Course Guidance: World far from being just a 'repair man'

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The Independent Online
Candidate: Nicola Cox, 24, Winnersh, Berkshire

A-levels: Economics (C), English (D), History (F)

Original plan: History degree

Now: BEng (engineering) student after 'conversion' course at Leeds Metropolitan University

'I didn't do well in my A-levels because I didn't go to lessons. I was more interested in seeing my friends in the common room. I was offered a poly place to do economics, but I turned it down. I worked as an insurance clerk, which was really boring, and then for a computer firm.

'I realised I would have to work my way up with A-levels, whereas with a degree a lot more doors are open to you. So I applied to polys to do business studies. Leeds wrote back saying they couldn't offer me a business studies place, but would I be interested in manufacturing systems engineering.

'I went along to an open day, and it seemed brilliant. It was just different. I thought engineering was someone under a car. I couldn't have told you what an engineer did. I thought it was a repair man. The tutors were really enthusiastic. They said, 'You've all applied to do business studies, but what will you do at the end of it? Whereas you can get a grounding in engineering and manufacturing industry, but take a business route through it'.

'I was offered a place straightaway. We started three weeks early, and they sent us out to a college in Wakefield where all the teachers were very helpful. The electronics was really basic: what's voltage, what's resistance, what's a current?

'We did simultaneous equations in maths - and I didn't even get maths 0-level. You get an enormous amount of satisfaction when you can do it. You put your mind to it, and if you are taught properly, and you can ask for help whenever you need it, it's no problem.

'In fact the people with science A-levels didn't seem to know any more than we did. They were quite envious of our extra tuition. By the time we'd been there a month, everybody was in the same boat.

'For example, you have to do practical work to be a chartered engineer, so you know how to use a milling machine and a lathe. Everybody hated the lathe: you have to wear these stupid hair-nets and cover your hands with gunk, and you don't know what you're doing.

'But the rest was great. At the beginning I planned to get out of engineering and into the business route of the degree as soon as possible. But actually I really enjoy it, so I may take a route that keeps the engineering going as well.'

(Photograph omitted)

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