Access To HE – Access Course Review

Note: This was going to be a massive review of the specific Access Course I’m studying – Access to HE ICT (Software). However, with so many modules to cover, one post just isn’t enough. So, this will be a general review and I’ll follow up with module specific reviews over the next few days.

The main intended purpose of starting this blog, some 6 months ago, was to keep a diary of my time spent back in education – the access course I’m currently studying and the degree I’ll be progressing on to come the end of this academic year. So far I’ve done a pretty shitty job. I think I’ve made maybe one post in relation to my educational journey. So, it’s time to rectify that. I can’t really chronicle the time I’ve already spent, but seeing as this year is almost over, I can write a ‘review’ of sorts.

When I was searching for information about potential Access to HE courses last year, there was almost no information, besides the propaganda in college prospectuses and the odd opinionated comment, so hopefully this access course review could help a potential future student. At worst, writing it gives me something to do on a lazy Saturday afternoon when I should be doing coursework!

What Is An Access Course?

Birmingham Metropolitan College Logo

Where I'm Currently Studying

An Access to HE Diploma is a qualification intended to prepare students for study at university. It is aimed at people who would like to go to university, but who don’t have the necessary qualifications (such as A-Levels) or who have been out of education for a long period of time. The course is relatively intensive, lasting only a year, but being the equivalent to 3 A-Levels.

Access courses are generally aimed towards more mature students, with over 50% of them being over the age of 25, though the minimum age to enroll on an access course is just 19.

The term ‘Access to HE’ is just the general name of the course. Most, if not all, are specialised towards a particular subject such as IT, nursing, law and so on…

The course I’m studying on is Access to HE IT (Software) at Birmingham Metropolitan College.

Access Course Review

While the upcoming additions to this review will be focused on the modules I’m studying, specifically IT, this here will be more general and applicable to most access courses – the application and interview process, what it’s like going back into education, support that’s available, etc…

So, where to start? After 10 years of being out of education, it was almost a year ago that I decided this was the route to take to get to university, so I’ll start from way back then…


When I decided to go back into education, I already had a firm idea of what my goal was – to get to university to study Computer Science. With that in mind, the obvious choice of access course was an Access to HE IT course.

You would think that this kind of course would be run at colleges all over the country. Sadly, that is not the case.

I found a total of about 9 colleges in England offering this course and, upon the realisation that I couldn’t be too picky about where I was going, proceeded to apply to all of them. Off the top of my head, I think they were – Birmingham Metropolitan College, Bourneville College (Birmingham), South Essex College, Brighton College, Manchester Metropolitan, Ealing/Hammersmith/West London College and some others, which almost immediately after applying to, I knew I wouldn’t be going to based purely on geographical practicality.

The initial application process for all of them was surprisingly simple, in most cases consisting of simply filling out an online application form with all the expected details – personal, work, education…

Applications sent. The first step, albeit a very small one, towards achieving my goal.

I got invited to interviews at every college I applied to, they’re all pretty similar, so I won’t bore you with going into each in detail, a general overview is this:

  • Get asked why you want to do the course.
  • Get asked what relevant experience you have, if any.
  • Get asked how you’re going to financially support yourself.

Surprisingly short and sweet. The only other question I got asked, I think in any of the interviews, which isn’t even a question, which is why it fucked me off so much, was from South Essex College, and it was “So…tell me about yourself”. Umm… how’s about YOU tell me what YOU want to know? How am I supposed to know what you’re attempting to find out here?! Anyways, I digress into my personal disdain for questions that aren’t questions and don’t elicit the response you actually need – relevant information.

Like Being Back At School

Like Being Back At School

In addition to the interview, because I have no Maths or English qualifications, I was also required to sit basic Maths and English tests. When I say basic, I really mean basic. But the requirement is there because pretty much no university will accept applications without GCSE Grade C or higher in both Maths and English, so as a requirement of the access course, it is necessary to take GCSE equivalent Maths and English. I’m pretty sure this initial test is to assess your ability – whether you’re going to be able to manage it.

Interviews out of the way and the nervousness sets in as I await a response from somewhere, anywhere! To cut a long story short, I got offered places from every college I attended an interview for. Decision time.

I’ll be honest. I found deciding which college to ultimately accept an offer from relatively easy. By far, the best place I had been to was Birmingham Metropolitan College, not only because I liked the look of the college and the attitude of the tutor who interviewed me, but because the course seemed more suited to what I am interested in.

Most of the other college’s courses involved aspects of computing, such as networking, which I couldn’t give two shits about. Whereas the Access to IT course at BMet is specifically geared towards software and programming – with modules on web development, software development, event driven programming, systems analysis & design and so on…

First Day

On my first day, I’ll be honest, I was nervous as hell. New city, new college, new path. Fortunately, it was nowhere near as bad as I was expecting. After the standard ‘getting oriented’ type shit, it basically consisted of being given an overview of what the course would be like, getting shown around the college (the bits we’d be using, at least) and some sort of ‘meet the people in your class’ kind of activity.

Nowhere near as much to tell as I’m sure you were hoping for.

First Week

The first week was a bit of an abortion really. The timetable got changed nearly every day due to rooms being double-booked and whoever was in charge of sorting out the Maths and English classes needs their head checked – 70 students in a class barely big enough for 30 is not ideal.

But, I suppose this kind of thing is to be expected in the first week.

Again, not really much to say about this week. Sorry.

After the first week or so, once all of the glitches were ironed out and we finally had a reliable timetable, everything seemed to fall into place.

The Course

This post already seems to be getting rather long, so rather than going into any detail here, I’m going to leave this for the separate upcoming module reviews where I’ll do an overview of each of the modules on the course.

While some of these will be specific to the IT aspects of the course, there are many modules which apply to all Access to HE courses, so be sure to check back and read them to see what it’s like studying on an access course!

What Comes Next?

Well, this subheading was intended to cover a bit about what comes next with regards to the course, university applications and other such things. But, as I just said, this is getting on now, so rather than post everything here I’m going to have to do it as a series.

Make sure you check back for the next update. There’s some interesting stuff to come.

In the mean time, I’d be interested to hear anybody else’s experience with access courses…

All Posts From This Series

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