Sarah Ashman – Returning to study25 July 2018
Here you can find out a bit more about the individual experiences of some of our students, why they chose Cardiff University for their postgraduate study and what they enjoy most about Cardiff!
Name: Sarah Ashman
Postgraduate Course: MSc Education, Policy and Society
Institution where you did your Undergraduate studies: University of Nottingham
Tell us a little bit about yourself, why did you chose to become a postgraduate student?
I decided to pursue a postgraduate degree as I had always wanted to continue my studies, but I didn’t feel as though going straight into a postgraduate degree was the right decision for me. So, before returning to university I took a couple of years out to travel, work and decide what type of postgraduate course was right for me.
My undergraduate degree was quite broad, so I was really looking to specialise with my postgraduate study. I had already been working in the higher education sector for a few years (so I’d never really left university) and wanted to learn more about the ideologies and broader structures influencing current educational policy. Not only has studying this been really interesting, it has also equipped me with an understanding that means I’m better prepared to progress my career in the higher education sector.
Why did you choose Cardiff University for your Postgraduate studies?
I choose Cardiff University for a number of reasons. One of the biggest reasons was its location. As a local student, I knew that Cardiff University is perfectly located between the city centre and the main student residential areas of Cathays and Roath. It is also a short walk from the train station which gave me the option to commute and travel around easily. As a Welsh speaker, I was also keen to move back to Wales and have more opportunities to use Welsh on a regular basis.
Another big factor in my decision to study at Cardiff University was the course. While loads of universities offer courses in teacher training, few offer courses that focus on studying the education system more broadly. I also liked the interdisciplinary approach of the School of Social Science, which has allowed me to draw on some of the skills and knowledge from my undergraduate degree.
Cardiff University being a Russell Group university and being taught by academics that are experts in their fields was really important to me, even more so than it was at undergrad. Going into the course I already had a clear focus for my dissertation and knowing that there were academics within the university that could support and advise on my field of interest was integral.
How has been your personal experience on returning to education and to start your postgraduate course at a different university?
Returning to education was a lot easier of a transition than I had expected. I was quite nervous starting the course as I’d had to quit a permanent job and it seemed like ages since I’d done anything even vaguely academic. But once l’d got stuck in to the course the nerves quickly faded away.
The structure of my course meant that getting back into the routine of academic reading and writing was surprisingly easy. After a discussion with my personal tutor, I decided to take fewer modules in the first semester to give me extra time to focus on my study skills and getting my essay writing back up to scratch. I also made sure to utilise my lecturer’s way more than I did as an undergraduate and they were more than happy to review essay plans and drafts, which really boosted my confidence.
I was also glad to find that my course mates were a really diverse and friendly group. Most of them had also taken a break from education or had previously studied overseas, so we were all in the same boat.
How did you fund your postgraduate studies? How would you advise offer holders to go on about researching or finding funding for postgraduate studies?
My postgraduate studies have been totally self-funded. I did consider a range of funding options from the Master’s Excellence Scholarship to the Alternative Funding Guide, but as I applied quite late I had missed most deadlines. (So, if you are looking for funding, make sure to start your search early!) At the time, Welsh students weren’t eligible for government funded postgraduate loan, but is also something worth considering.
Instead I funded my studies with a combination of money saved and part-time work. My timetable allowed me to quite easily work 2 days a week, so once I was fully enrolled I registered with JobShop, the student employment service based in the Student’s Union. They send out regular emails with details of vacancies that range from ad hoc bar work to more permanent and regular positions. This meant that at times when my work load was lower, I was able to pick up extra work.
The university itself is a living wage employer, so any work you to for the university is paid at least £8.45 an hour plus holiday pay. Wages are paid fortnightly, which is great when you’re on a tight budget.
Cardiff is a really budget friendly city, with living costs that are much lower than many other university cities. This really helped with being able to afford postgraduate studies. Self-funding and working alongside a masters isn’t easy, but it is a really viable option in an affordable city like Cardiff.
