Loose Change

Investing in your education as a mature student

David from Money for Monday writes about a range of topics including money, work and life. In 2015 David completed an online HND and today asks whether investment in online courses is a worthwhile expense or best avoided.


I didn’t like school and I mean I really didn’t like school.

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t one of those annoying idiots that would disrupt a whole class and I wasn’t a class clown.  I was one of those that would keep my head down and go under the radar whilst those that were being disruptive or seen as the brains of Britain were getting the attention.

School didn’t really offer anything for me to get excited about.  I excelled in some sports but even these weren’t anything that I particularly looked forward to.

I didn’t excel academically.  I was disinterested in the subjects, I knew that I wasn’t going to be a historian, a town planner or linguist and I didn’t have anyone at home pushing me to do well.

Not being academic, career advice was non-existent or poor at best. No matter what your aptitude for learning was, we were all told to do the best and if we did well go to university and decide then what you wanted to do for the rest of your life there.

The thing is, I never knew what I wanted to do and going to university wasn’t going to change that.  I couldn’t quite understand how anyone in their teens could make a decision that would impact the rest of their lives in the three years at university?

Is poor or no career advice really an issue?

An article in the Guardian suggests that current careers provision still falls short on of the eight benchmarks describing careers advice best practice.  Worryingly 20 percent of schools were not achieving any benchmarks.

A job for life no longer exists and companies are always looking at making “business efficiencies“… another way of them saying job losses, I suspect. You don’t have to look far to find another article about a business going into administration or closing some of its stores.

To those making the decision it’s purely a numbers game, but losing your job and everything associated with it is a worry in itself and can also lead to debt, health issues and stresses on family life. And what about those that fear being left on the job scrapheap purely because of their age.

So what does these mean for the workers that have only known retail, manufacturing or hospitality?

What options are available to those that have lost their job?

If they enjoy their job, they might be lucky enough to find another job in the same sector, but how long before they find themselves in the same position? If their skills allow, they might also consider self-employment.

The problem arises if none of the above applies.

One option then is to invest time and money in further education and retrain in another industry.

Websites including the UK government’s National Career Service provide details of over 800 job profiles and the qualifications needed to get into them, so if you don’t know what you want to be it’s definitely worth a visit.

But this is still not enough.

Further education is expensive and only for the few?

Technology has disrupted further education and allows anyone to gain a qualification, regardless of their background. This can be a reasonably inexpensive alternative to the traditional bricks and mortar universities.

In 2015, I finished an online HND, this is equivalent to the first two years of a degree and cost me a little over £3,000 as opposed to the £9,500 a year and debt that I would have accumulated had I gone to university.

I appreciate that £3,000 is still a lot of money, but there are alternatives to increasing your skills or gaining a qualification before handing over your money.

You can test the water with a free or cheap course from the likes of Khan Academy, futurelearn.com and UK Open College.

All that glitters isn’t gold

Though there are some good course providers, unfortunately, there are some that are nothing more than opportunists looking to part you from your money with the promise a money and job at the end of the course. Something that they probably couldn’t back up if they were challenged.

What to look out for:

Those promising jobs as soon as you have gained a qualification

Become a plumber in a year and earn £70k, yeah right!

The qualification or accreditation that they are offering might not be something that employers recognize in the sector. Even if it is, they’ll no doubt require some form of experience.

So do your research and ensure that what they are offering is legit.

Poor reviews

What are others saying about the provider or the course they are offering?  Search on Google and visit social media.  Word of mouth is powerful and if those that have been burnt by the provider are prepared to share their experience, then you’d better sit up and take notice, don’t be one of those!

Your options for a refund

What you might be sold by their salesperson might not be what you get in practice. Be sure to check your terms and conditions and ensure that there is a clear refund policy if you are unsatisfied or feel that you have been sold something that they can’t deliver.

If you’re still unsure then you might find that attending a local further education college would be more suitable, not only are they established, they are experts in education and might also suit your learning style better.

So is becoming a mature student worthwhile?

The advantages of online courses:

  • You are in control of the pace of your learning.
  • You have more life experience and can use this in your learning experience.
  • You hopefully know yourself and what motivates you much more than you did in your teens.

Some disadvantages:

  • It can be difficult to find a work/life balance.
  • Costs may be unaffordable due to other financial commitments.
  • Once you have the qualification it can be difficult to get into your chosen new profession.

As long as you’re investing in a qualification that is of use to business or gains a skill that will help you start a business then I don’t see any reason why the investment of money and time wouldn’t be worthwhile.

Getting a new qualification or skill offers no guarantees that you’ll get into a new industry straight away but it certainly shows a dedication to potential employers that you’re willing to do what’s necessary to get into your chosen profession whatever that might be.

All it takes is that someone that is willing to give you that one opportunity.

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