7 Fears You Might Have About Returning to University as a Mature Student | Top Universities

7 Fears You Might Have About Returning to University as a Mature Student

By Stephanie L

Updated March 25, 2021 Updated March 25, 2021

Sponsored by City, University of London

If you’re over the age of 21, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s too late to go back to university. Yet every year, thousands of mature students all over the world make that all-important decision to continue their education, whether it’s to study a subject they’re passionate about, to help with their career development, or to make a change and re-train to access a new industry or field.

Age is just a number and makes no difference when it comes to going to university, and so we’ve teamed up with City, University of London to help you take the plunge and overcome any fears that might be holding you back.

Having to learn how to essentially learn again

It may have been some time since you last stepped foot in a lecture hall and university library and you may feel overwhelmed at the prospect of having to take notes, participate in group tasks, give presentations, study for exams, and write assignments.

There will be many others who will be feeling the same way – whether they’re 21, 41 or 61. Studying a postgraduate degree is one of the most exciting and challenging experiences though, so try and remember this to help alleviate any pressure you put on yourself.

Don’t overcomplicate things either. If something doesn’t make sense, don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for clarification. Also, plan ahead and schedule time for your studies both at home and at work and try to have your own designated study space that’s solely yours where you can’t get distracted. Time management and organization here is key – everything else will follow.

Your personal tutor is a valuable contact during your studies. They can be a great source of support and advise you where to go, should you need help in other areas including academic and financial matters.

Essay phobia

The thought of researching, planning, writing, referencing and submitting a 2,000 word assignment that’s due in three weeks can be daunting – especially when it’s been a while since you last wrote one.

This is what Jasmine, an MSc in Information Science student at City felt when she returned to the world of academia after 13 years. “What if I couldn’t form sentences after so long away? Had the meanings of words changed since I’d last been in education?! And how on earth did you reference a source?,” she said.

At City, the Academic Learning Support team are on hand to offer professional and personalized one-to-one sessions, as well as help with online resources and regular academic skills group workshops.

“I found the ‘Citing and Referencing Basics’ session particularly helpful, but there are also workshops for essay writing, effective research methods and any other skill you might need. Plus, you can book in with a member of the Academic Support team to discuss essay drafts and projects,” Jasmine said.

Trying to balance your career and/or family

Although it might take some time to get your head around some things at the beginning, it’s important to remember that the priorities, responsibilities and commitments you have now probably aren’t the same ones you had in your late teens and early twenties.

Nowadays there’s no one-size-fits-all degree program. Options exist to study full-time, part-time, online, on-campus, off-campus, blended and even evening degrees, giving you the opportunity to balance your commitments and responsibilities much more easily.

I don’t have a good enough skillset

As a mature student you have the advantage of life experience that will better equip you and carry you forward in your studies.

If you’re looking to study a postgraduate degree in business, you should be confident in your ability to think analytically, critically and logically. Whereas if you’re leaning more towards a degree in humanities, strong communication, research and problem-solving skills are considered very valuable.

Universities are very much accustomed to teaching mature students who have been away from the academic scene for a while. At City, mature students are invited to attend workshops and events that aim to help develop their specialized skillsets.

Where am I going to live?

A lot of mature students will choose to study at a university that is close to where they live – but don’t feel like you have to do the same – especially if you are keen to experience something new and different.

Postgraduate mature student, Elizabeth travelled over 8,000 miles from South Africa to the UK to study an MSc in Cyber Security at City. “Moving to a different country, with a different culture, weather, environment can be tough,” she said.

“Putting your life on hold to pursue a dream is a challenge in itself but, in the end, you have to look at the rewards and what you want to achieve. If you weigh up the pros and cons, then the decision was an easy one,” she added.

City has a variety of dedicated halls of residence across London for postgraduate students.

Am I going to fit in?

At UK universities, it’s estimated that over half of mature students are between the ages of 21 and 24, while 40 percent of mature students are over the age of 30. Although many return to university to study a postgraduate degree, others are going for the first time to take an Access to Higher Education diploma course or enroll on their first undergraduate degree.

There’s no right or wrong way to be a mature student as you study alongside a range of like-minded individuals of all ages and backgrounds. It’s an enriching experience that can broaden your horizons. You may surprise yourself when you realize you have quite a lot more in common with your younger classmates than you first thought. With years of life experience, you’re also better equipped to build relationships and network with your peers and professors.

You’re unsure about how you’re going to fund your studies

Studying a master’s degree is a major investment and requires careful thinking and planning. There are many different funding options out there from government loans and bursaries, to grants and scholarships, so it’s important you do your research before applying.

City student Ruth studied the MSc in Speech and Language Therapy. Having worked in the environmental sector for six years, she talked about the changes and challenges of being a mature student. “It’s been a massive change from having a regular income to studying again. It is a challenge to fit in part-time work around the studies, but it is possible and it’s possible to have a social life too.”

Elizabeth also spoke about taking into account the financial aspects when making the decision to study a postgraduate degree full time: “It wasn’t easy leaving a steady income to take up full-time study and also university costs were something to consider.”

You can also speak to your university’s financial support team who can advise you on what to do should you need additional funding once your studies commence.

And don’t forget the power of the student discount – in the grand scheme of things this may seem trivial but you’ll learn to love it when it gets you a free coffee, discounted cinema tickets, transport and retail discounts! 

Remember why you’re doing it

“The main thing for me is that I know I’m going to be really making a difference in what I’m doing. I’m a people person and studying at postgraduate level has enabled me to work with people which is something that I really love,” said Ruth.

When asked what her advice would be for anyone else considering postgraduate study, Elizabeth said: “I would definitely encourage anyone considering postgraduate study to pursue it. You’ll gain a whole different way of thinking and meet so many interesting people from all over the world.

“My advice would be to tackle this with an open mind, an open heart, and to always start studying from day one!”.

This article was originally published in April 2020 . It was last updated in March 2021

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Written by

As the Head of Sponsored Content for TopUniversities.com and TopMBA.com (until September 2021), Stephanie created and published a wide range of articles for universities and business schools across the world. She attended the University of Portsmouth where she earned a BA in English Language and an MA in Communication and Applied Linguistics.


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