Too old to be a student? No, not at all

My name is Marek Fraczek and I am completing my second year at the University of Derby. I am a mature student at the age of 36 studying BA (Hons) American Studies with Popular Music in Society. I wanted to answer a few questions I get asked a lot about my studies.

Aren’t you a little old to be a student?

No, not at all. In fact, there is a growing population of mature students at the University. Many of us have had to first complete a foundation or access year but there are more of us than you think.

Before starting my degree, I had a 10-year career as a chef. I had always entertained the idea of going to University but I never thought I could afford it. Through a strange twist of fate, I went to an Open Day at Derby and spoke to the financial advisor. He explained that, even as a mature student, it is more than affordable and, from there, my mind was set.

I started with no specific career in mind, I just knew I wanted a change. Since the start of studying, I have found myself gravitating towards postgraduate study. I have spoken to my tutors and they have been very supportive, offering me aid and advice to find the right route for me. I guess my point here is to say that you don’t need a specific plan when you start to study. Like myself, you may discover things during your studies which you’d never considered.

Why choose Derby?

One of the main reasons I chose Derby is because I needed somewhere close to home. I have a nine-year-old son and so couldn’t disappear for three years halfway around the country. The University has been brilliant in support of this, and very understanding. Staff understand the situation of childcare and have often worked around booking tutorials. This support has eased one of the biggest potential strains on my studies as I know the support is there if I need it.

For every friend of mine who went to university and got what they wanted, I have another who wishes they had waited. Everyone is different and, while some people have always known what they wanted, it takes time for the rest of us to figure it out. At Derby, age is irrelevant. The faculty and staff view everyone as individuals and they do their best the help you and your needs. At the end of my first year, I changed one of my subjects from History to Popular Music in Society. I had no issue with any of the staff as they understood that it is my degree and they want you to succeed.

If you’re considering university but are still unsure, then I would recommend you pop to an Open Day and have a chat with some of the staff. There’s no pressure and it may help you realise some dreams you thought had passed you by.

Why choose American Studies?

This is the most asked question I get, normally followed by: “So what do you actually study?” There is both an easy answer and a complicated answer for both questions. The easy answer is anything to do with America. The complicated answer is that it is a multidisciplinary subject. This means we cover subjects such as politics, history, music, media, literature, cultural studies and more, often in the same week.

I have always had an interest in American history, particularly colonial America, and so this subject made sense for me. During my first year, I realised that my true love lies not in history but in cultural studies. This started my love affair with the subject, and led to me becoming my year’s student representative.

So, to answer these questions more accurately, I need to explain what exactly we study at Derby.

What’s in the course?

In the first year, we looked at general American history from Columbus to the present day. We studied cultural studies, looking at everything from historical context to American myth. We also looked at American literature and the industrialisation of America as other modules. In year two, we have covered American music, the history of civil rights and US foreign policy. In year three, I am looking forward to doing modules on culture and counter-culture, the long 1970s and also my dissertation.

It is this variety which is what appeals to me the most. It keeps things interesting and leaves things open for options in assignments that would not be possible in other subjects. For example, I have handed in assignments as wide ranging as ‘Immigration in the 1930s’ to ‘Mental Health Representation in Batman’. I’ve read texts that I would not have looked at twice in the past and found I thoroughly enjoyed them.

It is also worth mentioning that due to the nature of the subject it can be tailored towards more potential careers than you may have first thought. All in all, you couldn’t tailor make a more perfect subject for me personally. This subject has kept my interest, I’ve made some good friends and I’ve discovered a direction I never even considered. I couldn’t have made a better choice in choosing this subject.

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