Staying the course

There are many different reasons to enrol on a higher education course.

  • This might include the desire to start a new career or develop an existing one, to turn an interest into something more or to start a new chapter in life.
  • As a mature student, you may be worried about how you'll cope with the demands of academic work – particularly if you've been out of education for a few years.
  • However, there's lots of support available to help you make the most of your time at university or college.

Najib Rasooli

'Education was the only way to survive' – Najib fled Afghanistan at 15; higher education gave him strength and direction in the face of adversity. Watch his video and read his story in the Related case studies below

Coping with demands of study

Most mature students are nervous when they start their course.

  • There's no doubt that higher education is challenging and you need to be prepared for the demands of academic life.
  • However, the university or college that takes you on will have every confidence in your abilities, and each course provider will offer some form of support for mature students in their first year of study.
  • See the 'Getting help' section below.

I struggled with language, and although I didn’t want to mix with other people at that time, I realised that having a life with no education was not what I wanted. I enrolled for English classes because it took my mind off of my problems and, I found, gave me fun and enjoyment."

Najib Rasooli, Sheffield Hallam University

Getting ready

How you can prepare

Sort out in advance areas such as finance, childcare and travel, and set priorities for the way in which you are going to run your life as a student.

Draw up a schedule

It might be a good idea to draw up a schedule of how you'll manage your time in a typical week as a student. To do this, you need to find your course timetable and work out roughly how much time to spend on campus. Take into account, for example, time to be spent in the library and at social events. And don’t forget to leave time for yourself.

Mutual support

You'll meet many new people and make lots of new friends as a student. You may not always find your course easy, and life as a mature student will have its challenges, but you will have the benefit of studying with others who have similar interests and are encountering the same problems. They will be there to provide mutual support when the going gets tough, and will value the support you can provide too.

Take time to settle in

Give yourself time to settle in and adapt to student life, as well as to find ways of balancing these new commitments with the demands of, for example, running a home, working or raising a family. Where you need to update your skills you will find the university or college offers programmes to support you. Try to make the best use of the help available.

Getting help

What support is there?

When you arrive there may be a welcome event for mature students. They're a great opportunity to meet others who are going through the same experiences as you.

  • You'll also hear about other support networks – such as the mature students’ union and association.
  • In addition, there are numerous societies and clubs you can join, and other specialist services you can access.
  • Some universities  run peer support schemes for mature students, where they're ‘buddied’ in their first term with a returning mature student in the same department.

Other forms of support include nursery and crèche facilities, and access support, which may cover things like IT and study skills.

Check what's on offer with your chosen university or college's student support team.

Coping with financial difficulty

Finance is an issue for all students, regardless of age.

  • It can be particularly difficult for mature students, who are often faced with a range of competing commitments.
  • Mature students who drop out of their studies report financial hardship as one of the main reasons for not completing their courses.
  • The student finance calculator can help you plan your finances.
  • Many course providers employ specialist staff with knowledge of debt management, income maximisation and budgeting who can help you plan better.