Tips For A Mature Student At University
By Esther Dark
When I graduated in 2014 with a BA in English Literature, it was a relief to say goodbye to late nights in the library desperately trying to finish an assignment; feeling constantly skint and the knot I got in my stomach when someone asked me what I wanted to do once I graduated. Goodbye student days, hello fresh Graduate opportunities!
Launching into the world of work and internships, I hoped that my lecture days were long behind me. However, after a few wrong turns, I finally found the right career path for me: a career that suits my skills and abilities perfectly – even if it does mean two years of intensive study on the MA in Occupational Therapy. Undaunted, I entered Fresher’s week with excitement and anticipation but as an eager second year student thrust a promotional Dominoes flyer in my hand, I was struck by a wave of anxiety. Would my 26-year-old energy levels allow me to stay up studying into the early hours? Suddenly Harvard referencing seemed like a foreign language – surely I couldn’t have forgotten how to add a footnote and reference a quote correctly. Was I too old for this?
All of my friends from back home are settled and well established in their careers, most nesting away, getting married and having babies. But what I have learnt is that life is not linear, and the first thing a prospective mature student needs to know that you are not alone – not everyone will be younger than you. In fact, over half of UoD students are classed as mature (over 21) at the beginning of their course.
If you’re a mature student, here are some of my top tips for surviving on campus.
Find your balance
As a mature student, you’re likely to have a whole host of commitments and demands on your time: children, partners, a job, a mortgage to pay. One of the most important lessons that I have learnt (and am still learning) is the ability to say no. It’s important that you keep a balance in your life, and still give time to things that make you, you! If that’s getting home, getting into your PJs and watching Bake Off, then go for it.
Give yourself time
Don’t expect that you’ll be able to juggle all of your priorities seamlessly from the get go. Those first couple of weeks are a bit here, there and everywhere. We’re creatures of habit, once you’ve got your timetable, and settled into your routine, things will seem a lot easier. Take time to discover the library, find your perfect reading spot and favourite coffee outlet. It’s the little things that make us feel at home.
A practical tip for study, is asking yourself what time of day you find it most productive to work, and in what environment; how long can you concentrate without needing a comfort break? Then play your work schedule accordingly.
Throughout the term, you will write a copious amount of notes and be given a tonne of handouts. Make sure you organise and file your work for each module into the topics and themes, it will help when it comes to revision at the end of the year. Hopefully with careful planning, reminders set to phones, and pinned on the fridge you should be on top of deadlines – at least until Christmas!
Make the effort to get to know people on your course by sharing resources and offering support with finding the-all-important vital texts: it can help you feel more socially connected, and break down any age-barriers and insecurities you may have. While your priorities have changed and you may not be quite so interested in checking out the local nightclubs and playing beer pong, don’t make the mistake of thinking that’s all young students are about. Spend some time getting to know your course mates over coffee and you’ll be surprised how much you have in common. You’re studying the same subjects after all; the more friends you can make, the greater sense of belonging you will feel.
Recognise your maturity as a strength
Your experience of life, both in education and the wider world is an asset and will bring an extra dimension to your cohort. You will have wisdom and life experience to offer those around you. Not forgetting that you may also have a family home to offer – a lot more cosy and inviting than student accommodation!
And finally …
Don’t underestimate yourself
The decision to enter back into education is life changing. So whether you’re looking to change the direction of your career or just see what you’re really capable of, the experience of university as a mature student can be an exciting journey.
As well as being among the most academically successful, mature students bring valuable experience and enthusiasm to the university. Learning is a life long journey; we should embrace learning at every age. Age is just a number, and no barrier to forming new and fulfilling relationships – least of all a barrier to learning.