Only two years into her degree, Carly Bailey has established herself as a voice for mature students in Trinity and beyond. The first person in her family to go to college, 12 months ago she found herself leading the fight for free education in front of thousands of students outside the Dáil. But her path to third-level education may be unconventional compared to other first years.
Bailey, who is a third-year law and political science student, is also a parent, and may not have come to Trinity had it not been for the recession. She has gained a wealth of experience throughout her time here, having previously served as the Student Parent Officer for Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) and now the current Mature Student Officer for the union. As well as that, Bailey is now a local area representative for the Social Democrats.
I begin with asking her how she came to Trinity. Bailey explains that it was her “huge passion about wanting to help people”. Initially, Bailey hoped to get into social work in Trinity, but, unfortunately, she had to resort to “plan D” and go through the Trinity Access Programme (TAP): “As a mature student it can be very difficult to get the course you want.”
You understand the value of getting an education…it expands your capacity as a critical thinker, and I think that’s something I didn’t value before
During our conversation, Bailey mentions how her family lost their home during the Recession and found themselves struggling to find work. “Everybody that we saw that had managed to somehow keep going in the midst of the recession was because they had a degree, they had a qualification”, Bailey explains. Education, for her, was a chance to turn misfortune into opportunity: “I’m the first person in my family to go to college, let alone university…anybody I would know would have a trade or are very good with their hands.”
However, studying law and politics has taught her that there’s more to education than getting a job. She acknowledges that, as a student of these disciplines, “You understand the value of getting an education…it expands your capacity as a critical thinker, and I think that’s something I didn’t value before because I didn’t know about it, because I didn’t have that education level”
Slowly but surely, Bailey has found herself applying her knowledge outside the exam hall, campaigning on issues like education and the repeal of the eighth amendment. In relation to her position as a representative for the Social Democrats, Bailey states: “I really don’t see myself practising law. I want to work on policy work, on making better policy, making better legislation.”
I asked her whether she felt she had an advantage over other mature students having come through TAP when she was a first year. “The whole thing is very overwhelming, you are very much out of your comfort zone”, she confirms. However, she went on to say that TAP gave her confidence even if it was only being used to the buildings: “I was used to the facilities, and knew how the printer worked before I started my first year”.
I’m the first person in my family to go to college, let alone university
Speaking about the daunting experience college can be for mature students, she spoke about having “imposter syndrome”. For many, confidence levels are low “because you come in to a course that generally requires high points if you are coming into Trinity and you necessarily wouldn’t have gotten those points when you were doing your Leaving Cert or if you did your Leaving Cert at all”.
Bailey talks about how a student parent or mature student would have different concerns about coming to college than other students. Receiving timetables only a few days before the year starts, and seeing that lectures or tutorials run late into the evening, can make it difficult for them to organise childcare or make work arrangements.
However, Bailey loves that “mature students form a community and support each other” through their transition to college: “For younger people, it is much easier for them to form friendships with people their own age, but there are much fewer of us, so there is that huge camaraderie between us, which is just amazing.”
Bailey, now about to enter third year, has no regrets about coming to Trinity, “The best part about going back to college is understanding and realising how freaking intelligent all these young people are..how these people are the future leaders of society and are going to have important positions.”