It's never too late to learn: a guide to education for mature students
The New Year is a time for renewal, taking stock and considering options for the forthcoming year. This may be the time you are considering investing in yourself for either personal or professional development, reskilling or just dipping your toe back into the education pool for personal enjoyment. This article will highlight some of the challenges or concerns you may have about returning back to education as a mature student, or returning student as I like to call you, and show you how to get the most out of education, dispelling any concerns or fears that you may currently hold.
The great news is, if you are considering returning back to education at either college or university, then you are in for one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. Apart from that this is probably the best ever time of the year for you to do so. Returning back as a mature student is particularly rewarding, not only because it gives you a qualification that helps to enrich your life both economically and socially, but also because it instils a sense of empowerment and achievement, which benefits your confidence and self-esteem. I too, like so many others, felt anxious and unsure when I returned to education to do my NVQ in Library Services, and then again when I went on to university to study my MA. I can’t promise it won’t challenge and stretch you beyond what you thought was possible, that’s actually part of the journey and the learning process, but what I can say is what you receive from education is far more than just subject knowledge and a qualification.
However, returning back to study does not come without its challenges, predominantly around finance and academic skills. So below I have highlighted six of the most common statements which may otherwise delay your decision to return to college or university.
Statement 1: I can't afford it
There is no denying it that financing education, particularly in the HE sector is a significant, and a very costly consideration. In fact financing education is cited by Adult Learner Survey, (2016) as above and beyond the main cause for not returning into Further and Higher Education for mature, returning students. However, if you are disabled, have dependent children or a low income, then you may be eligible to apply for Student Finance that helps with tuition fees and living costs.
If you want to study for a different sort of qualification (such as NVQ or BTEC) then you may be eligible for grants and bursaries adult learners. You will find that particular universities and departments also offer bursaries depending on the degree and subject area you are interested in. If you wish to find out more about this, you should contact Admissions at the university you are thinking of applying to.
If you have children there is also funding that help pay for childcare costs. Perhaps you are going into full-time education? If this is the case then you may be eligible to apply for a Childcare Grant. However, it is important to review these sites and check the conditions for eligibility and also conditions for non-eligibility before applying.
Finally, It’s worth noting, if you are over 25 years old, married, or have supported yourself for at least three years before you start studying, the Government consider you as an independent student and parental income will not be taken into account.
Statement 2: I never enjoyed school or studying the first time
If this was you, you are not alone. Cast your mind back to when you went to college or university the first time around. Did you have a burning desire to choose a particular course or was it something you sort of fell into or were pushed into? Believe it or not, this is how many choose their course the first time around. They then become disenchanted with it because they never really had the chance to explore and find out what they really want to do. So it should be no surprise to hear that many just get through their courses or drop-out after the first year or two.
It’s often much more rewarding to return back to education after finding our passion. One of the advantages of returning back to college or university later in life, is that you have a much greater sense of purpose, focus, responsibility and self. This time around you are wiser. You have better cognitive and problem-solving skills. You are more emotionally stable, and you have learnt more about yourself and what it is that makes you happy, motivated and fulfilled. These are all gifts that life bestows on us over time, but they are also are the gifts that will bring you the motivation you need to succeed.
Statement 3: I can't write essays or reports
One of the biggest hurdles to overcome for returning students is the fear of writing assessed essays, reports and taking part in exams. This is most certainly a confidence issue, as it may have been many years past that you have had your work critiqued by others in this way. So let me put your mind at rest by saying that colleges and universities have your best interests at heart. They want you to succeed just as much as you do. Today every college and university offers services to support your academic study and literacy skills, while you are studying. Many of the universities are starting to offer Summer Schools for mature students. They run for about 3-5 days, are open to all ages, abilities and backgrounds, and they help you to brush-up on your academic skills. Many will teach you;
• Academic writing
• Critical thinking skills
• Referencing skills
• Time management
However most universities need some assurances before you apply to attend:
• you will have applied for a full-time undergraduate course at the University
• you have made the University your choice in the UCAS application process
• you have been given a 'conditional' or 'unconditional' offer of a place
You should understand though, most universities stipulate, that the attendance of Summer School does not affect your UCAS application, nor does it guarantee entry in the next academic year.
Statement 4: My computer skills aren’t up to date
It’s true that much of the work carried out for your degrees writing and research is done by the use of computers and online database research these days. Having said this, if you are concerned that your skills are not what they should be, then there are ways to upskill prior to attending college or university;
• Look out for many of the beginner or intermediate computer skills day and evening classes
• Sign-up with Lynda.com – subscribed online video courses, taught by experts, that help you to learn business, software, technology and creative skills – check with your university beforehand to see if they subscribe to it. If they do you could access it for free while you’re studying.
If you are worried about your computer skills around research, and using the databases, then I would encourage you to spend some time in your academic library and book into one or two of the library research skills workshops that most academic libraries run. In no time at all you’ll be accessing resources and compiling research strategies like a pro.
Statement 5: I won't fit in
When you become a graduate for the first time, it’s very easy to assume that your teenage classmates live in an entirely different world to you, and this will be a barrier to communicating with them, leaving you feeling isolated. Nothing could actually be further from the truth! The mature student population is a richly diverse and integral part of the student community. I can say with first-hand experience, that our life, career, and worldly experiences provide a fresh perspective and rich source of knowledge, our younger counterparts are only too aware and respectful of. They understand that your wisdom and experience is an asset and additional enrichment, which offers considerable value to their learning experience. Think of studying with younger people as a symbiotic relationship, whereby you have the opportunity to learn from each other. By changing your perspective you will soon realise that talents and knowledge work both ways and can be passed on to enhance each other’s learning. So everybody wins!
Statement 6: I won’t get the support I need from my family and friends
It’s not uncommon when returning back to formal education as a mature student to encounter some resistance from family members by them disapproving of your decision to go to university. Initially this can be quite dispiriting. Yes it has its financial risks, but these risks are calculated, if you’ve done your homework. What is less obvious is that often family or relationship dynamics will go through a period of re-adjustment and re-negotiation of roles while studying. This may possibly leave partners feeling threatened or even isolated through this time of adjustment. The important thing to remember is, you will know the reasons why you chose to do a university course and the decision to do so will not have been taken lightly. So don’t let anyone quash your dreams and ambitions. I would encourage you to;
• Explain the benefits of returning to university to them
• Involve and reassure close family members and partners in the process as much as you can
• Involve them in your work by asking them to proof-read your assignments
• Let friends know when you are free to spend some time with them
• Arrange a family day from time to time or go for meal with your partner
So you have now learnt a little more about returning back as a mature student and understood how you can address those niggling concerns you might be having right now. So all there is left to say is that I wish you every success with returning back as a mature student.
Here’s to you and your success!
I would love to hear your feedback on this blog. Perhaps you have some experience yourself of being a mature student that you’d like to share. Please like and retweet this article on Twitter @AsterlifeC
If you want to discover your star potential and think I may be able to help you, then please call me 07752565740 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange 1:1 coaching sessions.
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