In recent years there has been a significant growth in the number of mature students taking up both online and classroom based courses. More and more people are studying for degrees after starting a career. There are a number of reasons for this, the primary one being the wide variety of options now available to help adult learners fit studying in with their lifestyle and career commitments.

These days higher education is not just seen as the realm of young people, statistics prove this point, with an estimated 60 per cent of undergraduates in the UK being over the age of 21. Mature students are normally classified as anyone who is at least 21 years old at the start of their course and who has usually been away from higher education for at least two years. It’s a fact that more and more students are graduating from University in their thirties, forties and above, their results upon graduation, are as good if not better, than their younger counterparts.

Universities look for the best and brightest candidates, irrespective of their age. To them confidence, confidentiality and common sense are just as important as academic ability in getting the most from your studies. These institutions work hard to accommodate adult learners, and give them the same opportunities, facilities and support that school or college leaving students receive.

They also welcome mature students because of the wealth of knowledge and life experience they have to offer. Mature students usually bring with them different qualities gained through experiences of real life situations, all of which can help them to adapt readily to the demands of studying at degree level. All of this previous life and work exposure brings an extra dimension to seminar and tutorial groups which is highly valued. They can be viewed as having a lot of advantages over younger students. including greater confidence and maturity. All of these diverse, unique and varied qualities can benefit the whole university community.

Mature students tend also tend to be highly motivated, know exactly what they want and why they want it, and also tend to have a track record of achieving goals that they set themselves. On a more practical level they are more likely to participate actively in projects, activities and seminars.

Online and distance learning courses
The majority of mature students do not enrol on full time courses, but instead favour online, distance learning or part time ones. These programmes offer more diverse entry routes into higher education as they have flexible learning programmes, and the course admission requirements for then can be less stringent for mature students than for younger applicants.

Part time courses are also financially advantageous as they allow you to spread the cost over a longer period of time. Another advantage is that if you need to continue earning while you study, part-time and flexible courses can be combined with work, as they allow students to study from home or work at times that suit them, making them ideal to fit around family and work commitments.

Online degree courses

Applying for courses
Generally speaking there are usually no special entry requirements for mature students, like everyone else, when they make an application they will have to demonstrate academic ability and a commitment to study. Although the application procedure for mature students is virtually always the same as for everyone else, some universities may look favourably on a applicants previous experience or any professional qualifications that show they are ready to cope with the work required of them at degree or higher diploma level.

If a student ever needs further advice on entry requirements or the application process, they should contact a universities Admissions Team who will always be available to provide information and guidance.

Employer support
Remember that many employers actively support their staff who want to improve their skills, with some even willing to help with course costs.

Access Courses
Access to Higher Education programmes are an alternative to traditional school qualifications and are offered by colleges of further education, some sixth-form colleges and adult education centres. Having said that it is not essential for mature entrants to have a Access Certificate or any other traditional school qualifications, to enter university. Non-standard entry arrangements are available for applicants who already can demonstrate certain appropriate skills and subject knowledge. Many universities have flexible entry arrangements, which can include portfolio entrance where you present a specially made portfolio as evidence of your suitability for a programme.

On campus nurseries for children
Some universities provide have their own nurseries which cater for young children between the ages of four months and five years. These are a excellent resource that students with toddlers can utilise.

Reasons why mature students return to further education

  • Improving their current job prospects.
  • Making a fresh start and changing their career.
  • Purely out of interest for the subject.
  • To meet like minded people in the same age group as them.
  • The desire to fulfil a long term career ambition.
  • They suddenly become unemployed.
  • Stuck in a job with no long term security or limited prospects for promotion.
  • They seek an academic challenge.

Mature student worries
Adult learners have pressures that differ from their younger counterparts. The main worries they tend to have is that they will not fit in, or that it’s too late in their life to take up education. The thought of returning to classroom study can also be daunting, and then of course there is the worry about the effect it can have on their existing lifestyle. Other concerns tend to be:

  • The financial cost.
  • Childcare issues for students with youngsters to look after.
  • The ability to cope with the demands of intense studying.

Looking on the bright side, most of the above concerns can be addressed these days by the adaptability of courses and the flexibility of universities eager to attract students.

Adult students bring with them

  • Enthusiasm
  • Experience
  • Confidence
  • Established skills
  • Industry specific knowledge

Job prospects for mature students
Current legislation means that employers cannot discriminate on the basis of age, proof of this can be found in job adverts where age limits are not shown. Employers cannot assume that someone is either too old or too young to do a particular job. These days ageism is about as unacceptable as racism and sexism.

Mature students can often undervalue their own abilities and knowledge. However what they should remember is that their previous work experience coupled with any new qualifications they gain will make them an ideal candidate for any vacancies. Employers also see mature jobseekers as less likely to want to change their career again than say a younger employee.

What is age discrimination?
Choosing a career

Tips on choosing a course

  • Aim for a course and qualification that you can achieve.
  • Spend time working out what is the right course for you, be clear about why you want to achieve it.
  • Research the modules and make sure they cover the areas you want to study.
  • If you want to enrol on a campus  based course (where you will be attending classes), always take the opportunity to visit the university first on their open days.
  • Read student evaluations of the course (this can be done through online forums etc).
  • Make enquires about the overall financial cost, including travelling expenses and the purchase of course books etc.
  • Look at how are university fees paid, are they required up front or can they be made in instalments.
  • Enquire if there are any grants or bursaries available.

Financial assistance for mature students
Whichever degree courses you choose to study, you will need to assess the financial implications and consider the sources of income (financial assistance) that may be available to you. Remember that as a mature student you may be eligible for government support in the form of the Student Support Childcare Grant, the Adult Dependants’ Grant or the Access to Learning Fund. If you choose to study the whole of your degree part-time, you may be eligible for assistance with your tuition fees from your Local Education Authority.

Many universities have Student Funding & Team who can provide applicants with information and guidance on sources of student funding, it’s well worth making enquiries with them.


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