Birkbeck student overcomes bereavement, anorexia and depression to graduate on her late father’s birthday

At the time when most young people are applying to university, Sarah Solomon was battling an eating disorder and depression as she came to terms with her father’s death. Now she’s looking towards her next challenge with optimism as she graduates with a degree in law from Birkbeck.

Sarah Solomon has always been interested in law, “I’m the kind of person who likes reading the small print!” she laughs. Yet, despite being a keen student, Sarah was prevented from doing as well as she could have at school. “My Dad committed suicide when I was fourteen and I really struggled to cope,” she explains. “I suffered with depression and anorexia and was in and out of hospital for the last four years of school, so I didn’t get great GCSE or A level results.”

Six years later, when Sarah felt ready to return to education, she was dismayed to find that most universities were very inflexible when it came to her exam results, despite the time that had passed since. “Birkbeck looked at more than just grades when they considered my application,” she says, “They take on students that really want to be there.”

Going back to full-time education was a nerve-wracking experience for Sarah at the start: “There was a lot of work and a lot of writing, which was a skill I hadn’t used much for the last few years, but after a few months it just felt normal again,” she explains. In her first year of study, Sarah received support from Birkbeck’s wellbeing service. “I knew that with depression I might find it hard to motivate myself to go in,” she says, “Birkbeck couldn’t solve that problem for me, but they really listened to me and were very supportive.”

It would have been easy to walk away in those first few months, but Sarah persevered and soon began to enjoy studying. “People don’t study at Birkbeck for the sake of it,” she explains, “It’s important to make friends, but you’re also there to gain something for your future. I really enjoyed studying the theory and methodology of law and even started to like writing essays!”

Birkbeck’s evening study model suited Sarah, who prefers working late in the evening, as it gave her the space in the day she needed to focus on her mental health. “It’s important for universities to understand that students and staff have competing demands on their time, and to make provision for that,” she says. Her advice for potential students is to know who can be called on in your support network for when challenges arise. “Have a discussion with your friends and family beforehand,” she advises, “studying in the evening will affect your social life, but for me it was all worth it.”

A highlight of studying at Birkbeck for Sarah was the relationships she built with the lecturers and tutors she worked with. “The professors and lecturers who taught us were really supportive and approachable, but I was also impressed by how up to date they kept with their research – there was always something new to learn from them,” she explains.

Sarah graduates on Tuesday 6 November, on what would have been her dad’s birthday. He also studied law at university, as Sarah explains: “I didn’t choose my course because of my dad, but I suppose it was always in the back of my mind while I was studying. I’m relocating to Canada with my husband next year and I’d like to do more research in law and eventually work as an academic or in a not for profit – I don’t want to place any restrictions on my future.”


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