The road less travelled
Sarah Ramage (MA 2021) describes how she followed a non-traditional route to study at St Andrews and how this has changed her life.
Coming to St Andrews
Although I am the second generation in my family to attend university, the first generation was not my parents – it was my two daughters who graduated in 2018 and 2020. I am proud of them both for taking the advice I gave to them that higher education can change your life in so many ways. I’m proud of myself for taking that advice, too.
Studying at St Andrews was never something I had considered until the University reached out through the Scottish Wider Access Programme (SWAP) being run at the college I was attending. I live an hour away, so I was able to visit St Andrews a few times. With each visit the feeling grew stronger that this was somewhere I should seriously consider. The University’s access staff made me feel special and valued while current access students reassured me that I would cope academically and have a great student experience. By the time the offer came in I knew that St Andrews was the ideal place for me.
Lifelong and Flexible Learners (Lifers)
Being part of the Lifelong and Flexible Learners (Lifers) and commuting communities was key to my happiness and success here. From my very first week I was made to feel so welcome and encouraged to take part in all the usual Freshers’ traditions. As a non-traditional student I wasn’t sure if I would get adopted by an academic family but I needn’t have worried, and I loved taking part in Raisin with my academic brother and sisters. At the end of first year I was elected as the Lifers’ officer and I worked hard to ensure that non-traditional students had many opportunities to take part in student traditions and attend other events.
One of the highlights was in my second year when over thirty of us had a fantastic night at Glitterball, with my elder daughter coming as a guest. I also really enjoyed the opportunities that we created to ensure that non-traditional students could involve their families. We had a very successful Family Fun Day at Craigtoun Park and welcomed family members to Gaudie. Just two months before the pandemic took hold here, I was lucky to take part in Race 2 Valencia with my fellow college friend, Shelley. Raising money for charities chosen by students, while meeting all the great people who gave us lifts was an amazing experience, and it was challenging in a completely different way to my academic studies.
As a commuting student I was initially worried that I might not feel as connected to the University as students living in the town, or that I might miss out on opportunities – but I have to say that I quickly discovered this was not the case. Our little commuter room under the ASC was the most amazing place and I miss it so much! I can remember all the laughter and tears that were shed and the advice and support that were given in the tiny little space that our wonderful commuting community called home. It was one of the biggest draws when I was considering coming here.
I have tried to give back as much as I can to ensure that other students also have the same great experience as I did. It hasn’t all been fun and plain straightforward. Over the four years here I’ve had a few difficult times and the support I’ve received from the University and Student Services has been excellent. As a non-traditional student the difficulties may be somewhat different, but the support that I received was helpful to me and I am very grateful.
Looking to the future
At the start of the pandemic I was furloughed, and I very much missed going out to work. During last summer I started working as a Customer Assistant on checkouts with Morrisons. I loved being a key worker, my colleagues and the company so much that I applied for their Retail Graduate Scheme. My experiences as a student – both academic and extracurricular – prepared me well for the rigorous application process. I was delighted to be offered a place and I will be starting on the two-year programme this September with my first placement being in the St Andrews store.
I’ll still be a commuter, but this time I’ll be heading to a graduate job – thanks to the University and the Scottish Wider Access Programme.
Hear more from Sarah in the video below, where she thanks the generous donors who have supported her throughout her student journey.