Welcome to our Student Takeover!

From discussing subjects, to the support our students receive to help them navigate their way through their years at college, we hope this page gives you a taste of student life at Guildford College.

The campus

Check out our virtual tour to see what the campus is like.

If you'd prefer to visit our campus in person, especially if you want to study with us in September, we will be running small group tours throughout the month of June. Register below so you don't miss your chance to have a guided tour, and have a look at our amazing facilities and see the college for yourself!

Life at college

We know that coming to college can be a big step, especially in these uncertain times.

That's why we think that hearing what other students have to say about their college experience is better than anything we could try and tell you.

Jaivani had a bigger change than most students joining us, he's got some useful tips for those of you starting in September.

There are more students just waiting to share their experiences with you below.

Maddy, who is now a Senior Educator at Dermalogica, recently took part in a virtual event with students who are currently studying our beauty therapy pathway at Activate Learning colleges, where she was able to share her story and provide an insight to what it is like to have a career in the beauty industry.

The virtual event was attended by students studying at Banbury and Bicester CollegeBracknell and Wokingham CollegeGuildford CollegeCity of Oxford College and Reading College.

Guildford College has a long-standing relationship with Dermalogica. Dermalogica has previously provided product training and work experience placements to students studying beauty therapy at the college.

During the pandemic, these events have taken place on a virtual basis, enabling them to be made available to all students studying our beauty therapy pathway at Activate Learning colleges.

Dermalogica has accelerated the industry-wide launch of its Aspire Award. The Dermalogica Aspire Award helps students to get access to the most up to date and industry relevant training from college or from home.

This enrichment award helps students get ahead by sharing valuable industry insight and preparing them for employment.

Beauty therapy students from Activate Learning have been completing these enriching education opportunities alongside their studies, strengthening their knowledge whilst not being able to get hands-on learning during the lockdown restrictions.

The activity has provided valuable industry relevant insights through a broad series of workshops webinars and awards. Many of our students are well on the way to having completed the first awards.

This is a prime example of how partnerships with employers can help to make students dream careers become a reality by providing real-life work experiences and industry insight to enhance their learning experience.

During the event, Maddy and Dermalogica Therapist Sinead Quinn both shared their stories of how they started in the industry and where they are now.

Maddy Essex, Senior Educator at Dermalogica said: “My career as a skin therapist actually started as a Guildford College student! This was where I built all the skills I needed to thrive in the industry, including my first exposure to Dermalogica.

“I have explored many avenues of the beauty industry since leaving college but one thing that remained consistent was my love for the Dermalogica products.

“Now as an educator, it felt amazing to chat to the students, share some of my knowledge and get them excited for their own career paths.”

One of Maddy’s tutors attended the virtual event.

Charlene Nicholls, Lecturer in Beauty, Holistic Therapy and Media Makeup at Activate Learning, said: “I was extremely proud to see one of my previous students, Maddy Essex on our live Dermalogica event.

“Seeing how Maddy has grown into her beauty career, showing a clear passion for the beauty and skincare industry. Maddy always had a keen interest in skin care and has built her career around the industry that she loves, now providing guidance and instilling passion for the future generation of skin therapists.

“It was a fantastic opportunity to be part of the live event with Dermalogica. We have been part of the Dermalogica Partnership programme for many years and always enjoy the interactive activities and training days provided.

“With COVID-19 restrictions, Dermalogica have been amazing at adapting to meet our learners’ needs by creating online learning platforms for learners to continue to build their education and understanding on the brand but also an introduction into the working world of a skin therapist, the technology available and the wide range of professional products.

“My Level 3 Beauty Therapy students have particularly enjoyed completing the Dermalogica Aspire award and employability series and feel that this has provided them with the opportunity to build on their current knowledge and understanding, expanding their mindset and looking into future career options.

“They feel the training has supported them in growing their confidence in skin care and promoting core employability skills which will assist them on their search for employment.”

Jacquie Slater, Education Training Manager at Dermalogica, also demonstrated and talked about using Chinese diagnosis face mapping along with a few additional skills for diagnosing skin, and pressure points with our beauty therapy students, who took part in these demonstrations.

Jacqui Slater, Education Training Manager at Dermalogica said: “We were really honoured to be able to join so many students in their homes for this Activate Learning immersion event. It was a great opportunity to congratulate all the attendees on their choice of vocational study.

