Student Stories

Gillian Stafford

My Background:

I am the youngest of four children. I am from Trim in Co Meath. I completed my leaving certificate in 1998.  I didn’t know what I wanted to do as I was diagnosed with a degenerative eye condition the year of my leaving cert and I just wanted to complete my leaving cert.  I did a Post Leaving Cert (PLC) course which I failed and after this I went to work for several years.  I qualified as a medical secretary in 2002 and worked in that field for number of years.  In 2014 I had been out of work for several months and a family member saw an ad for the Trinity Access Programme (TAP) and shared it with me. I decided to apply for it, and I got in. Through the program I started to think about college. Going back to college as a mature student is a challenge. I have a visual impairment and I didn’t think that college would be possible for me.

My Support:

My family members have supported me all through my life.  They encouraged me to go for it as I was the first one in my family who was going to attend college.

In my access course I had a great co-ordinator and teacher who kept encouraging me to apply for the CAO even though I thought that I couldn’t do it. I remember my coordinator saying to me one day, ‘just start at the start and take the first step’.  My first step was to fill in the CAO form and decide what course I wanted to do. I decided on my course and my college.  When I had applied for them, I just kept working hard on my access course.

The next step as a mature student was to attend Maynooth University to write an essay, which I didn’t want to attend but my mam and dad gave me great encouragement to go and do it.  I passed that stage and was called for an interview for my potential course.  There were only twenty-five places for my course which they held for mature students.  The interview was hard, but I was able to draw of my life experience to answer the questions.  At the end of the interview I was told I had my place in Maynooth University.  It was a great feeling as I realised that the life experience I had gained in work and personal life helped me to get my place in college/

My Journey:

As a mature student going into college for the first time with a disability is daunting and I am not sorry to say that I wanted to give up so many times in first year, but I kept going by using the supports that Maynooth University have especially the support I got from the access office.. My experience in college has been tough but enjoyable. I am a mature student and have a visual impairment, so I have had many challenges but the staff in the access office, lecturers and my head of departments helped me a lot, so I was able to complete my degree. One of the biggest challenges was trying to believe I was good enough to be in third level. The other one was finance.

Going to college is different as a mature student – we are up the front, always engaging in tutorials, asking questions and mature students are the ones who are always attend the late lectures.

I have learnt a lot about myself and have finally found my voice.  I had a great experience as I became a Maynooth University Access ambassador and an orientation leader. I helped at many events to help students who are thinking about attending college. In my final year I received a student award for my work with the access office. In my three years in college I may not have gotten the highest marks, but I worked hard, and I graduated last October with a BA in Social Science.

Take the chance as you don’t know the opportunities or experiences you will experience. Believe in yourself that you can do it and never give up. One big piece of advice I would give is to attend open days in the colleges you are thinking of attending as you will be able to talk to current students who will be able to answer your questions as they are currently studying that course.  If you are living away from home be kind to yourself if you are having a bad day.  If you live at home use the support of your family and let them know you are having a bad day.

My Vision:

When I started my degree, I just wanted to get through it.  When I was in my final year in college my tutor and a lecturer started to talk to me about doing a masters degree which I thought they were mad when they suggested it.  They advised me to apply and I got my place.  I am currently doing a master’s in Social Policy and Rights.  I hope when I am finished that I will get a job in advocating for people with visual impairments and blindness to help them see that anything is possible.  I want to use my voice to help someone like I was helped to believe in myself.