4 pieces of advice I would give to people choosing their degree:

1. Choose something you really love, not something you might feel pressured into/that you feel will lead to a better paid job because, in the long run, you want a career that you’re happy in. You’ll be working hard for the entirety of the course, so you want to do something you find fun and have an interest in!

2. Don’t panic! It’s a big choice to make but you can always change your specialism or take some time out (like me!) if you need to. You’re doing it for you and you can do it your own way.

3. Go to an open day and ask lots of questions! Talk to existing students if you have the chance.

4. Stay open minded. Prepare to be questioned and to push yourself to create things you never expected to! Your degree course is a great chance to try things out and develop as a creative. You shouldn’t go into it knowing exactly what you want the outcome to be!

I had completed my BTEC National Diploma at HCA, choosing Graphics in my second year. From there, I went to Sheffield where I specialised in Illustration but, after not really enjoying the course, I took a few years out before returning to HCA to finish my degree. I knew that I would benefit from smaller study groups and more one-on-one tutor time at HCA than I had at my previous uni.

The most important lesson I learned while studying at HCA is that the way I draw is the way I draw! It’s great to learn different practices and skills to enhance what I do but, overall, what I create is what naturally comes out of me. The most honest way I can create anything is to embrace my style and build on that, as opposed to trying to be something I’m not.

5 bits of advice I would give to students graduating this summer from HCA:

1. Keep creating! It’s easy to switch off after being so full on through your studies, and it’s fine to take a rest, but even one small sketch a day can help you remember why you chose to study in the first place – because you love it!

2. Use social media as best you can – set up a work Facebook/Instagram, start a blog.

3. Explore! Go out, volunteer, travel, meet new people – refreshing your brain and collecting new experiences and outlooks will really help your creativity and confidence!

4. One thing I did when I graduated was contact local businesses … I ended up chalk painting window displays for a coffee shop for two years simply for saying ‘Hey, would you like me to draw on your windows?’ Take initiative and create your own opportunities!

5. Stay in touch with the people on your course (and other courses too!) You’ve made a great creative network of peers to collaborate with, continue to develop with and help each other out whilst you find your way into the working world. Support one another!

I’d started my previous uni at the age of 19 and returned to HCA at 25, feeling like I would be miles behind the 3rd years (who I would be joining in my Top-Up year after taking so much time out). I felt that I would be so out of touch after not being in education for so long and being slightly older than the average third year. This wasn’t the case! I had a great class of about 10 people, all different ages, all different styles and interests who were so supportive and great to talk to.

The tutors were always around to get advice from or just have a friendly chat. They each had their own outlook on my ideas so I could get an good all-round critique about my work.

My favourite memory of being at HCA is graduating! It had been 7 years since I started my uni course in Sheffield, completing the first two years and then taking 4 years out! My time at HCA allowed me to graduate with a grade I was pleased with and with the confidence of knowing I’d made the right choice in coming back. (I should have never left!)

The best thing was the amount of confidence HCA gave me. I think that because it was a smaller group than a lot of other university courses, I felt my voice was heard and my opinions felt more valid. As someone who is very anxious, being in a group can be very daunting, but I didn’t feel like that. There was also the library or the green to escape to if I felt it was all too much some days!

Since leaving HCA, I have been working as a freelance illustrator, doing work for a couple of magazines and taking my prints to fairs and selling online. It’s really nice being my own boss! I have a day job so that I have enough money to eat, but I give myself enough time to draw, think, create and do the things that I really love. Simply being able to say ‘I’m an Illustrator’ when people ask me what I do is a massive personal achievement.