UK universities, once the almost exclusive premise of late teens and early twenty-something students fresh out of school, are now seeing a significant rise in the number of mature students returning to university, some even in their 60s and 70s, in order to complete postgraduate degrees. The reasons for this rise are as numerous as the challenges that many mature postgraduate students face on returning to study. But don’t let that put you off. Yes, it will be hard, but for every challenge you will face, you will also experience a wealth of opportunities coming your way to take advantage of.
Keeping up with the kids Simply put, one of the most obvious differences between mature postgraduate students and their undergraduate counterparts is age. You may not think that age makes much of a difference, but just listen to any postgraduate and they will tell you otherwise. The differing life experiences of an 18-year-old compared to a mature student are vast; inevitably this gap can have several ramifications for mature students…
Joining sports clubs and societies Many postgraduate degrees involve a significant proportion of self-study in comparison to undergrad degrees, a fact that can have the unwanted effect of making the former feel disconnected from the hustle and bustle of university life. Becoming a member of a sports club or a society is a great way to stop this from happening, yet a common perception amongst university students is that the plethora of sports clubs and societies available are exclusive to undergraduate students. Their reputation for messy, alcohol infused socials, while alluring for some mature students, are not appealing to everyone. However, as a postgraduate student you can turn this to your advantage. You’ve ‘been there and done it’ all before, whether it was only a couple of years ago or a couple of decades, and if you take the time to research the clubs and societies on offer beforehand, you will find that it can be a brilliant way to connect with like-minded people. You never know – joining a sports team or society could benefit your career development by helping you learn a unique skill or develop a new interest.
Academic life There’s no doubt that higher education is tough and you need to be prepared for the demands of academic life. As a mature student, you may be concerned about how you’ll cope with these demands, especially if you’ve been out of education for a good number years and the task of researching and writing essays is a faded memory. However, the good news for mature students is that there is a lot of support available. At the beginning of the academic year most universities run workshops on topics like essay writing, referencing, researching and using the library. Believe in yourself, give yourself plenty of time and, when in doubt, ask for help. In addition, some postgraduate students swear that there is a positive difference in the way that course tutors treat them, in comparison with their younger, undergraduate counterparts. For me, the biggest advantage of being a postgraduate is that your decision to return to university will most likely have been formulated over a significant number of years, rather than a rushed, uneducated decision in 6th form, giving you ample time to properly consider which field of study to go into. Ah, the wonders of hindsight.
Juggling other commitments A lot of mature students return to study with family commitments that they need to juggle alongside studying. This can mean that it is hard to prioritise work and you could be left feeling guilty about not giving everyone the attention they deserve. Choosing to study part time is one option. Other postgraduates adopt clever routines to maximum their time – one mum I know only works when the kids go to bed in order to strike that fine balance between work and home life. If you feel that everything is getting too much read Making the most of your time out for some great tips to make the most out of your student card, such as going out for dinner, taking a trip to the cinema or even (depending on how mature a student you are) treating the grandchildren!
Money, money, money… Coping with financial difficulty can be particularly hard for mature students, who are often faced with a range of competing commitments. If you’ve given up work to study money can be tight but help is available for parents in the form of childcare grants, single parent grants and bursaries. You could also see if your children are eligible for free school meals as this will save you a lot of money and time.
Be brave and see what advantages are out there for the mature student. You've earned it!