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Study in the spires

Yes, you! Muddy turns (im)mature student at Oxford's Continued Education arm and truly, there's a course for everyone.

Here at Muddy we’re big on carving out a bit of time for ourselves – if you’re anything like us, life is a relentless whirlwind of work, family commitments, admin and household chores. And while something frivolous like a fancy facial or a night on the vino with friends can often hit the spot, sometimes we crave something a bit more concrete; something that nourishes the soul and boosts the brain. Self-improvement, learning new things, broadening our horizons – basically the things that many of us haven’t done since our footloose and fancy-free student days.

oxford spires views city sunshine

So when CONTED, Oxford University’s continuing education department, asked Muddy staffers to try out some of its courses, our interest was piqued. Turns out they have an insanely wide range of subjects so there’s truly something for everyone – from languages to art history to creative writing to science to one called Improve Your Blog (no jokes, thanks).

And despite worrying that we don’t have enough hours in the day to make it work, we were pleasantly surprised to discover there’s a variety of course lengths – you can commit to a day, a weekend, a weekly evening class or more, plus some are available online so you can complete it from the comfort of your sofa. So is it possible to successfully go back to school as a grown-up? Muddy’s Sarah O’Hanlon is a former CONTED student and massive fan – she took the same diploma in creative writing that still exists today. This is her experience.


An undergraduate diploma in creative writing.



I did a weekly evening class over two years, with a few weekends and a 5 day summer school thrown in. This is obviously a long-term commitment but, don’t panic, there are loads of much shorter options if you prefer.



At the time I was a stay-at-home mum and I needed something beyond the playground to engage my brain. I’d always had a passion for writing short stories and fiction and thought this would be a grown-up outlet to build on that.



I was worried about being out of my depth and that it would be intimidatingly elite – it’s affiliated to Oxford University, after all –  but I couldn’t have been more wrong. There was a real mixture of people on my course, from twenty-something students to a kidney surgeon with a creative bent to a retired academic. There were more women than men – apparently women are more likely to return to part-time studies. My priority was to learn rather expand my social circle but I surprised myself by making very close friends. It was a very bonding experience and enriching to meet people with very different lives to mine. I was impressed by the standard of teaching – our tutors were published writers and poets. We had regular assessments for which you’d write in a chosen medium – poetry, prose, stage and screen-writing, and produce end of year portfolios.






You have to be committed to complete a course like this that runs over a long period. There were times when it was hard to get a babysitter and on dark winter nights all I wanted to do was stay home with a glass of wine rather than drive into Oxford. But it was a bit like going to the gym – every time I made the effort, it hugely lifted me up. It’s worth the inconvenience to prioritise yourself for once. And don’t fret that everyone will be cleverer than you – it’s simply not the case.



It’s no exaggeration to say it was a life-changer for me. There was a massive shift in my self-belief – I realised I was good at something. I’ve carried that momentum forward and can now work well to deadlines, all of which helped greatly when I re-entered the workplace. I now enter a lot of fiction writing competitions and have variously been shortlisted, highly commended and was runner-up in a flash fiction competition for women’s literary title Mslexia magazine last year. And I’ve since gone on to do a Masters in English Literature. Having to participate in class discussions made me more confident about public speaking and it made me feel like I had more to talk about – my life wasn’t all about my family, my village and my trip to the supermarket. It broadened my horizons.



Here are three other upcoming CONTED courses to whet your whistle.

  1. Intensive French Weekend, 28-29 April, various levels (Muddy’s Madame Kerry Potter is attending and she’ll report back.)
  2. Learning To Look At Modern Art, 23 April – 6 July, online
  3. Starting A Successful Business, 16 April, one-day course

For a full list see here. We think it’s impossible not find something that interests you! 

Find more ideas here


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