My Journey to Higher Education

When I was sixteen, I went to college for the first time. I should probably preface this post to inform anyone who is not from the UK that we complete our formal education at sixteen. We can then either stay on at school, in Sixth Form, or we can progress to college. This lasts around two years. Then, around eighteen, we can move on to university if we choose. Note how I said at the age of sixteen was the first time I went to college. Overall, I’ve been to college three different times.

ATTEMPT ONE

At sixteen I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life but felt I had to remain in education as both my sister and brother had done. I chose three A-Levels that interested me – drama, media studies, and sociology – and hoped for the best. It took one month before severe anxiety caused me to quit. 

I have always been socially anxious but the routine and stability of primary and secondary school meant I was able to, for the most part, function. Leaving school for college took away the routine and stability I was used to and my brain went into overload. I was overwhelmed and experienced multiple panic attacks daily. I spent the day hiding in the bathroom to cry rather than attending any of my classes. My anxiety caused me to withdraw which meant making friends was out of the question, so while everyone else was forging friendships I was not. This only exacerbated my anxiety. Eventually I stopped attending class altogether and made the decision to drop out.

ATTEMPT TWO

As I was not yet ready to give up on further education, I dropped out of one college and enrolled in a different one straight away. This time I applied to join a performing arts course. My sister had completed a performing arts course when she was in college and it had been some of the best times of her life. I wanted that so I thought why not. Well, I’ll tell you why not… I wasn’t ready. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I have social anxiety. No amount of changing colleges or courses would have made a difference. I was suffering from an anxiety disorder and on the brink of an eating disorder. I was not mentally ready for college. As a result, I was unable to make connections with my classmates – I couldn’t even look them in the face without panic bubbling inside me. The panic attacks continued.

I didn’t even make it a week before I dropped out. Except this time I didn’t bother to try again. I had well and truly given up. At the same time, my parents had just split up and were going through a very messy, very bitter divorce. My best friend at the time ghosted me as my mental health declined sending me further down a spiral. I became even more withdrawn, isolated myself socially from everyone I had been friends with in school, and eventually developed agoraphobia.

ATTEMPT THREE

Cut to seven years later and I was ready for my third attempt. My third attempt came in September 2018 when I was twenty-four. The seven year difference had seen me enter recovery for my mental illness, gain a fiance, and start a job in administration. I became stronger and more confident. Anxiety almost stopped me once again, this time convincing me I would be too old and had missed my opportunity. After speaking with friends and colleagues, I ultimately made the decision that I would regret not going back when I had the chance. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

I’m proud to say I successfully completed an Access to Higher Education: Social Sciences course – with the highest amount of credits possible! Not only that, but it has helped me become more independent, has given me even more confidence, and proved to myself that I’m more than capable. Through college I’ve met some amazing people that I know I will be friends with for life. Third time’s the charm.

THE NEXT STEP

So what’s next? What am I going to do with my Access to Higher Education diploma? The answer to that would be university. As of September 2019, I will officially be a university student working towards a degree in Psychology with Clinical and Health Psychology. While I’m utterly terrified of this next step, I’m also incredibly excited. I did this. Me. Sixteen-year-old Kelly could never have dreamed she would get here. For years I believed this was an impossibility, that my anxiety would never be stable enough for me to get to this stage.

Yet here I am. 

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You might also like my post You’re Never Too Old to Go Back to Education

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12 Comments

  1. Quite a story! But well done! Courage and determination have taken you a long way. Good luck with the rest of your journey.

    1. Thank you – it’s not been easy but it’s been worth it!

  2. Go you!!!!! You have done amazingly- I’m in awe of the way that you’ve continued to challenge yourself and thrive <3 I hope you have a fabulous time at uni. You deserve it!

    1. Thank you so much, Vicky! 💖 It’s absolutely terrifying but I’m very excited to see where the next three years takes me!

  3. What a lot you had to deal with during that time, but even though you quit you knew what was best for you and your health at the time which is so mature for you to do at that age! It’s clear here you have so much motivation and determination, you have got this girl! 👏🏻xxx

    1. Thank you so much – that’s really sweet of you to say! I am definitely determined to get my degree, one way or another! ❤️

      1. Good luck lovely 🖤

  4. You are a real inspiration, Kelly! Well done for staying determined and giving studying another chance. I was in a very similar situation, 16 year old me was not ready for college but I went back to education at 23 and really enjoyed the new challenge. I wish you all the best with Uni, you have worked so hard and I’m sure you will do amazingly with your degree. Stay strong and thanks for sharing your story, I am sure it will be an encouragement to many others out there! <3 xx

    Bexa | http://www.hellobexa.com

    1. When you think about it, it’s a lot of pressure to put on a teenager to go to college and decide what they want to do for the rest of their life. I definitely think we have a level of appreciation for education going back into it as an adult who is now ready for that new adventure rather than doing it for the sake of doing it.
      Thank you so much, Bexa! ❤️

  5. […] you’ve not read my post on my journey to higher education, then you might not know why this is an achievement for me. It was not an easy ride but it was […]

  6. […] I was twenty-three, I decided to return to education and get a degree. I’ve spoken about my journey to higher education in a previous post. I’m now twenty-five and halfway through the first year of my […]

  7. […] no secret on this blog how I’ve lived with social anxiety disorder for my entire life. In this post I discuss how my social anxiety disorder impacted my ability to attend college at sixteen. […]

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