In 2008, having decided to make an effort to go back to 'school' in my late 20's and having no recent academic history upon which to base an application, I found myself on the pre-enrty certificate course at the University of Strathclyde http://www.strath.ac.uk/cll/alp/access/. This excellent course was, to me, the perfect way to return to the academic world, perfect for a number of reasons;
1. I only had to commit to a single 2 hr lecture per week on a Thursday night.
2. The course would allow access (dependent on performance) to a wide range of courses, from history to economics, business or law.
3. The mode of teaching was in the style of University lectures, as such it helped prepare me for what was to come academically.
4. The course was extremely affordable, £200 for which I could receive funding from ILA Scotland, http://www.ilascotland.org.uk/ILA+Homepage.htm, (The fees are £300 for the 2011/2012 academic year)
5. On a personal level, it really helped to develop academic confidence.
The course tutor was a fantastic, approachable, slightly paternal figure called Dr Bill Wurthman, a brilliantly helpful man, who really helped make the whole process feel extremely exciting and gave a number of lectures on general topics such as study skills and what to expect form the course.
The structure of the course was simple, the academic year was split into 3, short 7 week semesters, during each of which we had a number of classes to choose from. Each class was assessed 50% by an assignment and 50% by a final exam, much like many of the classes I'm doing now on my degree course (sorry If I've spoiled the ending)
My strategy for success was simple, the LL.B had the highest entry requirements, I'd aim for that and if I fell short I'd re-consider my options. In order to gain a place on an LL.B course it was necessary to study English & Law, along with one other subject. So, I was tied to English and Law, for my third subject I had the option of Psychology, Politics or Sociology. I opted to study Sociology and couldn't have been happier with my decision!
Sociology was the subject for semester one, I was keen and a voracious reader and loved every minute of it. I was delighted to feel my brain stretching out in wonderful new directions (an experience which I hope will always fill me with joy), as I learned about Max Webber and positivism, Marxism, Durkheim and all manner of other things. I was literally jumping for joy when I received my marks for my assignment, (an essay on the reasons for the gap in educational attainment between the social classes), a more than respectable 74%. It had begun, the bug for learning was upon me!
Semester two brought with it the study of English in the form of poetry and short stories. I enjoyed the departure from the hard facts and scientific approach that came with studying a much more artistic subject. Similarly to semester one I found myself learning a lot. One of the key things in this semester however was having to read that which I wasn't as interested in. Building up the self-discipline of doing the homework on a short story which I didn't enjoy often meant reading it a multitude of times and picking out important features and techniques used by the author. (An exercise not dis-similar to reading cases for a law class and finding the all important ratio)
Semester three was law, and for the first time I became aware that it's not all 'black and white'. This single concept, the idea that 'it's a little more complicated than that' was a revelation to me as a lay person (another moment where I felt my brain stretch a little). It fascinated me, I was interested to learn about the court system, the constitutional ideas that hold the UK together (my chosen essay topic), the ideas of common law, statute and roman law. One of the ideas that really caught my attention was the Declaratory Power of the High Court, a power to declare an act illegal, in effect creating a new crime after the fact, a power I was glad to discover which is un-likely to ever be exercised again.
Following all this was the exam, a two hour exam, where we had to answer, in essay format a question on each of the subjects we had studied. The Exam was yet another new experience for me, having to sit a blind exam, in which I had to write three essays, in two hours, on three completely unrelated subjects filled me with a touch of the fear (I'm planning on blogging on study skills at a later date). The fear was due in no small part to the fact that two of the subjects were those studied 3-6 months before the exam. An exam which I'm delighted to say I passed and passed sufficiently well to earn myself a place at the University of Strathclyde's Law school on the LL.B course.
I feel like the pre-entry course taught me a great deal, and not just in the academic sense, I learned about budgeting my time, how to study and prepare for exams, how to read and really try to extract as much as possible from the written word. In short I learned and started to develop skills and ways of thinking and communicating which have really helped me in my undergraduate work.
Also, I made a fantastic friend who's helped me a great deal with my studies so far (she got in to the LL.B too). The support of a friend can be massive, they keep you going when morale is running low and help you to see your coursework from a different angle, widening your perspective and ultimately helping to develop your understanding. Thanks for all your help Study Buddy!!
So, I say to all those who are contemplating a change of direction and going back to school as an adult learner 'go forth and do', there is a wealth of things to be learned in the big wide world, organisations who'll help fund you, friends to be made and confidence to be gained.