Alex McDonald is one of a growing number of students returning to education after a long break. He tells us how studying has led him all the way to University with a degree on the horizon. Here he talks about his time at West Lothian College and what led him to returning to education.
Prior to studying at West Lothian College, I spent over 10 years working in the finance sector in various financial institutions such as Citibank, JP Morgan, and the Bank Of New York. Primarily the roles were in Fund Accounting and Operations.
I went into finance after I left school, I felt I needed a break from studying and wanted a career in an administration environment as I enjoyed Business and Administration at school. I also felt at that time the sector was growing with a lot of potential for progression and job security.
There were a lot of changes within the finance industry with globalization and offshoring work out with the UK. The roles were becoming more automated with technology just meaning my role was to approve or reject what programs showed.
Personally, I was not getting much enjoyment from work I was doing. Teams were becoming smaller and I did not have much interaction with people. Work life balance also became an issue in having to work remotely beyond contract hours. Ironically enough early start in remote working has served me well in current COVID climate!
I had to make a break from Finance Sector, I wanted to be in an industry where I could interact more with people, utilise my skills more in problem solving, customer handling, analysis in variety of situations rather than react to what a computer system was telling me, or supervisor wanted me to do.
So, I made the choice to return to education and applied for the HNC in Events Management at West Lothian College. After speaking with lectures I learned I would obtain practical experience from working in the on campus Terrace Restaurant on and be involved in running events in community. I felt this would assist me in developing practical experience and my background in Finance could assist me in my studies.
Before starting the course my hope was to expand on the skills and knowledge I had acquired throughout working and I was able to apply this in assignments and managing the demands of the course.
I undertook a Summer School pre-course at the college which was good as it gave me an understanding what was expected from me.
Summer School allowed me to meet my lecturers and classmates before the course officially began. This allowed me to improve my team working skills and look at what I would require to pass the HNC.
The only real fears I had were managing workload with personal commitments as the summer school had helped me to get over the stress and uncertainty of an unfamiliar environment although I needn’t have worried as I found everyone at the college to be very welcoming.
I also was conscious of the fact that I had not studied in 10 years, which was initially a bit daunting but I soon go tin to the swing of it.
The college experience
I found my college experience to be life changing. It allowed me to pick up practical experience in hospitality, volunteering and gave me a working knowledge of the third sector.
I have made close friendships with lecturers and classmates which has kept me going in tough periods.
The experience I obtained from college has assisted me in my future studies. It has allowed me to show that it is possible to change your career path no matter what age you are.
I am currently studying the Events and Festival Management Degree at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh. Completing HNC in Events Management allowed me to be a Direct Entrant into second year of the degree programme. So, attending West Lothian College allowed me to go onto further education easily with no stresses as I felt at this point of my life, I was ready to further my studies, which when I left school, I was not.
Speaking from experience
I guess if I was to offer advice to anyone thinking about returning to education or studying at college for the first time I would say,
· Be open and willing to embrace opportunities college offers you in work experience, volunteering, additional studying.
· If you are struggling be open and speak to someone to help you. You are not alone and people at college will help and listen.
· Plan and organise your time effectively. Do not leave assignments and tasks last minute as it will only make you anxious and stress.
But most importantly, enjoy the experience as time flies quickly.