If you’re thinking of going back to college or university one of the things that you won’t b able to hide is your age – well, let’s call it ‘maturity’ – since if you’re over the age of 21, you’ll be known as a ‘mature student’.
Although your seniority might give you some kind of air of authority and even though you might even be older than your lecturer, that’s as far as any age related perks go. There will be no senior mess tent or further ranking; you’ll be in the melee with the other students.
Although officially anyone of the 21 is referred to as a mature student (who may have been in employment or taken gap years etc) UCAS, the body responsible for university and college admissions, reckon that up to 40% of mature students are actually over 30 (10% are over 40 when they commence a course) and have work, a mortgage or family commitments, so you won’t necessarily be the rare exception you might worry about being.
The whole point of becoming a student is to gain qualifications in order to start a specific career or to develop existing skills or interests in order to open up different possibilities. In this, you are bonded with your fellow students, despite any age gap.
If you are about to sign up to a course there are a few things to consider:
Think carefully about the course you’re intending to study. If you’ve been away from education for any length of time you should make sure you know more about what you’re taking on. It could mean three or more years of study for a degree, for example. Education isn’t cheap and you’ll only get a return on your investment if you’re literally able to ‘stick with the program.’
Colleges and universities aren’t unsympathetic. After all, given the age of (and relative immaturity) of most students they’re used to dealing with emotional and sometimes hormonal individuals. With this in mind, there may well be pastoral support you can tap into, although you may be a little embarrassed to ask. Other more practical support regarding the course is usually available from lecturers who, assuming they retain their passion for the subject, will match your enthusiasm for the course and be happy to discuss relevant matters. (Some colleges and universities offer support for people with disabilities such as dyslexia, whilst others provide subsidised childcare and crèche services.)
Support may also be offered by the Students’ Union or other informal groups.
If the worst happens and you lose interest in your subject or it turns out not to match your expectations, you may be surprised at the options open to you. An English literature course might be swapped for an English language course or evolve into English Literature and Journalism, for example. (Your tutors will be able to help you ascertain the options available to you.)
If you have doubts about being a mature student, this might be at the top of the list. It’s true that in any class of students there may only be a handful of ‘matures’. However, mature students are valued, especially in seminars and workshops where their life experience can often provide deeper insight than that collected by the average teenager. The differences that mature students bring are often seen as enriching (hence why they are often incentivised to join courses with easier entrance conditions). Having said that, it isn’t wise to overplay your hand; being a mature student does not make you some kind of wise ‘Yoda’ figure and younger people find being patronised as annoying as you would.
As mentioned previously, both students and tutors appreciate diversity. It makes for a broader intellectual approach to the subject and because of that they like to encourage mature students to take on their courses. With this in mind, you might find that your entrance requirements are lower than for younger students or that you’ll be presented with an ‘unconditional entrance offer’ based on the qualifications or experiences you’ve already attained, whereas your younger peers will need to pass exams at a certain level to get on the same course of study.
There’s something about being a mature student that makes you more, ‘mature’ in the way you approach your studies. It’s entirely possible, as a result of your life experience and age that you end up taking your studies more seriously than younger students. Don’t be surprised if students don’t act like soldiers and obey the rules, doing as they’re required at all times. Even studying in the library is unlikely to be as easy as you think. Quite why students can’t be quiet is a mystery – but one you’ll have to deal with (or find another place to study).
Don’t leave anything out
Getting the best out of your studies is all about the input. As with anything in life, put your whole self in and do your best. This is the path towards having no regrets at the end of the course, irrespective of your grade and qualification.