Clearing 2015: Are you too old to become a student?

Becoming a mature student to chase a career in radio is a decision Dan has never regretted

Lucy Hodges
Tuesday 11 August 2015 18:32 BST
Dan Prior went from ‘unspectacular’ exam results to a first class degree
Dan Prior went from ‘unspectacular’ exam results to a first class degree

Dan Prior, 34, grew up on a council estate and knew nobody who went into higher education. Aged 21, he decided to apply to the University of Bedfordshire at the last minute and got in through Clearing to study a BA in media production with radio. He worked hard and did brilliantly, finishing up with a first class degree. He has won many awards and now works as one of three station sound producers at BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra.

“I grew up on a council estate in Shoeburyness, Essex. My mum was a single parent and part-time cleaner, my older brother a soldier, and I have two younger sisters.

At school my GCSE results were unspectacular; nothing was above a C. Afterwards I got a GNVQ in advanced business and marketing at South Essex College, where I gained a pass. While studying, I had two paid jobs, one as a cleaner and the other in a shop. No one I grew up with went to uni, and among my peer group there wasn’t any expectation we would.

I later got a job as a teaching assistant at the college, working predominantly with students who had learning difficulties or disabilities. Most of my colleagues were older and had either gone to university or had children going to university. They really encouraged me to consider doing so as well.

I came across university prospectuses in the college library and browsed through them with the idea of signing up for a teaching qualification. I even went as far as applying for funding while at university but didn’t go ahead with it. At the time it didn’t feel right. Three years seemed like quite a big commitment, with no guarantee of work at the end of it. And I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a teacher at that time.

I was still living at home. Some friends and I went on holiday to Ibiza where I met revellers who were either at university or about to go, and they were all very positive about it. My interest in attending higher education was reignited. Back home I rang the University of Bedfordshire (then the University of Luton) to talk to them about media degrees.

I reasoned that, if I was going to university, I should do something I was interested in. Media was it. I knew that the prospectuses contained courses that appealed to me and figured that if I didn’t do a degree then, I never would. Plus, if it didn’t work out, I could always go back to teaching.

Giving Luton a call was easy. All I had to do was give my name, address and my exam results. It was like walking into Sainsbury’s to buy a pint of milk. I knew what course I wanted to do and the university was happy to have me. I never regretted it. I signed up for a BA in media production with radio. I had to go through Clearing because that was the only avenue available at that time of year. Everything happened very fast and went smoothly.

My funding was sorted out quickly by the university. I got a place in halls, which was good. It wasn’t the sexiest hall because it was a bit of a way out of town. I had never visited the university. I just turned up on the first day of term. I had no idea what to expect as I’d only seen a few pictures.

The room I was allocated looked a bit like a prison cell with a cupboard and a plastic bed but it was my new home and I was really excited to be there. I was 21 at the time and I wanted my freedom.

The course was interesting. We were introduced to reporting and writing, animation, film and radio production. Radio was what I really liked. It was fun and I thought this is the thing for me.

Student life was initially a shock after working nine to five for a couple of years; far simpler! I hadn’t realised none of my first year grades counted towards my final results, so hit the ground running. Once I learned the truth I eased up somewhat.

I was fortunate enough to have a lecturer who was supportive, with a similar background to mine. She assured me I was doing good work, which was great to know.

There was a university radio station, Luton FM, that provided great experience. I presented a show and learnt the building blocks of what I do now. It felt a real advantage that I began at 21 rather than 18. I’d done three years of working and clubbing, so I worked hard, especially in the final year.

That year I got work experience at BBC Three Counties Radio. A few days in, I was thrown in to co-produce a breakfast show to cover a staff absence. This included speaking on air and doing a newspaper review. It went well and I picked up the ropes quickly. That led to casual shifts and finally I had my first two weeks’ paid work covering a station sound producer on leave.

I love my job. For the last 10 years I have worked for some of the biggest and best known radio stations in Britain including Radio 2, 6Music, Absolute, XFM and NME. I’ve been lucky enough to work with excellent presenters such as Richard Bacon, Greg James and Pete Donaldson, and record interviews with the likes of Gary Lineker, Muse and Danny Wallace.

I’m really glad I made that phone call. Everything that got me where I am today stems from the day in 2002 when I picked up the phone to the university.”

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