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University as a Mature Student: 5 Lessons

University as a Mature Student: 5 Lessons main image

DD Osborne recently graduated from London Metropolitan University with a BA in Journalism and Creative Writing. Having started university for the first time aged 44, she shares some useful advice for other mature students...

I started my first semester at university in February 2010. With the first class cancelled due to a snow storm, it felt just like being back at school on the first day after the summer holidays. I couldn’t help but feel a sense of dread.

This time, however, it was different; I was a mature student, 44 years old, starting university for the first time.  Just like the younger ones starting out, I felt both daunted and excited. I was looking for something completely different in my life: a new direction, a new start.

Little did I know how much I would change as a result!

Lesson 1: Research university majors before you start

I’d made a quick decision to go to university, and chosen the subject almost as rapidly. I soon realized it would have helped to do a little more research before starting classes.

One of my classes in the first year always puts a smile on my face.  I had the chance to laugh about this with the lecturer in question recently. I sat down to this first class and didn’t understand one word that was said. I had no idea what the lecturer was talking about, not one bit; it was as if I was listening to a foreign language.  

I immediately booked an appointment with my personal advisor and told him I felt I couldn’t cope with the juggling of four modules; it seemed insurmountable. (I didn’t admit that I had no clue as to what one module was about.)  I was advised to go part-time and gather my thoughts as to just what I was undertaking.

Now, I don’t want to put any of you mature students off here! Just because I had a panic attack and felt I couldn’t cope in the early days of that first semester, doesn’t mean you will. I would advise you to research university majors before you commit three years of your life to them, that’s all. This led me to turn my Journalism degree into joint Journalism and Creative Writing at the end of the first year, following an elective class in prose fiction taught by the most inspiring, award-winning women writers.

Lesson 2: Find a good study space

In the first year, I couldn’t work anywhere but the university library, where I was constantly being disturbed by other students talking. The students were very polite about me belting out ‘Schhhhh’ in their faces though; they must have thought I was a lecturer!

I’m also sure (because of my incessant complaining to the chancellor’s office that year) that the red ‘Silent Zone’ signs are all over the second floor of the library now.  As far as I was concerned, the university had a duty to provide a quiet study space.

The second year I could only study at home, where the distractions in my flat, which had got to me in the first year, seemed to disappear. I took pictures of my desk covered in books upon books, full of page markers, piled up on top of each other where I would construct ‘mind bending essays’ as I used to call them, for weeks on end.

Sound horrible?  If it does, then university is not for you! 

Lesson 3: Don’t get distracted

Be prepared to read and read and read even more.  Journals, papers, books and more books, it’s endlessly inspiring. But don’t get distracted!

What I was uncovering and discovering about whichever subject I was researching was so interesting and endless that I would often go off point, and it would inevitably reflect in my marks.  

As the Head of the Department said to me at the end of course booze-up, ‘If I remember you were prone to going off the question a little’.  So the next lesson is: read the essay question you are asked to write about and stick to it, no diverging.

Lesson 4: Don’t leave space for regrets

My final year led to me only being able to study at the British Library where I lived for six months of my life, day in, day out towards the end of my course.  I clocked the time when I typed the last word in my dissertation: 8:48pm.  It was over. I had done it.

I’d made a deal with myself when I started the course that I would work as hard as I could, so I’d never find myself thinking “If only I had worked harder…” I gained an upper second class honors, which I am very happy with. 

Lesson 5: Just go for it!

As a mature student, you may be old enough to be parents to the students around you, or older than some of the lecturers. I’ve found one blessing that comes with age is you don’t care what other people think. I went to university for myself, and I’m not ashamed to admit that it’s up in the top three most fantastic experiences I’ve had in my life so far. It has fundamentally changed me.

You may find you wish you had studied another subject than the one you chose. For me, I found out in my final year that I would have loved to have taken a literature and history degree. There you go. 

If you can, find out what really interests you before you make the commitment of studying, as that will make it all the more enjoyable. But one way or another, your passion will be revealed, regardless.

If you’re thinking of doing a degree as a mature student, go for it.  Simply put, it’s a truly amazing experience.

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