Access to Higher Education Journey: William Thatcher's Story

My name is Will Thatcher, I’m 26 and a mature student currently in first year of my Graphic Design and Illustration course at University Centre South Essex.

Returning to education was something that I thought about for a long time. I never really enjoyed school and mentally I was in a bad place. By Sixth Form, I felt like I was the only person that had no idea what they wanted to do and the pressure of it all lead me to drop out. I still don’t regret that decision, but I think everyone deserves a second chance to find the right path. Since then, I’ve worked a few jobs including a comfortable position in IT, but I didn’t find it very fulfilling, it was time for a fresh and exciting new challenge.

I have always enjoyed the creative arts and I was interested in doing something in that area for a career. I lacked the qualifications to go straight on to university but by looking at local colleges online, I came across the Access to Higher Education Art & Design course and it was exactly what I wanted. It covers such a great range of areas including photography, graphics and fine art so not only did I have a year of easing back into education, I also had a very clear idea of what degree I wanted to go on to study. 

Access to HE changed my life because I learnt so much and met so many amazing like-minded people from all different backgrounds and ages. I was nervous at first but to come back to education and to be treated like an adult was really refreshing, it gave me a new perspective and made me excited to be learning again. During the course, I was introduced to John Chandler who is the course leader for BA Graphic Design & Illustration, he gave me a great insight into what it was all about so I could be confident in my decision. Obviously, the Access course has suited my needs very well, but I would recommend it to anyone, even if they didn’t want to study at degree level.

Enrolling onto BA Graphic Design & Illustration has been the best decision I have made. One of the things I love about it is the enthusiasm from my lecturers, they are very passionate about their subject and know exactly how to get you excited about things you never even thought about before. I am lucky in the sense that graphic design & illustration is very broad topic that can be about anything really so the sense of freedom you are given is fantastic. I also love seeing the sheer diversity of the work my peers produce during each unit, it is very inspiring to be surrounded by all these people.

In second year, we will have to decide if we want to go down the graphic design or the illustration route. I think I will be leaning towards graphics, so to work as a graphic designer either as a freelancer or for a studio would be ideal for me. I’m particularly interested in logos & branding and I hope one day I will have some involvement in professional sports. Designing the next Olympics or FIFA World Cup logo would be the dream job for me, those are images that are remembered forever.

Initially, it was hard to get used to working from home and some days I found it was difficult to focus as there are lots of distractions at home, but this quickly changed as the college and our lecturers were very informative about what’s going on. We also had very good IT resources which is very useful. I also found it beneficial to keep in contact with the people on my course. We have a WhatsApp group that’s very active and we’re always helping each other out in case anyone has missed anything or needs some help. We are now back one day a week which still isn’t ideal, but I’m glad University Centre South Essex is handling the situation as best and as sensibly as possible.

It’s an important decision to make when taking the journey back into higher education. I had to give up a full-time job to return to education though I was fortunate enough to be able to move back home. I recognise that there are many people out there with a lot more constraints and for them it will be a lot tougher, but I have met plenty of people on the courses that are carers, have families & mortgages etc. that are proving it can be done. All I would say is whatever your situation I encourage those people to make a plan of action and if not this year, maybe the next? Don’t let the past define your future.

To learn more about our courses, visit: www.southessex.ac.uk/he/ucse-courses