In the UK, ‘mature’ students are defined by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) as those aged 21 or over. The decision to return to education is made for a variety of reasons and at a variety of points in a person’s life. Whatever your reasons for making this step, going to university is one of the most rewarding things you can do.
There is lots of advice on the Internet for first year students. thestudentroom.com and studential.com are general sites, and your own institution is bound to have more specific information. But a lot of this advice is aimed at school-leavers. What if your 18th birthday is a hazy memory? And not just because you were drunk but because it was several years ago!
I began my undergraduate degree at the age of 25. At the time, I was married with two young children and a home to run. There were times when studying a degree full-time on top of all that seemed like madness. Looking back, though, those three years were amongst the best of my life.
To be honest, it probably helped that there were several other mature students on my programme of study, many older than me. They understood the need to juggle family, fun and study – and some of them were working as well. Life for a mature student becomes one big time-management exercise!
But being a mature student brings benefits, too. A friend of mine who is also a lecturer once said to me, ‘Mature students haven’t just discovered sex and booze!’. In other words, mature students appreciate that sometimes you just have to sit down and study.
It is also likely that you are going to study a subject that you want to study, rather than something chosen because it fits with your A Level subjects. Perhaps you are studying a degree that will expand your existing knowledge in a particular area, or perhaps it is a subject that has always interested you but you have never really had time to sit down with it properly, before. Whatever the reason, it is likely that you have an enthusiasm for the subject that you might not have had when you were younger – and that will make it easier to study.
Another benefit is the sheer life experience that you bring with you. Even if you are at the younger end of the ‘mature’ spectrum, you have not just left school. You have done things – work, family, travel – that most school-leavers have not. This not only gives you things to talk about with your fellow-students (ice breakers are so important in any new situation!) it also gives you experience to relate to the new information you are being given on your course.
Sometimes, it can seem hard to absorb the new knowledge you are presented with – then one day you will find yourself referring to a key text or authority in a conversation and you will begin making all sorts of connections between your subject and other areas of your life. It will happen and it will happen quite naturally. It is at that moment that you will know that you are a ‘real’ student – and when you will know that all the late nights were worth it.
And when you graduate, you will not just have a new qualification to bolster your CV – you will have in-depth knowledge of a subject that you love and some additional experiences to share the next time you need an ice-breaker!
Top tips for enjoying life as a mature student:
Keep track of all the places that you need to be and when – electronic calendars now come as apps for your smartphone. Come prepared – lots of paper and pens that work! Be organised – have a folder for each subject and put loose papers away as soon as you get home. Read! – use your university’s resources, both ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ books and on-line search tools for finding that key article. Relax, have fun and enjoy the experience – you will never get this opportunity again, so make the most of it.