Returning to Education in AIT Opens Up Your World - Read Lyndsey’s story of her journey from our Access course to PhD

If furthering your education is on your to-do list for 2018, check out Athlone Institute of Technology’s Access Course, which is specifically designed to open the door to third level to mature students. One such student was Athlone native Lyndsey Ratcliffe, a teenage mum who returned to education through AIT’s Access Course and is now on her way to attaining her PHD. Both Lyndsey and her husband, Daniel, went back to college as mature students, while raising their children, now aged 15, 13 and 9.

Now 32, Lyndsey was educated to Junior Cert level in Our Lady’s Bower in Athlone Town. Life took an unexpected turn for her when she became pregnant with her first child at 16. When her treasured daughter Rachel arrived into the world, Lyndsey chose to stay home and become a full-time mum for those early years. When Rachel was at preschool age, Lyndsey started to work outside the home to help support her family which was now growing. For several years, she worked in various retail jobs on a part-time basis, and during this time went on to have two more children, Callum, and Rebekah.

Lyndsey’s husband, Daniel, meanwhile, was working hard in the construction industry. When the recession hit, the company he worked for was hit and in 2009 he was made redundant. Like most labourers at the time, he found himself at a loss. Lyndsey recalls: “After a year of looking for work, he realised he was getting nowhere and decided to go trying new options entirely.” He called to Athlone IT on spec, and to his fortune, was put in contact with Access Officer, Theresa Ryan, who recommended the Access Programme. Full of enthusiasm and eager to succeed, he completed the one-year programme, and went on to a Degree in Social Care in the college.

Lyndsey was inspired. “I saw how well he was doing. In September 2011, I started the Access Course.” Returning to education with a young family, and having left second level early, was no mean feat. “It was tough because my youngest child was in preschool at that time. It wasn’t easy, but after seeing how well Danny had done, I was determined to succeed.”

Most fulltime students will admit to finding it tough going, writing assignments into the small hours, having study hanging over you like a black cloud pretty much all the time until final exams are done and dusted. With determination, both Lyndsey and Daniel managed all that in their busy home while raising their three children. Daniel completed his degree and went on to work fulltime in Social Care. Meanwhile, Lyndsey went on to complete a Degree in Toxicology with much glowing success.

In 2016, she was awarded her honours degree. Lyndsey won Best Student in Forensic Toxicology in third year. In 2016, she secured a place in AIT to study for her Masters, and subsequently secured funding to continue to PHD level, which is where she is at now. Among other accolades was a scholarship to a science conference in the United States last July, where Lyndsey joined the line-up of experts with her presentation on animal genetics.

Lyndsey says she and her husband are deeply appreciative of the opportunity their entry to third level education via the Access Programme afforded them. “One of the great things about the Access Course is that you were in a class with other mature students, so you build relationships with them, which made it great fun as well.” “It was difficult financially for myself and Danny, and we were very busy with family demands too, but the staff at AIT, particularly the Access Officer, Theresa, always made sure we were ok. Theresa was very supportive.

“The Access Course helps you to work out your strengths and is perfect for finding out what course works best for you. Without this course, I wouldn’t have chosen the right discipline. I wouldn’t have known what I was good at. One of the surprises for me was maths - I thought it would be something I would struggle with but I was good at it. I loved science in school but I never knew that I would be able to go on to actually study it at third level. If I hadn’t done the Access Course, it would never have been possible.”

“Most of all, it gave me the confidence to do what I wanted to do - to continue with my education and hugely improve my prospects, especially when I had been an early school-leaver and a teenage mum.”

Access Officer at AIT, Theresa Ryan, explains that the Access Course is a taster of third level education for mature students: “It is a great introduction to college for mature students. They become part of a group who are all making the brave decision to venture into third level education. They support each other and keep each other going. Some course participants decide college is not for them or it’s not the right time in their lives to progress onto an undergraduate course. Interestingly, I have found that people who don’t complete the course or progress still recommend it to their family and friends, which is a great endorsement of the course.”

“I have been involved with the Access Course for 10 years now and during that time I have met people who went on to complete certificates, degrees and masters. They have worked hard, juggling college work and all the complications that go on in all people’s lives. I have great admiration for people who decide to take the step to change their lives and then have the determination to make it happen”, says Theresa.

AIT are running a CAO information evening for Parents, Mature and QQI students on Tuesday 16th January from 6pm to 8pm. The evening will provide advice on the CAO application process and give prospective mature and QQI students an opportunity to talk to staff in both the programme and student services area. In addition Theresa Ryan from the Access office will be present on the evening to answer any questions or to arrange an appointment to talk about your situation with regard to education. The event is free and places can be booked by registering at or emailing . Theresa Ryan, Access Officer at AIT can be contacted directly at Tel: 090-646 8123 or Email:

Download Hi-Res Image for Returning to Education in AIT Opens Up Your World - Read Lyndsey’s story of her journey from our Access course to PhD

Share This News Story