Mature students making the most of their second opportunities

Returning to education a little later in life can seem a little daunting, but for many this decision is life-changing, opening up new career prospects and employment opportunities.

Thursday, 3rd September 2020, 2:23 pm
Updated Thursday, 3rd September 2020, 2:26 pm
NWRC Journalism student Ciaran Lockhart gives his daughters Niamh and Aoibheann a tour of the media facilities at the college.

Every year, North West Regional College welcomes mature students who return to education after a break, studying courses ranging from Part-Time, Diplomas, University Access courses, Foundation Degrees, and Higher National Certificates and Diplomas.

Two students who enrolled as mature students in courses at NWRC last year here describe their experiences.

Despite the demands of juggling busy family life with study, they said the move back to the classroom was one of the best decisions they ever made.

NWRC Access in Combined Studies graduate, Catherine Mellon, pictured with her son Califf and daughter Chloe.

Father of two, Ciaran Lockhart (35), is currently studying the free one-year NCTJ Diploma in Journalism. He will complete his course in November.

“I went to Belfast to study politics when I finished school. I lived in a student house but I was young and immature, I wasn’t really ready for university and I dropped out.

“I loved playing basketball and I got the opportunity to work full time with an American charity. At the time I wasn’t worried about qualifications.

“However, the funding dried up and my dream job was gone. I then began working in retail.

“My wife Katie is a nurse, when her maternity leave was up she was returning to work. We sat down and did our sums and realised that it made more sense for me to stay at home. So that’s what I did until our girls were old enough for school. I loved being at home with my girls Niamh and Aoibheann and having that quality time with them.

“When that time was up and the girls were starting school I was thinking about going back into retail employment. Katie and I talked and I decided now was the time to really pursue a career that I wanted to do. If I didn’t do it then I probably never would.

“I had always thought about journalism when I was younger and it was an itch that I had never scratched. I applied to NWRC’s Professional Diploma in Journalism, got an interview and was accepted.

“My course fits right around the kids’ schedule, along with a lot of help from the grannies and I also work part-time at a local hotel.

“Before I went back to college I always had this feeling that I had missed out, and that without qualifications I wasn’t conforming to society. Being a stay at home Dad I had let myself become isolated and had very few male friends.

“I’m at NWRC four days a week which is great for me because I still get Mondays with the girls.

“The library at NWRC has been a godsend for me because I can go there to get my work completed. There’s a real range of ages in the class, and at 35, I am the second oldest. Others in the course have already completed their degree.

“I completed a placement at Radio Foyle and worked one day a week at the Derry Journal. I hope to finish my course in November and I want to get into digital journalism.

“I’d just like anyone who was like me, sitting on the fence, wondering if they can do it, to know that anything is possible.

“The opportunity is always there, go for it.”

Catherine Mellon (34), a mum of two, is beginning her Nursing Degree at Ulster University after achieving a distinction in the one-year University Access Diploma in Combined Studies at North West

Regional College.

“I am 34 years old. I have two children, Chloe (16), and Califf (11) and I am in a long-term relationship. I left school without any formal qualifications due to having my daughter at a young age.

“After much thought, I decided in 2019 to better my life for both myself and my children and after seeking advice from the careers section in NWRC decided that the Access Course in Combined Studies seemed ideal for me. The course offered me a chance to gain formal qualifications, access to Higher Education, and better career opportunities.

“I found the course both enjoyable and beneficial. I found the tutors very helpful and always willing to offer advice and guidance through the course, especially in the recent Covid-19 pandemic with online classes and assignments. The elements I enjoyed most during the access course were: working with my fellow students on projects, completing assignments on time and to a high standard, and improving myself both academically and on a personal level.

“I would highly recommend the Access course to anyone looking to improve their career opportunities. Due to my successful completion of the Access course with a distinction, I am now able to pursue my dream and start my nursing degree at the University of Ulster”

Information on all of NWRC’s courses can be found online at For details on further study, the award-winning Careers Academy at NWRC offer free, impartial advice at [email protected]