Getting into university as a mature student
Not all people with an aptitude for learning complete the steps from high school to degree or further without a break. Some take a gap year to travel the world, some volunteer for social service, and some are forced by personal circumstances to take up jobs.
Fortunately, for these “mature students” (also called “older” or “adult” students), many universities and colleges seem more than willing to give them a second shot at education.
These students may initially face some difficulties readjusting to school environment, but soon discover the joy of learning new skills and meeting new people and, a few years later, the advantages of acquiring higher academic degrees.
Who’s a ‘mature student’?
How do you define “mature student”? They are students who are 21 or over at the start of their programs, who didn’t or couldn’t continue their education to join a university in the “normal” course.
According to the UK-based UCAS (University and College Admissions Service), more than 50 percent of mature students are between 21 and 24 years, 38 percent between 25 and 39, and 10 percent over 40 when they start their studies.
Advantages/disadvantages of being a mature student
For mature students, higher education presents a second chance and often opens a new chapter in their lives.
It might support a desire to change their career by imparting new skills or help in the development of a whole new career. Besides, it certainly offers most of them a new life perspective.
Mature students have many advantages, including world experience and wisdom. Many of them are able to focus on studies better than other students.
They also find connecting with their professors and networking with their peers easier and build relationships with their college mates through their maturity and understanding (Ask this fairly mature MBA grad who started his degree after 13 years of work experience).
They also readily relate to most concepts they are taught, thanks to their work/life experience.
Many young students have to be pressured to go to college and take their studies seriously.
But mature students don’t need prodding, because they are at university because they want to be. Often, they have a clear sense of purpose.
They able to also manage their time better. By already knowing that time is precious they can prioritize their schedule properly and select courses/subjects that will be useful or of interest to them.
The disadvantages are that they have to balance their family responsibilities with their studies.
Many mature students are married and have children to take care of. Their families also have to make adjustments to help them get through school.
There is also the college tuition fees to worry about. However, after completing their studies, many of them find jobs that pay better and provide faster and more lucrative career progress.
At least initially, many mature students feel at a loss when surrounded by talented, confident, and younger students.
But they soon come to enjoy their interactions and find joy and satisfaction in acquiring new knowledge and skills.
They also initially struggle to come to grips with technology, as most probably dealt with much less when they were at university or college the first time.
But they learn by seeking the help of their younger classmates, and the experience also improves their confidence.
Mature students are welcomed by university and college authorities for the perspectives that they bring, their skills, their experience, and their commitment to study.
Education officials are therefore willing to offer them flexibility in admissions criteria and programs.
How to get into university as a mature student
Universities and colleges will require proof of the student’s ability to take up a course. Work experience, prior qualifications, and open-university and access-course credits come in handy.
In the UK, when mature students don’t have adequate qualifications, a two-year Access to Higher Education course helps them achieve the qualifications in a range of subjects.
Students may also be able to take a year’s foundation course that to update them on their chosen subject and chart the way forward, which could be particularly useful if they have spent a few years out of college.
Students need to select a course that would help them the most. Selecting an ideal course enables them to focus on studies.
UCAS provides an advanced tool that helps them based on their course, study level and year, and location.
Choice of college/university can be made based on whether a student requires a part-time or full-time course, accommodation, childcare facilities, etc.
For full-time courses, students need to apply through UCAS; for part-time, they can apply directly to universities/colleges.
After the undergraduate deadlines in October, January, and March, students can still apply till June provided colleges have seats left.
In the US, mature students require a verifiable high-school diploma or a GED (General Education Department) certificate that is issued after they have passed four subject tests at the high-school level.
They then attend a community college for two years and enter university as a junior.
If a student completed high school more than five years ago, many community colleges don’t ask for the diploma, but the student needs the pass tests to determine where he/she can start.
Students can also attend preparatory classes in subjects in which they’re weak.
Open-university and foundation courses are also good paths to enter university as they are flexible and fee payment is monthly and therefore smaller than huge annual payments.
Read MBA or MS in USA at 30 after 6 years of work experience
In Canada, usually 19-year-olds, and often 21-year-olds, are considered mature students, have been out of school for one or two years, and do not have the academic credentials that recent high-school graduates have.
Life and work experience are criteria for admission, regardless of past academic showing, but they may have to demonstrate academic readiness.
Mature students are also admitted on trial basis, but they can progress to achieve a full degree or transfer to a more selective program after completing the required courses.
Canadian universities, such as the University of Toronto, have academic bridging programs that enable mature students to quality for full-degree courses in humanities and social sciences.
Transitional year programs allow mature students who were unable to finish high school because of circumstances to pick up skills and move forward to arts and science courses.
According to a blog, changes in immigration laws have resulted in many international mature students going to Canada, as they win extra points for their application to permanent resident status if they hold a Canadian degree, and as their stay in Canada for study is counted as time spent in the country for the purpose of citizen application.
In Australia, at the Australian National University, for example, mature students should have completed Year 12, have an associate diploma, diploma, or advanced diploma, and one year consisting of eight courses at a university to rejoin the path to a full degree.