Which accommodation did you stay during your postgraduate studies at Cardiff University? What advice would you give to Cardiff University offer holders who have to find accommodation themselves?
My initial intention was to stay with my parents during my postgraduate studies, as they live a short train journey away from Cardiff, which would save some money on rent. However, after a month or so I made the decision to move to Cardiff as I felt as though I would be able to get more involved in student life. But this was very much a case of personal preference, most of my course mates did commute into Cardiff from places like Newport, Barry and further afield. So, if you are considering living outside of the city centre, you certainly won’t be the only one and it often can be a much cheaper option.
However, I decided that I wanted to experience living in Cardiff and being stone’s throw from both the university and the city centre. Despite it being mid-term, I was able to find a privately rented room in a 5 bedroom house of postgraduate students through Cardiff Student Letting. This is a no-fee letting agency run by the Student’s Union, so it’s the perfect place to start your search for a house.
My four house mates had met during the house hunting event, also run by the Student’s Union. The event is a really good option for postgrads that are new to Cardiff and looking to find housemates as well as meet new people.
How was/is your postgraduate life at Cardiff? Please cover the following areas:
Start of your course
One of the main differences between postgraduate and undergraduate study for me was class sizes. As an undergraduate, I was used to being in a cohort of 300 students but my postgraduate course group was significantly smaller. There is so much more small group learning at postgraduate level which is great as it gives you the opportunity to have a lot more open discussion and debate.
Level of studies
Postgraduate level study is certainly a step up from undergrad. The volume of work is noticeably more and I found that lecturers, understandably, expected a lot more from you. But I found this challenge really satisfying, particularly since I was studying a topic that I’m really interested in and passionate about.
Another hurdle for me was the depth of theoretical understanding that postgraduate study requires. I initially found this quite challenging as I had no background in social theory or its application. But lots of reading and discussion in seminars meant that I built up a solid theoretical understanding that vastly improved the quality of my work.
Postgraduate study also gives you a lot more independence and flexibility in how and what you study. Most of my coursework assignments were ‘open’ and we were given the freedom to choose our own essay topics. This was great, as it meant you could really explore the topics that resonate with you.
One of the facilities I most enjoyed as a postgraduate was Postgraduate Study Zone which is based on the third floor of the Student’s Union. The space is divided between group and individual study areas, as well as a lounge that is complete with a small kitchen. This was my favourite place to study and I really appreciated having a space that was exclusively for postgraduates.
Life in the City and Wales
I love Cardiff as a city. I’m a big fan of eating out and Cardiff has plenty of options. From Madame Fromage, a whole restaurant dedicated to cheese to Anna Loka, the first 100% vegan restaurant in Cardiff, there really is something for everyone (and at an affordable price!)
Having grown up in the countryside, getting out into nature is also really important to me. So luckily, the beautiful Brecon Beacons mountain range is nearby. My course mates and I took regular trips to the Beacons to visit Ystradfellte waterfalls and Pen-y-Fan, the highest peak in South Wales, which was great fun in the sunshine (not so much in the rain!)
I’ve learnt so much during my degree which I’ll be able to utilise in my future career. I’ve gained an insight into the broader influences on educational trends and policy which will continue to be useful in my career within the education sector. The work experience and volunteering I’ve done alongside my degree has also really helped me with working towards my career goals. I’ve developed a range of skills and gained invaluable experience which have enhanced my CV.
What best piece of advice would you give to a Cardiff University offer holder who is about to start their course at Cardiff University?
My advice to offer holders is to start thinking about accommodation and funding as soon as possible. Leaving these sorts of things to the last minute can be very stressful, to make sure you have a smooth start to your course, get funding and accommodation sorted with plenty of time to spare. Then relax and celebrate your offer, well done!
What best piece of advice would you give to a prospective student considering postgraduate studies at Cardiff University?
My advice to anyone considering postgraduate study would be to make sure the course is right for you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions; get in contact with the admissions tutor, go to an open day or visit Cardiff. Do your research and make sure you have all the information you need to make the right decision and to submit a strong application.