Research published by UCAS today shows that mature students are more likely to apply to universities and colleges close to home, primarily for a limited selection of vocational subjects, and when there are fewer jobs available.
Posted Thu 5 July 2018 - 00:01
This page was update on 10 October 2018, to include a supporting infographic in the 'Notes to editors' section.

Our analysis also shows significant regional variations in entry rates to full-time higher education among mature students, and these differ notably from the patterns in entry to university among applicants of different age groups. 

The report Admissions patterns for mature applicants (3.41 MB) compares the characteristics within groups of mature students aged 21 and over, to those aged 18, applying for full-time undergraduate courses. The key findings are as follows:

  • Living at home – mature students are more likely to live at home while studying full-time, and this likelihood increases with age. Half of 21 to 25 year olds live at home while studying, compared to nearly 80% of those aged 30 and over. In comparison, 18 year olds are more likely to attend a university over an hour away from their home, with over 50% having a drive time of 70 minutes or more.
  • Vocational subject choices – mature students are typically drawn to a small range of courses, with subjects allied to medicine (including nursing), education, and social studies the most popular. As more female students typically apply for these courses, this may explain why more than 70% of mature students over the age of 31, accepted to full-time degrees, are female.
  • Entry rates by region – in 2017, for mature students aged 21 to 50, entry rates to higher education by UK country and region are highest in Scotland, followed by London. However, due to differences in age distribution across the regions, entry rates vary by region for different age groups of mature applicants, with London having the highest entry rates for those aged 36 to 50.
  • Applications are higher when the job market is weaker – there appears to be a relationship between applications and the number of job vacancies. When the number of UK employment opportunities was at its lowest, between 2009 and 2011, application rates for full-time undergraduate courses from mature students peaked. Since 2015, the number of job vacancies has increased, while application rates for full-time study have declined. This suggests mature students look to the employment market when jobs are plentiful, and apply to higher education when jobs are sparse.

Clare Marchant, UCAS’ Chief Executive, said: ‘Mature students have different motivations, expectations, and needs compared to their younger counterparts.  Entering full-time higher education as an older student is a life-changing commitment, reflected in the focused choices many older students make to pursue highly vocational subjects.

‘UCAS’ resources for mature students are specifically tailored to help those who may not have recent or formal qualifications to make good university applications, as well as offering essential advice on how to prepare for higher education, financial support, and what to expect as a mature university student.

‘UCAS will be publishing insight about the most important factors influencing the application choices of mature students later this year, and this will inform how we further personalise information for older applicants.’

Professor Julie Lydon, OBE, Vice Chancellor at the University of South Wales, and Chair of the Universities UK project, ‘The economic case for flexible learning in higher education’, said: ‘Higher education has the power to transform lives. A university education opens doors to learning new skills, entering new careers, making lifelong connections, and making meaningful contributions to society.

‘It is crucial that these opportunities are made available as widely as possible to those who are qualified to take up these opportunities, and barriers do not stand in the way of these individuals to develop their potential.  

‘As the economy and demand for skills change, we are likely to see more people looking to learn and retrain throughout their lives. Advances in digital tools, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning are also going to change the way we work and learn. It is vital, therefore, that our universities respond to these changing needs.’

There has been a decline in the number of mature students applying for and entering higher education over the last three years. 2017 saw a 9.8% decrease in UK applicants aged 26 and over compared to 2016. This was in large part due to a fall in applicants for nursing courses in England, which fell by 23% in 2017. However, the number of students aged 26 and over declined by only 0.1%, as first reported in the 2017 UCAS Undergraduate End of Cycle Report (1.43 MB)


UCAS Press Office contact details


Phone: 01242 545 469

Notes to editors

Download the full report (3.41 MB).

Download detailed outputs from statistical models (23.93 KB).

Download the report’s supporting infographic (89.38 KB).

UCAS, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, is a charity, and the UK's shared admissions service for higher education. We manage almost three million applications, from around 700,000 people each year, for full-time undergraduate courses at over 380 universities and colleges across the UK.

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