“We shared stories of our own career paths and insight into what the future could look like in this ever changing and evolving industry. One of the most important messages was to continue to build on knowledge and engage with industry employers. We shared our educational programme and the benefits of achieving their Aspire Award and advancing on to our Enhanced Employability Series workshops.

“Our session was completed with a bit of fun using Eastern philosophy to add a different perspective to their skin analysis training.”

The inspirational 19-year-old, who is currently studying a Level 3 Hospitality and Catering Diploma at Guildford College, has recently opened her own bakery business.

Hollie has been an Activate Learning student since she was 16, after realising her passion for cooking while studying catering at GCSE level.

Providing students with relevant courses is essential, now more than ever. Not only does it give them the skills that employers want and need, but it also prepares them for real careers and employability when they eventually leave college.

Hollie said: “I’ve always enjoyed cooking, even as a child. My mum used to be a chef and would always cook, I would often help her in the kitchen and loved getting involved.

“As I got older, I realised I wanted to take catering as a GCSE option. It was then I found my passion for baking, it just came naturally to me.”

Since starting the Level 2 Professional Culinary Arts Certificate at Guildford College, Hollie has been going from strength to strength and has now almost finished her Level 3 catering qualification.

When the first lockdown began in March 2020, Hollie, like many other students, found it very strange not being able to go and see friends at college and really missed the baking element of her course.

It was then that Hollie started trying out different cakes and experimenting with her baking.

Hollie added: “I found baking at home really relaxing and loved being creative and trying new recipes and designs, having a creative outlet was really helpful for me at this time.

“It started off being a bit of fun, baking for friends and family, and then I started to build up my followers on Facebook and Instagram. People I had baked started sharing my designs on social media and through word of mouth and others seeing my creations, I started getting orders through.”

When asked what challenges she initially faced, Hollie said that she was worried about whether other people would like her creations and didn’t feel confident.

However, that has since changed, and you would never guess that she was once nervous! Hollie has a clear and concise plan of what she wants and where she wants to go from here, a very admirable and entrepreneurial trait!

She said: “If you really want to do something and enjoy doing it, don’t worry about what other people think. You have to start somewhere, I nervous at first but I’ve overcome that, and my business has grown organically.”

It is not just her mum that Hollie recognises in her journey to run her own cake business, she also praises her catering teacher, Martyn Shanley, at Guildford College. She credits him

 for setting achievable tasks and pushing her to be the best she can.

“Martyn recognises our weaknesses and strengths; he helps us overcome these by setting realistic challenges which allow us to realise our full potential.”

Martyn fully supports Hollie and the exciting journey she is on. He said: “Hollie has made fantastic progress over the last two years. I do not think she will mind me saying that she did not fully engage with the subject when she started, and I thought that she might change direction and look at other courses.

“The one deciding factor that kept her going was her passion for cooking and that has proven to be a driver that has seen her develop into the great industry prospect she is today!

“I have seen her confidence blossom and Hollie approaches everything she does in a professional manner, resulting in her already achieving full time employment in the industry. This business she has created also shows how determined and enterprising she has become spotting a market need in lockdown, long before it became trendy.

“I think that Hollie is an exemplarily model for the hospitality and catering department at Activate Learning.”

Almost a year on and Hollie is going from strength to strength. Her business, ‘Sweet Sensation’, is growing, and Valentine’s Day saw almost 30 orders. She, along with many others, are proud of her growth.

Hollie adds: “I feel more confident as a person, but I can see the growth in my work. I have pictures of my cakes from last year and I can see how much better I am now. For anyone out there wanting to take the next step, just do it, don’t let your fear hold you back.”

Relaying her next steps, Hollie says she has big plans and eventually, when she has finished her course at Guildford College, she wants her own commercial kitchen and to grow her business even more.

Guildford College offers hospitality and catering programmes from Level 1 (entry level to Level 3 (equivalent to three A Levels) in partnership with world-renowned, Michelin-starred chef Heston Blumenthal and his team at the Fat Duck Group.

What sets these unique catering study programmes apart from the rest is the emphasis placed on the fundamentals of understanding ingredients and exploring their tastes, flavours, and fusions. This gives students the best possible start in a demanding, fast-paced, yet hugely rewarding industry.

To see more of Hollie’s amazing creations, visit @sweet.sensation2 on Instagram


Robyn, a mature student and a mother of two young children, enrolled on the Access to Science course at Activate Learning’s Guildford Campus last September with the ambition of gaining a qualification that would enable her to fulfil her ambition of going to university.

