This post has been contributed by Mr Colin Curtis, an Undergraduate Laws student starting his second year. Please note views expressed on the following blog are those of the author and publication on the Undergraduate Laws blog does not constitute an endorsement.
In a recent Facebook post a student expressed concern that they were too old to begin a UG Laws course. Several older people joined in to say that age was not a barrier but I don’t think any of them was quite as old as me, because I started the graduate-entry LLB in 2020 at the age of 70.
No, that isn’t a misprint! My first experience of higher education was studying English at the University of Sussex, from which I graduated almost 50 years ago. I went on to teach English for a couple of years after which I spent nearly 40 years as a civil servant before retiring in 2015.
So why am I now studying for a law degree? My interest in law actually developed during my time in the civil service, particularly during years I spent working with ministers and lawyers on preparing legislation then putting it through Parliament. Looking for something to do in retirement that would absorb me and keep my brain active, it seemed like a good idea to study law properly.
Being an independent ‘distance-learning’ student in the 2020’s is rather different from my campus-based experiences in the 1970s, when I had tutorials, seminars, lectures and lots of social contact with fellow students. I suppose it’s an advantage of being older that I feel quite confident about now studying independently; and I don’t need the social side of the university experience again because I did all that when I was young. Despite the fact that nothing (apart from my pride) really depends on me succeeding with the LLB – I can’t imagine I’m going to practise law professionally at my time of life – I seem to be working harder now than when I was doing my first undergraduate degree!
Potential older students may worry that their brain may not be able to cope with all the new material. My memory for names was never wonderful and is pretty poor now, so I feared that I wouldn’t be able to retain all the authorities that need to be cited in exams. I was also concerned about having to write answers by hand, given that I stopped writing anything of length that way decades ago. I’d been busy preparing flash cards, and had started practising writing by hand for gradually increasing periods of time; but then, of course, the move to online open book exams this summer meant that those challenges didn’t actually arise. Like everybody, I want to see life get back to normal after COVID as soon as possible; but I’m aware that means my concerns may only have been postponed. I’m confident, though, that, with plenty of practice, I’ll be able to remember enough, and write it legibly enough, to pass my second year exams.
As well as challenges resulting from being a student again after a long break, there are advantages from the life experience that older students will have acquired. That can bring dangers too: for example, I embarked on Public law thinking that my many years of working in and around Parliament meant that I knew a lot of that stuff already and didn’t need to worry about studying it in great depth now. In fact, of course, Parliament and its procedures have not stayed the same over the last 30 years, so I had to be careful not to assume that things I used to know so well were still accurate.
Overall, my experience of University of London, UG Laws has been very positive. My advice to anyone interested would be that they aren’t too old and they should give it a try. Although the exams were a bit scary, I’m enjoying it all enormously!