you either.
The mature student café gives you a chance to meet people in similar circumstances to you. That way, you build networks and friendships that could stand the test of time. Other events they organise are really inclusive too, such as the Teddy Bears Picnic – an event for parent students to come together with their children on campus.
5. Money, Student Finance and Everything Else Money
Money and finances are something we don’t talk about enough. It is as if money talk is a taboo that we should not disclose, but finances can be the one thing that stands in the way of non-traditional students getting a degree.
If you are a parent or carer or in receipt of welfare benefits before you start university, there is a good chance you may be entitled to living costs and more. You can find out more through the Government’s Student Finance website.
There are several other financial supports that you can claim during your degree: tax exemption if you are a full-time student, housing benefits if you are a parent or carer, disabled student allowance, Parents Learning Allowance and Child Benefit…
The Lifelong Learning Centre has a dedicated team that can advise you further regarding financial support available for you. You can find more information about this on the Student Finance website and on citizensadvice.org.uk.
Finally, well done for starting your academic journey. It is not easy to make such a massive move; you should already be proud of yourself! It will be hard, stressful and at times get lonely, but don’t let that stop you. A lot of things in life can feel like this but, what you gain through a university education is extraordinary and something that cannot be put into words. You will feel truly proud of yourself, something I personally had never felt before.