Learning to make sacrifices: For mature students, the cost of extra education can be daunting. But help is available if you know how and where to look. Lee Rodwell is your guide

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The Independent Online
SHEILA GORE was earning around pounds 20,000 as a senior information officer in the Department for Education when she first became interested in homeopathy. After doing a pounds 400 correspondence course she decided she wanted to carry on studying. So in September 1992 her employers agreed she could take a one-year unpaid sabbatical.

'I didn't really look into the question of funding,' she says. 'I had some savings and I decided that by reducing my outgoings I would manage.'

The course Sheila enrolled in was a four-year part-time one run by the School of Homeopathy in Devon. The correspondence course counted as the first year. Following this, tuition fees were around pounds 1,000 a year, and once a month she had to travel down to the school from her home in Streatham for classes. To keep costs down she used to camp over the teaching weekends.

At the end of the year Sheila decided that the amount of time she would have to commit to the course would make returning to work and continuing her studies very difficult. 'So I asked if I could extend my leave. That meant I had to dig even deeper into my savings. Luckily I didn't have a family to support.

'I'm now hoping to be able to go back to work part-time so that I can begin to set up a practice. Next year, the final year of the course that will give me my qualification as a homeopath, I won't have to go down to Devon so much and the homework will be less.

'Ultimately, I would like to support myself altogether by practising homeopathy. Meanwhile, taking this course has meant making sacrifices - doing without holidays, clothes, luxuries like going out and meeting friends. I don't mind, but I wish I had explored the financial possibilities a bit more first.

'Since I started I've met other people who have been funded at least partially. An organisation called the Friends of Homeopathy does support some students. And I know other people who have received small awards from local organisations set up to support women getting back to work.

'So my advice to others would certainly be to find out if there's any help on offer. When you are a student, every little helps.'

(Photograph omitted)