'Can I switch subjects and take a gap year? Is it too late, at age 50, to study psychology?'

Degree of difference

Q. My daughter, aiming for three As at A-level, has two offers to read English. But she has changed her mind about the location and course and wants to take a gap year and read history. Are there universities that don't like accepting students after a gap year? And as personal statements are subject driven, will she be penalised if her interest in history looks recent?

A. It's normal for humanities students to consider various degrees which fall under that heading, so her change of heart wouldn't be considered unusual. If she is going to make a new application for entry in 2008 she will be writing a new personal statement which will be read independently of her earlier application.

It would be sensible to refer to her gap year and how it will be well spent - work experience, working for money or well thought out travel will all help, particularly if she describes benefits gained. But she will not need, unless she wishes to, to refer to her change of subject. She should concentrate on getting the new personal statement right and demonstrating a real interest in the subject she is applying for now. It is usually perfectly acceptable to take a gap year or change subject. Departments may accept or even like students to take a year out, maybe some would be less keen. Phone and ask.

If she re-applies to the same universities it is also possible that they would look up her old application (UCAS forms have until now always asked for old application numbers). But even then, if she can make a well argued case for change, supported by specific evidence if possible, it would be unlikely to count against her.

Teen minds

Q. I am 50 and have a GCSE grade A and an AS level grade C English, which I took in my forties. I would love to study psychology - is it too late? I know I have people skills but am pathetic at maths. I would love to work with problem teenagers.

A. You sound committed and enthusiastic, which can be half the battle when it comes to studying. And there are catch-up routes - Access to Higher Education courses are especially for mature students who missed out for whatever reason on GCSEs and A-levels, and can help gain a place on a degree course.

To study to become a psychologist from a standing start now would take you around eight years, but it is more a question of whether you would really enjoy a psychology undergraduate degree which involves a lot of statistics if you truly hated maths. Have a look at the jobs section on www.learndirect-advice.co.uk and search out the profiles for psychologist and others that appeal to you in youth work or social care. This will give you an idea of the skills and training involved - it might be possible to study part-time for a foundation degree and work towards a youth worker qualification, for example.

Those studying part-time foundation degrees are usually in employment, but, if you don't have an existing placement, institutions offering foundation degrees might be able to help. Information about these degrees can be found at www.foundationdegree.org.uk/. If you prefer to talk over your options face to face, look up www.nextstep.org.uk for careers advice available to those with fewer than five GCSEs.

Careers advisers: Anne Marie Martin, director,The Careers Group, University of London; the learndirect advice service.

Send your queries to Caroline Haydon at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or e-mail to chaydon@blueyonder.co.uk