18/10/2013 07:55 BST | Updated 16/12/2013 05:12 GMT

How Higher Education Made My Future Happen

Ambitions. We all have them. Some we have as children, others develop as we get older. It was always my ambition to go to university, but things don't always turn out as you'd planned them. For me, having a family was also hugely important and, once I'd had children, they became my priority. But, even though it hasn't been easy at times, I didn't let my family commitments prevent me from fulfilling my dream.

I'm lucky enough to have five children and a supportive husband. Once my youngest had started school and my eldest, the only girl, was in high school, I decided it was the right time for me to think about university. I wanted a successful career, a comfortable life and enough money to support my family. Getting a degree was a step towards achieving this.

I enrolled at Warwick University to study Social Studies. It was great to experience university life and get stuck into learning again. I'd held so many different jobs since I was last in a classroom; a secretary, an administrator, a dinner lady, a pre-school worker, a flower lady... and I could go on! Returning to academic learning was really daunting at first and I had no idea you were expected to do so much background reading.

A week before my course began my Dad passed away suddenly, which was a very upsetting time for me and the whole family. Warwick University was brilliant in understanding my situation and offered me time off to come to terms with my loss. Partly to make my Dad proud, and also because I was so keen to seize the opportunity I had been given, I declined the offer and immersed myself fully in the whole experience.

This wasn't the only difficult time I had to face. During my final year at Warwick my youngest son was diagnosed with autism, which has presented a number of new challenges for the whole family. I made the decision to stretch the academic year across two, ensuring that my family came first while still allowing me to complete the degree I'd always wanted.

Despite these testing times, university was such a positive experience for me. I never anticipated how many opportunities my degree would bring, how it would change me, and how much I would learn about myself. I'm now prepared to cope with whatever the world throws at me, and am able to look at things from a different perspective than I would have done before.

If I were to narrow down the most enjoyable parts of my university experience, there are two events that stand out. I was lucky enough to attend several conferences as part of my course, where I had the opportunity to mix with high profile lecturers and speakers, and even present myself. I can't describe the confidence that it gave me, particularly with speaking in public. The second was having my dissertation published, which I'm personally very proud of as it felt like a great challenge to complete.

Now my ambitions are bigger and brighter than ever before, thanks to my degree. I'd love to go on and become a lecturer and go into academic research but, for now, I'd say to anyone else who is in a similar position to the one I was in: go for it, pause and breathe when things get difficult (which they will), and take every opportunity you possibly can.