From Undergraduate to Masters – How confidence played a role in my education journey.

Meet Emilia.

My name is Emilia, I have an undergraduate in Criminology and Criminal Justice Studies and I’m a recent master’s graduate in Criminal Psychology, which I undertook via distance learning with the University of Portsmouth.

I work part-time for the cabinet office, I am a Listening Volunteer with the Samaritans and I’m also currently doing my qualifications to become a solicitor.

I’m the oldest of four. I have ocular albinism, I’m the only sibling who is albino so that comes with additional challenges as well. I have had a visual impairment from birth, I am partially sighted, but as you can hear and read from my introduction, I have not let my sight stop me from achieving. My disability doesn’t define who I am. 

I decided to apply to become a LOOK mentor as I want to be able to help and encourage others with some of the things I struggled with growing up. It’s important for individuals to see others who have a VI talk about their experience.

Education and fitting in.

I went to Notre Dame Secondary School in South London which is a mainstream school, but I received support from teaching assistants as and when I needed it.

Secondary school and college were one of the hardest times in my life as it’s your first step into adulthood. Your making new friends, there was a lot of pressure on me (and that I put on myself) to fit in as I knew I was different and on top of that I had normal teenage life issues.

Confidence and overcoming struggles.

Confidence has always been something I have struggled with. I find it really difficult asking for help, but I’m learning that just because you’re asking for help doesn’t mean you’re less of a person.

Regarding my sight, If I got upset because of my sight then I wouldn’t get anywhere in life, I would just not do anything. I know what I’m entitled to, but I also know that I need to work extra hard and ask for help because of my vision impairment.

My sight will always be a problem, but I have to and have learnt to manage it. I don’t want to sound proud and big-headed or anything, but I feel I’m a perfect example of someone who has had so many obstacles in their life, so many challenges but I have always done my very best, I have never given up and have always made an effect to do my best considering everything.

No matter the disability you have, don’t let the world and their friends tell you that you’re not able to go forward in the field you want to work in. Yes, you may need to take longer routes or make adjustments but if it’s something that you’re committed and dedicated to, just do what you need to do. For example, I did an undergraduate degree in 2014 as a mature adult over four years of part-time learning and in 2019 I did my masters degree via distance learning.

In spite of my visual impairment, I have worked hard throughout my life and have been able to cope and overcome obstacles that have come my way. When I have struggled, I have taken the appropriate measures needed to overcome my disability.

Words of encouragement.

I would say that use all the extra support that is offered to you.

I know that whilst as an undergraduate I wish I would have used more of the assistive technology software that was available to me.

Going to college is a massive step and now you get to decide what you want to study, it’s important that you know what you can do because it is you who has to do the studies for a few years. I’m aware of what I can do and the things I can’t do, I just don’t do them. I will never apply to be a pilot, that would not make any sense. But, if I wanted to apply to be an air hostess and I really wanted to do that, I would make the enquiries but be aware that maybe it’s not good for me regarding my sight.

Use your further education to improve your confidence and come out of your comfort zone. Maybe it’s easier said than done, it’s not going to be easy but the support is there, use this as an opportunity to build your support network as that is very important. When I started college, I had friends who were there from my secondary school which helped but it’s important not to rely on that.

Image of Emilia in her graduation robe.
Confidence Q&A with Emilia

Q) Moving on to College/University is a big step, how did you prepare for the transition?

I was 26 when I started university as an undergraduate student, so I was a mature student and working part-time in the day whilst studying in the evening. I prepared by making sure I did all my research in terms of the support I would be able to receive from the disability support team regarding my sight and because I was working making sure the jobs I went for I was able to travel to the university distance wise.

Q) What were you most anxious about before starting University?

Doing group work and having to explain why I had a class assistant/note taker always in class with me. When it came to my masters, the anxiety was still there but this time I was concerned about not being taken seriously as a distant learner and not receiving enough support from the university in terms of my vision impairment.

Q) What was the biggest challenge you faced when starting in your new university setting?

As a distance learner during my masters’ studies, my biggest challenge was whether I’d still have that level of drive and commitment to my studies because I was studying from home.

Q) How did you overcome this challenge?

Knowing that I got through my undergraduate with life and family issues going on plus I was working and studying, so everything turned out ok in the end.

Q) Can you provide more details on the steps you took to apply for and then do your university studies, how did you ensure you got the support you needed?

For my masters I knew I wanted to challenge myself so I started looking into distance learning universities and did research into the disability services they provided.

I spoke to the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) team in terms of what support I would be able to be provided as a distance learner. I also spoke to the library disability team.

Q) What are your top tips for building self-confidence?

  1. Have a small circle of friends who will motivate and encourage you but will also address areas of change.
  2. Use the various services that your college/university offer.
  3. Join a gym or a group where you can meet like-minded people.

Emilia was part of our 16+ Transitioning to Further Education social media take-over and live Q&A with LOOK mentors and education specialist.

To listen to our live Q&A session click on the video below:

We’d like to thank all of our mentors and guests who gave up their time to share their stories.