A local to the area, Guildford College was a great choice for Robyn who has made good use of the campus’s facilities, such as the Learning Resource Centre, as well as the online learning platform which has allowed her to continue her studies remotely during the periods of national restrictions.

Robyn says: “Last year, as we entered the first lockdown, I felt like I was at a crossroads. I realised I wanted to set an example for my daughters by doing what I love and fulfilling my own potential.

“I also knew it would be more challenging this time (not least because I was starting the course during a pandemic!). However, it felt like an opportunity to look inwards and focus on what mattered to me.

“As a mature student and mother of two young children, an Access course felt like the ideal way to return to education.

Robyn’s ambition to enter the field of psychological research drove her to apply for an undergraduate place in Psychological and Behavioural Sciences at Cambridge University.

She told us: “Between ages 14 and 19, I was an elite Judo athlete for GB, and this is how I became interested in psychology. I was fascinated by the idea of ‘talent’ and what gives people the edge in their field.

“After I retired from sport at 20, I self-taught GCSEs in 4 months and started a course of A-Levels – achieving all A’s in my AS exams and applying for university. However, I had several challenges in my home life that prevented me from accepting my university offers at the time.

Balancing her studies with family life has understandably been a challenge for Robyn, especially as she is studying for an A Level in Maths, self-teaching as a private candidate, alongside her Access course as well as her husband also studying Access to Business at Guildford College. She has never let this stand in the way of her goals and remains focused on her aspirations.

“Organising full-time study around childcare, home-schooling, and part-time work has been extremely difficult and has meant some late nights of study.

“I have had to embrace the challenge of coordinating schedules and learn to negotiate with my husband on home-schooling and childcare, often based on the urgency of deadlines!

“I am still hugely passionate about psychology seven years on and bringing up toddlers – I have learned a lot more about the subject and become really interested in child development.

“Psychology is a field where research still has so much still to tell us that could vastly improve people’s lives. This is something I really want to be involved in!

“It has long been a dream to study at Cambridge because of the incredible scientific community surrounding students and the opportunity to be a part of ground-breaking research from the beginning.

“I think my Access to Science course has prepared me well for the intensity of university study, providing practical skills such as academic writing and research techniques that will be invaluable to my success at university.”

Barry Morton, Robyn’s tutor at Guildford College, says: Robyn, is always clearly focused on what it is she needs to do to get that top grade. She approaches her current studies with a high level of confidence and positivity.

“She is inspirational, and she reminds us all of the power of hard work. I feel intensely proud and excited to have Robyn as part of my tutor group and to help in her development. I don’t know if I have ever met anyone so determined yet at the same time so dignified as Robyn.

“I would like to wish her all the best in all her future studies and all her future ventures, whatever they might be.”

With limited opportunities to relax from what has undoubtedly been a stressful period due, in part, to the restrictions that Lockdown 3 brought – Robyn found that getting out for a walk and some fresh air helped her decompress from the daily juggle between intensive studying and being ‘Mum’!

“I think that for me, accepting the pandemic as an unavoidable reality has turned what might have been a lost year into a year of growth and optimism.”

An inevitable relocation to Cambridge now looms for Robyn and her family so that she can start her exciting next chapter, and something tells us that she will be just as successful!

Student enrichment at Activate Learning Colleges

Watch as one of our Heads of Campus, Charlotte Morgan, explores the various extra-curricular activities you can get involved in at college, as well as how you can feed back your experiences at college.

Learning Support at Activate Learning Colleges

Our Learning Support team here at Activate Learning delves into extra support you can receive when coming to college, and how to access the service when applying to college. 

Support for students

If you're worried about starting college and want reassurance of who is around for support, watch the interview below with our Head of Student Support, Leanne Hicks. Leanne will explore the help given to those who are concerned about their mental health and wellbeing at college, as this is an incredibly important subject to address when thinking about starting.

Leanne Hicks explains all the support we offer students.

Subject discussions

Find out what it's like studying at college with the videos below.

Countdown to college

This presentation offers information about what to expect and key events between now and September, if you’ve applied or are thinking of applying to college.

It's not too late to get your application in for September!

If you haven't applied to college yet and want to join us in September, it is time to get your application in! Our main applications close at the end of July and we still have spaces remaining on courses! Find out more on our How to Apply page or contact us for if you have any questions.