Mature Students – funding a second degree

Funding for mature students

Finding funding for a second degree as mature students is not as straight forward as it is for younger students. Read about one mature student’s experience.
Guest blog post by Sharon Watson

Oh the joyous euphoria of getting a place to study veterinary science, was quickly replaced by the uncertainty of finding funding for a second degree.

Don’t get me wrong, I spent a week or two bouncing around work feeling a bit like Tigger trying to keep the news to myself until I had worked out a plan. So what was the plan?

At this stage I didn’t have a plan. Yes I had done a quick internet search on funding for a second degree and on the surface it looked feasible. There seemed to be numerous organisations offering grants. But I hadn’t sat down to work out the details. To be quite frank, I was enjoying the warm fuzzy feeling that came with knowing i had a place to study something I’ve always wanted to do.

Deciding (probably foolishly in hindsight) to give myself a few weeks  to enjoy the warm fuzzy feeling, and to find out once and for all if I could apply for a student loan. I had never had student finance. The endless calls and eventually an email to the universities minister concluded, that it didn’t matter. The fact of the matter was, I already had a degree and I could not get a student loan. Funding a second degree was not going to be as easy. I even spoke to my local MP who was helpful, and very polite. He assured me he would ask the question for me and got the exact same response I got.

So with that completely ruled out, I was filled with an urgency to get things going. Partly to feel like I was being proactive. I kept busy and focused on finding funding surely my hard work would pay off. So a plan started to form.

  • Start a database of charities and organizations who have grants for educational purposes.
  • Find a success story and see if their technique would work for me.
  • Buy a shed load of stamps and envelopes as soon as I got paid (figured I’d need them so best get them when I had money).

I devised a letter, had several people check it several times, hoping to have the right information in (school boy error, but I’ll come on to that later). Deciding I needed to get over my dislike for excel and embrace it. After all it was to become my friend (yeah we’re still not friends, and I wouldn’t call it love, but we have a working relationship now). With the help of a secretary at work, we put excel to work. We generated my address labels etc who knew excel could be so helpful. And my first 50 letters of the year were sent!

So by now the cat was out the bag at work. Those who were interested gave me encouragement. I was going about it the right way. None of us knew how wrong we were, partly because none of us would apply for these types of grants. Yes I work in research, but the grant applications my colleagues would apply for are different. They have very specific guidelines. At this stage I was working off the information from the charities commission website and the odd website of a charity where available.

So a week went by and no response. At last, my stamped addressed envelopes started to arrive! The odd one every other day. The first envelope to return home was greeted with a mixture of trepidation and excitement, and was opened with held breath.

Dear Sharon
Thank you for your letter, but unfortunately……
We wish you well in your studies.

Now part of me was expecting it to be difficult. I’d read around applying to charity’s and how most don’t respond, but wasn’t totally prepared for how I would feel when I read my first rejection letter. I think I was still on my warm fuzzy feeling trip. Being told by work colleagues what an achievement getting a place was, and how difficult getting a place to study veterinary science is still filled me with hope. Part of me was also expecting trustees to see how amazing this was.

Now I’m not having a go at charities and trustees. I believe they have one of the most difficult jobs to do. They have to decide between hundreds if not thousands of applications who gets their limited funding. I’d like to thank each and everyone who gave my early applications consideration. Knowing my application was placed in front of trustees was great, even though they don’t normally fund students. So to all those charities, THANK YOU.

So at the end of January I hit my first low. I questioned whether I was being a bit silly about all of this. After all I’m not academically gifted. And I’d missed step 2 out of my plan. Step 1 had been completed – made and used my database, and 3 – brought and used a shed load of stamps and envelopes, but not 2! In my haste I’d missed 2, find a success story and see if their technique would work for me!

Back to the Internet to find a success story. A website called degrees for free (last updated 2011 but still relevant today) cropped up full of inspiration and hints and tips. I bought the book associated with it “Free Degrees” by Lyndi Smith, which is really inspirational and pulled me out of my own pit of self doubt. I should be proud of what I had achieved already! The book is full of really good ideas for fundraising, charities and sponsorship. As I read the book it dawned on me. Although I’d been proactive, I had made more school boy errors than a school full of boys. Back to the drawing board young lady.

Armed with a new sense of hope and a much better plan, I set about trying to be more prescriptive in my search. I set about getting my hands on the Guide to Educational Grants by the Directory of Social Change. Well the book was out of my price range, thankfully my local library had it. So off I went one afternoon to go through the book with a more refined search. I planned on searching for charities or trusts who provide support for individuals, direct education costs and associated education cost.

Armed with a big note pad, pens and iPod I settled down with a book big enough to use as a doorstop. Well I had a productive day, slightly disappointed I had only completed the ‘A’ section, but what the book has that the charities commission website doesn’t is the application criteria.

Off I went feeling a bit more in control with a much better plan. What had become apparent was I needed a more efficient way of doing this. It was quickly becoming a full time job. Keeping my database updated, going through the directory, filling in applications either on-line or written and going to my day job.

About the same time I had discovered The Scholarship Hub . While doing my internet search, I had signed up for it (free registration). It contained some really helpful articles and hints and tips. I hadn’t really given it much more thought than to sign up and to check in with it every now and then. Work had picked up, and I was finding it harder to commit time to my searches. I have to be honest I was starting to panic slightly “how the hell could I commit anymore time to it” there wasn’t anymore time in the day!

While checking my emails one night, there was one from The Scholarship Hub. All I can say is thank god for subscription emails. I’d found my answer contained within the email. I could continue my search on an evening from home. So I began my search for funding, from the comfort of my living room. The site I use has a search tool where you can add search parameters to narrow your search as they have 3500+ charities and trusts listed.

Great! Well not so for me.

I soon discovered I fall above the vast majority of the organizations listed age limit, so to give an example.
If I put in the search parameters

  1. Educational costs
  2. Direct education costs
  3. Age 35-49

And press search, the result out of the 3500 will be 3 organisations. If I now click on them and expand their application criteria my results of 3 go to 0. As this is based on who they are offering to help.

Now I know this sounds like I’m saying there’s no funding for a second degree out there, but there is if you’re under 35. There are plenty of organisations offering support, and The Scholarship Hub has been invaluable in helping me search for grants and funding. For someone like myself over 35, there are a few which receive hundreds of applications so our chances are slimmer.

So where do I go now?

You know I’m not sure. It’ll be a challenge. My journey will continue in applying for funding from the few I can apply to and with a bit of luck, I’ll be successful. I do know I will have to think out of the box a bit and get over my fear of asking for help.

So some tips that have helped me, which should help you on your search:

  • Do use a good source for researching charities and trusts who offer funding, like The Scholarship Hub and the Guide to Educational Grants.
  • Devise your search criteria, know what you’re requiring for funding for a second degree.
  • Check their criteria, and make sure you fulfill it, then check it twice.
  • Read their application FAQ’s if available.
  • If you are unsure if you meet their criteria email to check.
  • Do be truthful and make sure your figures add up
  • Check the closing dates, some charities will only accept applications at certain times, while others have a rolling application so you can submit at any time.

Have faith with a bit of dedication and hard work it is possible to access funding for a second degree if you’re under 35 for those of us over its tougher.

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