Rachel’s Story

22 years old, Barrow-in-Furness

Where did you grow up?

Barrow-in-Furness (Ormsgill, then Newbarns specifically).

What did you want to be as a child?

A million and one different things! I started wanting to be a nurse because I quite liked the TV show Casualty. Then as I got older and I got more into drama, both in school and at a weekend drama club, I wanted to be an actress.

What did you study in higher education?

I studied Drama and Screen studies at the University of Manchester.

Why did you decide on this subject?

I didn’t want to be an actress by the time I was 17, but I’d always been told to “do what I love” and I loved drama. There is a horrible misconception that “a drama degree won’t get you a job” but I massively disagree with that. A degree in any subject will increase your employability, and there are tonnes of careers that a drama degree specifically can lead to. I work for a project which allows me to use my creative skills that I got from my degree, and I’ve got friends working at the BBC, the Crystal Maze, in journalism, and starting their own theatre companies. Without their degree they wouldn’t be there.

Has your career or education taken any unexpected turns?

My education constantly took unexpected turns. When you get to university you get to try out new things that you might not have had the opportunity to do before; I found that I really enjoyed devising theatre and doing community drama. I would say that the modules I ended up taking in my second and third years (Community Theatre, Theatre in Prisons, Devising for Performance for example) really shaped the way my education and career went.

Why did you decide on this university?

I decided specifically on the course at the University of Manchester because they offered a placement with Theatre in Prisons and Probation and the chance to do theatre work in a prison. Once I’d heard about that, nowhere else I’d applied to could compete.

Why did you decide to study for a degree?

It was what all my friends were doing, so it felt like the natural next step for me. I really liked the idea of studying just one thing all the time rather than lots of different things. I’ve always believed that the more qualified you are, the more valuable you are to any future employer, so it was always really about doing what I loved and making myself more valuable!

What did you study at sixth form/college?

I did Drama, Film, English Language and General Studies. Again I’d always loved drama so of course I chose that. I chose English because I quite literally thought “I speak English, so I’ll probably do quite well in that without having to try much” (I was wrong). And I chose Film because I love film and I’d enjoyed all the film analysis I’d done at GCSE.

How did you decide what to do after school/college?

The sixth form was closer to my house than the college, and the college didn’t offer drama. I knew I wasn’t ready to be ‘done’ with full-time education so I wasn’t interested in going into employment or an apprenticeship. Then after sixth form I was sure I wanted to go to university; I didn’t think about any other option because I was so set on it.

Did anyone help you to decide? 

My parents were really good at helping me to decide. They know me better than anyone else and gave me a few reality checks! When I was absolutely set on Manchester they helped me to look into how much money I’d have to live on every week, which was a huge reality check for me and made the process of moving to university very real.

Who influenced you? 

Mostly my parents but also a few of my friends. My friends got me to aim higher and really believe in myself when it came to applying. It was my friend Leah that talked me into applying to Manchester, because initially I thought I’d never have a shot at getting in.

What support did you get? 

My drama teacher Kevin was a huge support for me, and the other drama students when we were writing our personal statements and sending off our UCAS applications.

What was the best thing about studying with your university? 

The best thing about studying at Manchester was getting to meet so many different people from all different industries. This gave me a chance to network with people I might want to work with in the future and have a bit more of a think about careers I might want to go into.

What was the best thing about your course?

Easily the Theatre in Prisons module. It was such an amazing opportunity.

Did you find anything difficult about applying for and/or starting a degree?

I found the process of applying really hard, especially writing my personal statement! I’d never done anything like that before and never had to sell myself to a university or employer on paper and in an interview. My friends and I helped each other to recognise each other’s skills, because I think it’s always easier to recognise someone else’s skills and talents than it is your own. For interviews I got everyone I knew to mock interview me! Parents, teachers, peers, etc.

Were there key any turning points in your journey into a degree? 

Mainly conversations I was having with my friends. But also teachers. I had quite a few conversations with my drama teacher at GCSE, who shared her university experience with us, and also my A Level teachers.

What advice would you give to someone from your area?

People always tell you to get to as many open days as possible, but that isn’t always possible. I had a part-time job so I was always working weekends, which made getting to open days difficult for me. I’d suggest getting to as many as you can before September as you’ll be less busy over the summer. Also look into trips run by your school, college, or any groups in your area – there’s more out there than you think! Another thing I’d advise is to look through the course content of every course you’re considering. The university might look good but if you aren’t going to enjoy what you’re studying then you aren’t going to be happy!

What were you looking forward to the most about graduating?

I was most looking forward to starting working and establishing a career. I always saw school, sixth form, and then university as preparing me for my working life and I was just excited to finally get stuck in!

Any tips for anyone choosing to study the same course?

The more you put in, the more you get out. Get involved with everything that your timetable will allow because you never know who you’re going to meet.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?

I don’t like to think that far in the future, because I’m happy to go wherever life takes me. I’ll still be in a job that allows me to work with young people on a regular basis and hopefully I’ll have done more work in prisons. Ultimately as long as I’m in role where I have job satisfaction and I feel like I’m fixing inequality in some way I’m happy with that.