From education to employment

Advice For Mature Students – If At First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try and Then Try Again!

Advice For Mature Students - If At First You Don't Succeed, Try, Try and Then Try Again!

Almost thirty years after leaving school, Jason McClean has finally landed his dream job as a nurse. In pursuit of his dream, Jason studied Health and Social Care as a mature student at Northern Regional College and this was his stepping-stone to university. He completed a BSc (Hons) degree in Adult Nursing at Ulster University, graduating with first class honours in September 2023 and is now working as a Community Nurse in Ballymena.

Qualifying as a nurse has been quite the journey for Jason, but he says that all the disappointments and setbacks he experienced along the way, only sharpened his determination to succeed.

Jason, who is originally from just outside Cookstown and now living in Magherafelt, says he always dreamed of becoming a nurse:

“My A level grades weren’t good enough to get into nursing and at the time, it felt like it was the end of the world. I did accept an offer to do another course but didn’t enjoy it and left soon afterwards. My self-confidence took a hit as I felt I just wasn’t smart enough for university.”

After dropping out of university, Jason decided to put any thoughts of nursing out of his head. He took on different jobs in both the retail and hospitality sectors and although he did well, he never had any real sense of fulfilment.

“To be honest, I suppose my dream of becoming a nurse, never really went away,” he admitted. 

In 2012, Jason was diagnosed with Cauda Equina Syndrome, a serious spinal condition, which required emergency spinal surgery to prevent paralysis. Before the operation, he was told there was a 50/50 chance he would never walk again.

After surgery, his recovery was slow, but the care and attention he got as a patient, re-ignited his desire to become a health professional. 

“I received the best care possible and admired not only the skills and professionalism of the nursing staff, but their compassion and empathy for others.”

Jason continued: “I’ve always enjoyed helping others but, after my experience as a patient, I had a real urge to see if I could make a real difference in the lives of others. I was really inspired by the people who looked after me and helped my recovery.

“In 2017, as I was coming up to my 40th birthday, I decided that if I was ever going to become a nurse, it was now or never.”

Jason visited Northern Regional College’s Open Day at the Magherafelt campus and spoke to the Health and Social Care lecturers who advised him of the options available to him.

“With the help and support of family, I enrolled on the Level 4 HNC Diploma in Health and Social Care. My goal was to complete the course with distinction and secure a place at university to study nursing.”

Going back to studying after such a long break was challenging and Jason admitted he found it difficult to juggle the demands of the course with his work.

“I hadn’t studied in over 20 years so getting back into higher education was scary but, with hard work, perseverance, support and encouragement from my family, lecturers, fellow students and myself, I completed the HNC with distinction in June 2019.”

With the HNC distinction under his belt, Jason’s confidence was riding high when he applied to university for a second time to study nursing but, for a second time, he was disappointed not to secure a place.

“This time, I had the grade but didn’t do a good interview and felt that was what let me down. Naturally, I was disappointed, but the disappointment made me even more determined not to give up.

Jason continued: “The lecturing staff were very supportive and they encouraged me to do the Leadership for Health and Social Care Services – Level 5 Diploma course at the College’s Newtownabbey campus with a view to reapplying for nursing the following year.”

In May 2020, Jason finally got the news that he had been waiting for – that he had been accepted to study Adult Nursing at Ulster University.  In tandem with his first year as a nursing undergraduate, he completed the Level 5 Diploma and, for good measure, also did a part-time course in Counselling Studies, both of which he completed with distinction.

“My time at Northern Regional College was great preparation for university. When I finally got there, I had no doubts about my ability. University was hard work and I had quite the journey to get there, but it all was worth the effort.

With the benefit of hindsight, Jason said his only regret is that he didn’t do it sooner.

“I should have done it years ago. I’m really enjoying my work as a community nurse as I get to know people and find out what really matters to them. In more formal healthcare settings, patients are sometimes defined by their illness, but I feel it is a real privilege to care for people in their own homes. When you see that that you are helping to make a real difference to their lives, it is very rewarding.”

Jason continued: “When I was growing up, my granny used to say, ‘there’s no such word as can’t’. Give it a try and do your best; You will find you can!”. I used to think this was a bit harsh, but I now know exactly what she meant.

Jason acknowledges that Northern Regional College was his platform for success:

“Getting into nursing was third time lucky for me and I am so glad that I persevered. I am  thankful for the learning opportunities I was given at Northern Regional College, and I couldn’t recommend the College enough. When patients say, ‘you have a lovely way about you’ and ‘you were born to be a nurse’, you know you’re doing something right. I feel I am where I am meant to be.”

Northern Regional College offers a range of full-time and part-time Health and Social care courses, from Level 2 to Level 5 as well as Level 2 traineeships. Applications are now open for the 2024/25 academic, year. Visit our Open Days during the week of 5th February to find out more.  Further details are available at

Related Articles