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5 Parents Who Studied at Shillington to Change Careers or Upskill

Got a young family and want to study design? We’ve got you! At Shillington, we don’t want there to be any barriers between you and a career in graphic design—and believe that having kids absolutely does not exclude you from this. We’ve had parents study on both our 3 month full-time and 9 month part-time course and managed to change their lives, for both themselves and their families.

We spoke to five of our graduates—2 of whom studied full-time and 3 of whom studied part-time—to discover why they chose to study design at Shillington. We find out how they found balancing studying and their families—and in the case of part-time students working too—and how their lives have changed since they graduated. Plus some brilliant tips for fellow parents who want to study design.

Our five graduates were picked from across our global campuses. Alessandra Conti, who has one four year old daughter, and Lucas Garcia, who has a two year old daughter, both studied full-time in London graduating in July 2019 and December 2019 respectively. Heading to the North of England, Arwa Al-Salam, who had a son of 8 at the time, studied part-time at our Manchester campus in 2017/18. Our other two graduates are from the Southern Hemisphere—Ashley Gordon, who started studying part-time at Shillington when her daughter was 18 months old, graduated from our Brisbane campus. Finally, Sydney graduate Katie Lodge graduated from the part-time course in 2016 when her daughter was five.

It’s interesting to note that all five of our graduates came to graphic design from very different backgrounds. Alessandra, who is from Italy and studied Interior Design there, was working as a marketing executive for an office furniture dealer. Lucas was already in the creative industry, working as an illustrator and portrait painter with occasional jobs as a storyboard artist. Arwa was running a stationery design business, creating wedding and event stationery with her sister—a passion project, but unfortunately an unstable one. Completely differently, Ashley was a corporate lawyer working in-house for a large insurance company before she enrolled at Shillington and architecture graduate Katie held a senior position at Savill’s, the global real estate business.

Lucas' Branding Project

Lucas’ Branding Project

Why Our Parents Chose Shillington

Like a majority of the students who come through our doors, all our parent-students made the decision to study graphic design at Shillington for three main reasons: the speed, the skills and the step up in to industry. For Alessandra, who dreamt of becoming a graphic designer:

“Shillington was the only course that could deliver [her dream] in a short amount of time.”

Though, there were other reasons that some of this bunch of graduates thought that Shillington was the best option for them. Lucas wanted to make the change from illustrator to graphic designer as he saw it as more stable creative career path and one which could help to make sure he could provide for his family and his young daughter. He felt that our full-time course was “too appealing to resist” as he could make his career switch in just three months!

Ashley's Handmade Project

Ashley’s Handmade Project

Katie had initially enrolled on the full-time course but found out before starting the she was pregnant, but motherhood didn’t stop her as she returned to part-time course five years later. Not wanting to spend three years studying for a degree, she told us:

“The study options with full-time and part-time provided great flexibility and I guess for me, with a full time job and a five year old daughter, studying part time really was the only viable option.

During her time as a lawyer, Ashley took up brush lettering on the side—inspired by her childhood love for calligraphy. A new love for lettering was born and one thing led to another and she soon met a fellow Shillumni at a brush lettering workshop, who spoke fondly of her time at Shillington. Put off the unpracticality and length of university courses, she found Shillington the perfect fit.

Arwa's Packaging Project

Arwa’s Packaging Project

How Our Parents Found Shillington

It goes without saying, that our five parents had a different Shillington experience from many of our students—but that’s not to say they didn’t hesitate for a second to make the most of it! Now were they alone in it. They got through their three months or nine months with the help of some very supportive partners and equally supportive teachers. Arwa shared that:

“I had a lot of help! Luckily my son wasn’t very young, he was 8 when I was studying so he wasn’t entirely reliant on me. My husband and family took care of him when I was in class and when I needed to study, which for me was most of the week. I personally never felt that being a mother disadvantaged me during the course.”

Though, doing the Shillington course meant that our parents had two less nights and some less hours on the weekend with their kids, they all knew it was only temporary. In fact, Katie took it as an advantage to spend some creative time with her daughter and get some criticism from here too. She told us:

“I also involved my daughter in the process. She was five years old at the time and I actually found it a great way for us to bond and for her to express her own creativity.”

“Many of the Shillington projects I was working on required sketching and taking photographs whilst ‘out and about’ and so my daughter joined me. We created together, and she helped out with some of the more playful design and crafting—she loved getting her hands dirty with me!”

Katie's Corporate Report Project

Katie’s Corporate Report Project

Ashley took the time away from her family, when she was at campus, as just that—a bit of time away from her family! She found it to be “time out for myself where I could focus with other like minded designers-to-be.” In other words, it allowed her to be inspired by those around her and fully appreciate her blossoming career as a designer.

Though all our parents were willing to admit it was tough balancing their Shillington studies and a family, they all knew this going into it—Lucas added that he “had prepared [him]self for those three months” and “envied the amount of time outside of class that my classmates had to dedicate to the work” but didn’t this stop him being proud of making the decision to study and of the work he created.

We think Alessandra summed up studying as a parent at Shillington perfectly:

“Being a mum didn’t stop me, I actually think that helped me: multitasking, time management and being able to work under stress with only a few hours sleep are skills that only a parent can master!”

Alessandra's Branding Project

Alessandra’s Branding Project

What Our Parents Have Been Up To Since Graduating

Understandably, one thing that might concern a parent who wants to study at Shillington is getting a job afterwards!

