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Rae's story

I left school after doing my GCSEs. I had a few jobs, and then went travelling to Australia. When I got back, aged 21, I trained as a dressmaker and began working for a local shop near my home in Southend. I still work there part-time. It helps that UEL has 12-week terms, so I can work between term times.

I play in a local roller derby league for the Seaside Sirens. It’s like rugby with roller skates on, and in 2013 I broke my leg really badly. It was when I was at the rehab stage that I began to get interested in some of the sports science involved.  I was off skates for such a long time that I started looking into the mental side of injuries.

I decided I wanted to make a career change and start studying. But a week before my access course was due to start I found out I was pregnant. So I had to move it on another year, and I started in 2015. The access course was two days a week. Tilda went to either of her nannies – my mum or her dad’s mum. My sister, who has three children of her own, was also able to help out.

During the access course they got us to look at every university. We studied all the league tables, the costs and the student satisfaction ratings. I wanted to be local as I couldn’t be too far from Tilda, so my choices were UEL and the Universities of Kent, Hertfordshire and Essex. I had a number of Open Day visits lined up in July and UEL’s was first. I just really, really liked it. I thought straight away 'This is where I want to go.'

My maternity pay only lasted for nine months. I worked right up until I gave birth so I could use the money for the course afterwards. When the maternity pay stopped, I used my savings. Once I was at UEL it was easier to get financial support, especially since I got an academic scholarship.

Academic scholarship

I received one of the Dean’s Scholarships, which is worth £4500 each year. You have to maintain a 2:1 grade or they take it off you, but I got a first in my first year and I have been getting firsts for my work so far this year. UEL were really encouraging about the scholarship. They kept emailing me saying 'you can apply for this.'

I am the first person in my family to go to university. We are manual workers really – my mum is an interior designer and my dad is a sound engineer. I thought to myself 'there’s no way I could get a scholarship.' But UEL kept on at me to try. I had to write five mini-essays about five different parts of my life. In the end I thought 'I might as well try.'

Open Day

At the Open Day, everyone I spoke to was really happy at the university. During the access course we had heard that a lot of universities just leave you to get on with things, and I was worried about that. But at UEL we were told we could always talk to the lecturers whenever we got stuck with anything and I really liked that approach. I didn’t bother to go to any of the other Open Days – I just wanted to go to UEL. I think I would have  come to UEL anyway even if I had visited the other universities.

My mum came to the Open Day with me – and I was 27 years old! She really loved it too. She said 'I want to go and do Psychology at UEL!' We had heard how UEL was the first to offer cognitive psychology as a standard course. She retires in a couple of years so she probably could do it. I had a plan before I started university that I would go on to do a Master's in Physiotherapy. That is still a possibility for me, but I didn’t realise until I got here that there would be so many options. There’s loads of different jobs you can do. And I am seriously interested now in doing research. The staff here have been very encouraging.

Arrangements fit in with my lifestyle

I am in at UEL four days a week, although they are mostly half days. It takes me about an hour and a half to get from Southend to the Docklands campus where I have my lectures. I get the train up to West Ham and then take the DLR straight to Cyprus. Tilda went to a childminder or her nan's house in my first year. This year she has started at nursery for two days a week.

When I got to UEL I found it was true about the lecturers – they are always available, and very ready to help you. I also really like the atmosphere there and the fact that there are a lot of older students there. And a lot of the students live locally.

We are always joking that it is a commuter university!

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