Student returns to GCU to complete unfinished business

Thu, 25 Mar 2021 16:19:00 GMT
Nicola is the first in her family to go to University
Nicola is the first in her family to go to University

A student has opened up on her decision to return to University - after dropping out due to mental health difficulties seven years ago.   

Nicola McMaster left GCU in 2014 after her first year studying International Business. She then found her way back five years later as a direct entrant to the Business Management programme - with an HND and a new found confidence behind her. 

Now in her final year, Nicola wants to share her story and encourage others to make themselves a priority while studying. 

She said: “Initially, I really wanted to do International Business and basically the grades I had from school matched up to the grades needed to get into GCU.  

When I first came, I didn’t really have the confidence. You go from the school system, where everything has a structure, and then you get to University and it’s all independent learning. 

In all honesty, I didn’t have the confidence to talk to lecturers and ask for help - It definitely was too much at that point for me. I struggled with mental health issues and I just felt swamped at times. 

I started failing and didn’t know how to bring it back, so I ended up dropping out.” 

After leaving University, Nicola spent the next few years working in a number of different jobs before deciding to give higher education one more shot. 

She explained: “I found myself working full-time but I got stuck in the rut of call centres and care-homes. It was constant 12 hour shifts and I had very little time off. 

I do think the experience of cold calling helped me grow a backbone, however I knew I had to make a changeI was still really scared of going back to University because it was so mentally challenging the first time - that was why I decided to give College a go 

decided I would go down the route of eventually becoming an administration assistant and went to study an HND at Ayrshire College in 2017.  

When I finished, the teaching staff really encouraged me to go to University because of my grades. Hearing that they had that belief in me really gave me a confidence boost, so I applied to GCU and here we are!” 

Nicola has now thrown herself into the whole University experience, despite the challenges of a pandemic over the last year. 

She explained: “When I made the decision to go, I felt that I had to make it work. I made up my mind that I wasn’t going to leave - no matter how tough things got. I was really motivated and knew it had to work this time.  

did my research before starting to see the different career opportunities and also how to manage my mental health, which really made me feel prepared. 

I know a lot of people aren’t keen on online learning but I’ve actually really enjoyed it. What I would say is that I don’t miss the travelling at all! I can just get up and I’m lucky that I’ve got space to work at home and the opportunity to concentrate. 

Nicola added: “I’ve also taken a lot of things on this time alongside my degree - I’m just trying to jump in and make the most of it.  

Last year I was a Class Rep and this year I’ve taken on the role of Women’s Officer within the WLG group at the University. It’s been great and I’ve held events with people internally and externally. It’s been really interesting to be able to work with loads of women from different backgrounds.” 

Nicola is also very thankful for the support shown to her by family members and her personal tutor, Dr Julie Thomson. 

She said: I was the first in my family to go to University, so it was such a big thing at the time – we had a party and everything!  

My mum really struggled with dyslexia and I think she was worried that I would end up working low-income jobs for life, so it was amazing to see her so excited. Now that I’ve went back, she’s just hoping I can stick it out because I was really unwell the last time – her fingers are definitely crossed but this time, she’s not celebrating until I graduate! 

Nicola added: “Without Julie’s support I wouldn’t have felt as comfortable being back at GCU - she’s so funny and down to earth. It’s amazing that she manages to be your personal tutor but also someone you can have that all important connection with. You can literally talk to her about anything, which is really good. 

With her time at GCU coming to an end, Nicola doesn’t regret any decision she’s made in her educational journey and even had a word of advice for anyone else who finds themselves struggling.  

She explained: “I left originally because of mental health and I think I would tell anyone who’s struggling to simply do what’s best for them 

If dropping out is the best option for you, then that might be the decision you have to take. You can always defer a year and GCU is a really welcoming place - I’m sure they’d have you back!” 


If you’re struggling with mental health then why not check out some of the resources available at GCU Wellbeing. 


By Ross Clark 
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