BTEC Higher Nationals Case Study: Sarah Hoppé
Sarah Hoppé graduated with a BTEC Higher National in Fashion & Textiles in 2019. This led directly to a job in the industry with an employer who supported her to top-up to an undergraduate degree in Fashion Production and Business with the Open University, through Belfast Metropolitan College in 2020.
I went to a grammar school in Belfast, Northern Ireland, primarily geared towards traditional academic studies. Although I had an interest in studying Complementary Therapies, I was advised by my career advisor to pursue my academic pathway, resulting in going to Scotland to study English with Religious Education. I soon realised that university wasn’t for me, therefore I decided to move back home to Lisburn, NI to study Complementary Therapies at college.
I’d always had a strong interest in fashion and sewing. My Dutch grandmother gifted me my first sewing machine when I was 19, which led me to start creating my own designs & clothes whenever I had the opportunity. Finding myself more suited to vocational subjects, I moved to Holland for 6 months upon completion of my course in college.
Living in The Netherlands, near cloth markets and designers, sparked my passion and fuelled my interest in pursuing a career in the field of Fashion & Textiles, while simultaneously exploring the possibilities of starting my own fashion related business.
What led you to take the leap and study a Higher National?
While my grandmother’s insights into sewing were invaluable, it became clear that to make a successful career for myself, and one that would allow me to become a professional within a very competitive industry, I would need to gain both qualifications and experience.
As I considered starting a new educational pathway, I decided to look into options to take my interests further, while continuing to work part time. It was at this point I discovered the Higher National in Fashion & Textiles offered through Belfast Metropolitan College, the very same college that my mum teaches at.
I was slightly apprehensive at first, especially as most of the other students were quite a bit younger than me. I was also unsure I would even be accepted onto the course, given that I didn’t have any academic qualifications in art or design – I was thrilled when I heard that I had been accepted onto the HND programme.
How would you describe your learning experience on the HND?
Right from the outset, I loved the practical nature of the course! The lecturer-support at my college was brilliant, and I preferred the learning experience at the college in comparison to the year I spent at university. For me it felt so much more relatable; the tutors, who had backgrounds in marketing and fashion, were approachable and I was encouraged to ask questions. Classes were small and so there was a very collaborative feel to the learning environment as we were encouraged to help each other to enhance our learning experience.
During the programme, I was granted two fully paid scholarships to attend further short courses at London College of Fashion. I used this opportunity to enhance my skillset in both Tailoring and Pattern Making – I loved every minute of it! The courses helped me build a strong portfolio & reference file of pattern work to present at interviews.
Where are you currently working?
I worked hard during my HND, graduating with a distinction in all module areas. On completion of my studies, I secured a full-time position as a Trainee Pattern Technologist.
I currently work for Cooneen Group, a local garment manufacturing company with a UK wide & global reach. The company has a long-standing network with the college to recruit new talent for the business.
A collaboration with my college and the Open University meant I was offered a further year of study to gain a degree in Fashion Production & Business. I was incredibly fortunate that my employer saw the benefit in me gaining my full degree while continuing to work within the company. We were able to agree a suitable schedule, so my studies did not disrupt my working hours.
How did you find the progression onto the top-up degree programme?
Personally, I believe most of the topics covered during the HND programme set me in good stead for the top-up degree. The beauty of the HND programme is that you are exposed to so many elements within the Fashion & Textile industry. All aspects of the learning were developed upon and carried through the years encouraging continued growth and learning. I was able to further expand the technical knowledge I had built up during the HND, carrying projects forward to use in my degree work.
My self-confidence and soft skills positively impacted my outlook on completing the top-up year. Self-study was never my strong point, however my journey through the HND programme meant I had built strong relations with all my lecturers and peers, and I knew I could lean on them if I needed that extra support and guidance.
If you could give one piece of advice to students considering a Higher National, what would it be?
Utilise all the programmes your college has to offer, scholarships are a great way to further educate yourself in your specific field, and even better if it’s free! Also make good relations with your lecturers - they will be your greatest support network for beginning you career journey. I would encourage everybody to seriously consider doing a Higher National!