Mature students without these qualifications can choose from entry schemes depending on their confidence in their ability to join a university course.
These schemes include special adult-entry schemes, preparatory schemes, pre-tertiary studies, diploma/advanced diploma, and university study.
As someone says, getting along with hostel mates is not going to be the most worrying aspect for mature students.
It will be how to manage funding for their program and how to continue to financially support their families and pay mortgage at the same time.
Mature students face financial hurdles more than other students as they have to leave their jobs or reduce their work hours while having to continue to manage their commitments.
However, mature students find help from governments, schools, universities, and even their employers if they promise to go back to work with a degree.
Many schools in the US and UK have grant programs to fund childcare, mortgage repayments, and education of single parents.
The governments also support mature students through easy-repayment loans.
Maintenance loans and non-repayable maintenance grants help them meet living expenses, and tuition fee loans help them if they are studying for their first degree.
In some countries, in the UK, for example, mature students don’t have to start repaying their education loan until they start earning a certain annual salary.
The repayment is sometimes so low that the debtor may get decades to repay the debt.
Colleges and universities also offer scholarships and bursaries. Some universities and colleges employ students on campus or help them find work in the locality.
The UK also provides childcare grants and parents’ learning allowances, besides tax reliefs.
Another option for mature students is to continue to work while they earn their degree.
At least some of them are able to persuade their employer to allow part-time work that allows them to organize their studies around work.
But although it is an ideal situation, keeping a job and pursuing studies at the same time require a lot of effort.
Mature student personal statement
The objective of the personal statement is to persuade a university/college to admit you, so you need to first be in a positive frame of mind while you sit down to write it.
Show that you’re really interested in your chosen subject and provide evidence, if possible. If you don’t have traditional qualifications, find aspects of your work that would present your communication, management, and organizational skills.
Say what your aims and ambitions are after completing your course. Any voluntary work that you could mention will serve as the icing on the cake.
As soon as you sit down, write down your points.
Visit the website of the university/college and find out what they are looking for in an applicant.
Show them that you have these qualities and skills.
Don’t lose focus; if you do, and you feel like you’re rambling, take a break. But don’t put off the writing for too long.
Take care of your language, and watch out for spelling and grammar mistakes.
Don’t lie, as you will likely be caught out by the interviewers.
Is it worth it?
Is it worth going to university as a mature student?
Bloggers and forum participants say that at a personal level, the opportunity to meet new people, many of them much younger than you, a refreshing change in the dynamics of daily life, consistency of purpose over the duration of the course, and learning new and favorite subjects are the highlights.
If you’re going to university in another city or country, which may not be so likely for a mature student with family, the experience will possibly be even richer.
At a professional level, a degree helps plot a different career path or improve your job level at your old workplace. Your degree course will help sharpen your skills, and the university experience will make you more well-rounded.
Best universities for mature students
Your choice matters, and you will have the top questions of location near home/workplace and the cost of attendance when deciding on a university as a mature student. Here are some of the other top questions.
Are there special programs exclusively for mature students in the university/college?
Are the entry requirements flexible? Does the university lower the entry requirements or consider equivalent qualifications?
How friendly and encouraging are the admissions staff?
Among mature-student-friendly universities in the UK are the universities of Oxford, Cambridge (Hughes Hall, St. Edmunds, Lucy Cavendish, and Wolfson), Kent, St. Andrews, York, Bath, Exeter, and Strathclyde, Queen’s University (Belfast), and Durham University.
In the US, the best universities for older students include the universities of Texas (Dallas), Massachusetts, Utah, Ohio, Alabama (Birmingham), California State University (Bakersfield), Golden Gate University, Northcentral University, Brandman University, Regis University, Florida International University, Walden University, Thomas Edison State University, Fairmont State, and Northwest Nazarene University.
Among the best colleges are Charter Oak State College, SUNY Empire State College, Metropolitan College of New York, Excelsior College, Notre Dame of Maryland University, University of Maryland University College, Granite State College, Lewis and Clark College, and Peirce College.
In Canada, the universities of Victoria, Saskatchewan, Fraser Valley, Windsor, and Regina, and Centennial, Georgian, Niagara, Fleming, and St. Claire colleges are mentioned as the best in the country.
In Australia, Victoria and Monash universities and the Australian National Universities, among other institutions, have introduced course options for mature students.
Given the many options and advantages, it may never be too late to reenter temples of learning.
Tips for mature students
- Choose right—go for a flexible program at a “friendly” university or college
- Start right—organize your childcare, read assessment guidelines, take a computer refresher course, buy the necessary study material, visit local library
- Seek support—from family for school pickup, meals, study time
- Study within your means—cut study costs where you can
- Set realistic targets—consider your academic skills and possible distractions when you go for your goals
- Plan your time—your responsibilities are going to increase, so better master time management
- Prioritize your academic duties—don’t try to do everything all at once; plan for your deadlines but don’t forget your professional and domestic responsibilities
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– Am I too old for an MBA degree?
– Average Age and Work Experience at the Top MBA Programs
– Career options and life after retirement from Military, Air Force and Navy
References: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25