Universities are realising that a January start can hold many attractions

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The Independent Online

Missed the September run? Don't panic, join the ever-expanding legion of second-semesterers. Does this sound familiar? You're on a summer holiday and while you're deep in an inspirational book you get the urge to change your destiny.

So you get home and eagerly send off for a university prospectus. But when it arrives you realise that you have to apply and won't be going off to study for another year. By which time the sheen has worn off, life has got in the way, and you don't bother.

Luke Brown, 18, from Grimsby is starting his nursing degree at Sheffield Hallam University in January 2010 after missing out on a paramedic course the first time around. He says the January start has given him essential thinking time. "I have more time to organise myself and tie off any loose ends which I have back at home," he says.

Brown adds: "It's well worth looking into, even if you do have reservations, as it may give you a bit more time to get money together, to get organised and just to spend some more time with friends and family."

A growing number of universities are starting to offer courses starting in the second semester, and many of them are enabling students to apply direct, avoiding the UCAS process.

The traditional UK academic year has never dovetailed particularly well with mature students or people with children. But more and more mature students are entering academia, and universities are recognising the need for flexibility. The January/February start also fits well with many overseas academic timetables, making it attractive to foreign students.

To this end, London Metropolitan University, which has more than 34,000 students, offers undergraduate and postgraduate courses with new year start dates in subjects ranging from psychology to forensic science. Courses with a January start will finish a semester later than those that started in September.

The University of Derby runs 150 undergraduate, postgraduate and professional courses starting in January. Here, the graduation ceremonies for the January starters are held at the same time as those of the first-semester intake.

Last year, January starters made up 13 per cent of the university's students.

Neil Cole is acting head of student recruitment marketing at the University of East London (UEL), which offers more than 100 second-semester-start courses. "It's just giving people that extra choice," he says. UEL started offering January start dates around 10 years ago. "People respond really positively to the flexibility," he says. "It's great for people who have left school and need a break or thinking time."

The university's second-semester courses account for about 20 per cent of its intake of some 4,000 students.

Cole says: "People don't have to wait nine months to get going. Also people tend to make New Year's resolutions, and this is a good way of accommodating them."

The University of Coventry offers January start dates on a number of its BA business courses, including marketing, business management and international business. Jeff Clowes, the university's associate dean in the Faculty for Business Environment and Society, says: "Studying from January through to July, with a short break at Easter, allows students to join the second-years in September. This appeals to people who didn't get a place in September, or who decided to go on to higher education later."

Jessica Ruston, 32, a freelance writer and psychology graduate, points out that there are social benefits to a later start. She did her degree with the Open University, starting in January, and says, "Starting each new course at the beginning of the year meant that I could fit my studies around my work as a freelance writer easily.

"January and February are usually pretty quiet in terms of my writing work, so I could get my head down and get a good start on the coursework before the year gathered pace."

She adds, "By October, each module was over and I could enjoy the run-up to Christmas while other students were wrestling with essays and assignments." Ruston, based in London, says: "If you're studying as a mature student, I think it often makes more sense to do so within the pattern of a calendar year rather than a traditional academic one." She adds, "I have just finished my final module and am awaiting the results – which should arrive just before Christmas. So I will hopefully be able to celebrate and relax over the break!"

Late starters: www.coventry.ac.uk; www.tees.ac.uk; www.derby.ac.uk/january; www.uel.ac.uk