All our graduates we spoke to found themselves working in the industry not long after graduating.

Alessandra, who was worried about the competitive nature of the industry, landed as job as Junior Designer at RAPP, an advertising and marketing agency in South London, not long after graduating. She added that: “They do care about flexibility and equality in the workplace and there’s a good work/life balance. More companies should follow their example and make the design industry accessible to everyone.”

Lucas's Packaging Project

Lucas’s Packaging Project

Arwa and Lucas both found jobs soon after they graduated too. Arwa has worked as part of a four person design team at global charity since she graduated and loves her job. Lucas, who graduated the most recently out of all our parents, has had two internships at his two favourite East London studios—Beach and Magpie.

Ashley took a different route—she came out of graduation as a freelance and has continued to do so ever since. Her work focuses on branding and her previous passion of lettering, working on lettering projects for Revlon and other large clients. She’s also been interning one day a week at a social media marketing agency to help develop her skills and is about to start working part-time for a boutique advertising agency. So, she’s been busy but told us that:

“Freelancing has allowed me to manage my own workload, as well as spending quality time with my family”.

Ashley's Campaign Project

Ashley’s Campaign Project

Finally, before she even graduated Katie met Vince Frost, Creative Director of Frost*Collective, at an event, introduced herself and a week later was meeting him at their studio! Frost*Collective then created a brand new role for Katie once she graduated from Shillington—their Business Development Manager. A very impressive feat!

Though, at the end of 2019, Katie was after a new adventure so left her role at Frost* and started her own consulting business working with start-ups, architects, project managers, small business owners and creatives to provide strategic advice, support, increased productivity and efficiencies around their approach to business development, client relationships and bid management. Though, she’s still able to use her creative skills:

“I’m also providing creative and design services such as branding, graphics and websites which is wonderful as I’m getting back to my creative roots and putting into action all of the amazing lessons I learnt whilst studying at Shillington!”

Arwa's Lettering Project

Arwa’s Lettering Project

Any Tips For Other Parents?

We asked all our graduates for their top tips for any parents who want to study at Shillington.

Alessandra: “It’s a very intensive course which requires some additional homework in the evenings and weekend. Although you might feel guilty because you are taking time away from your kids, remember it is only for a relatively short amount of time. Both I and my daughter lives have improved because she can sense that I am a lot happier at work. Just because you’re a parent doesn’t mean that you should give up your ambitions. I believe you’re a better role model for your children if they can see you following your passions.”

Arwa: “I would advise that they go into it with a plan with whoever will be taking care of their kids, not only during class time but even outside of class to be able to do homework, which can get overwhelming. And never turn down an offer for help with childcare!”

Lucas: “I would say if you’ve planned it beforehand and you know what you’re getting into then there’s nothing to fear!”

“Having had children it may feel too late to make a sudden career change but once you’re sure about it then the sooner the better.”

Alessandra's Handmade Project

Alessandra’s Handmade Project

Ashley: “Have a plan and be realistic. Think of all of the ways that you can make your life easier for the short time you will be studying. If you don’t have a village (aka your support network), you may need to create one. Be organised and prepare ahead – for example, I used to make meals on the weekends for the nights I’d be at College. The part time course might seem on paper like a long time, but it goes really fast. And it’s worth every minute and sacrifice.”

Katie: “Ditch the nerves, embrace it, throw yourself into it and don’t worry about what other people think. You get to do fun creative exercises on the first day that will probably feel a bit out of your comfort zone, but just enjoy it and don’t take yourself too seriously. Make the time to say hello to each and every one of your new classmates. There will be lots of people from different backgrounds, professions, each with a unique story to share. Also, get comfortable away from the computer and use every opportunity you can to use good old-fashioned pen and paper to get your ideas down and start the creative juices flowing.

What I’d say specifically to parents considering the course is that time management is key. It’s important where possible, to try and carve out dedicated time in your schedule (in and around day care, school drop offs, play dates, naps etc) to work on your projects without distractions from the kids when you need that time to focus and absorb yourself in the task. Don’t be shy about asking for help – you’d be surprised how many people are happy to lend a hand when you need it. Even just an hour here and there where a friend, relative or neighbour takes the kiddies off your hands to give you a short break can be so productive. I like to call it an ‘hour of power’ where you maximise that hour in the most efficient way possible. No procrastination, just straight up productivity.

Katie's Campaign Project

Katie’s Campaign Project

For many people though, finding time is a challenge and I completely understand and appreciate how tough it can be, particularly if you don’t have a strong support network around you.

As parents, we can often feel ‘guilty’ that we are doing something for ourselves rather than everything we do revolving around our children – I’m here to say we absolutely shouldn’t feel like this.

Our kids will see how passionate we are about what we are doing and without even realising it at the time, they will be inspired by you and your commitment to pursue the things you love. Be brave, chase your dreams (even though the juggle and struggle will be real!) and network your little socks off wherever possible—you never know who you might meet and where that conversation will lead!

Everyone (and everything) comes into your life for a reason.”

Big thanks to all our graduates for their sage advice and talking to us about their Shillington adventures.

Are you a parent who wants to study at Shillington? Get in touch if you’d like to talk to someone or read more about studying graphic design with us in London, Manchester, New York, Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane.

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