As many of you will know, I am in my final year of my Open University degree. I’m in my final month now to be precise, and over this time I have been asked many times, ‘what’s it like to be a mature student?’ So I thought I’d try to answer that here, from my personal experiences, and I hope it might persuade one or two others to take the leap as I haven’t once regretted it.
Now I can’t draw a direct comparison with being a student now to being a student straight after school as I didn’t do it. I deferred my place to read History at Warwick University, went to work, and then never got to university. However, I did pick up with the Open University a couple of years later when I started this degree (yes, there’s been a big gap in the middle!), so I was still relatively young then.
Back then I was very confident and didn’t overthink any of it. Looking back it was good, actually, as I don’t recall worrying over assignments as I do now, and yet I didn’t attend any tutorials or have the array of online support that is available nowadays. I simply went through my books and materials and submitted my essays by post, oh those were the days! I worked full time then and I’d say for those people working full time to take full advantage of the little gaps in their day that they might not currently fill – lunch breaks, commutes and the like can be great for study times. That’s how I got it done, with weekends here and there spent writing assignments. The time flew by and I soon had a couple of modules under my belt.
Nowadays things are a little different. Not only because I have changed, but the whole process has changed, as the internet has been something of a game changer. Many tutorials are online, materials are online, assignments are submitted there and there are online forums, Facebook groups, Twitter and more where you can find support or simply chat to people in a similar position as you. It’s nice to be able to do that, as it helps you to feel part of a community when most of your studying is completed alone.
In these recent years of studying and completing my other four modules, around my work here and my family, I have been very aware of my kids. I still feel that I am getting this degree for me, something that I want to do for me, but there’s also a part of me getting it for them. I am sacrificing time away from them whilst I study, and in doing that, I must make it worth that time, the time that they lose. I think that’s a balance that many mature students will need to strike, juggling family life, work and studying.
I enjoyed returning to the books, taking notes, putting together essay plans and writing them, though I would say that this is another common challenge for mature students as it has been some time since we were at school and working in this kind of environment. There is lots of support in place, so this needn’t be the thing that stops you from going for it. I know that I have learned plenty along the way in these areas, some through feedback and some through self-awareness, but challenging myself academically was always part of the enjoyment for me, it was not something I feared at the outset. My issue was always more about fitting it in and keeping it going.
I think this is where the biggest difference as a mature student really is, the fact that studying is just one element of what you need to do, being a student is just one of your many hats. The chances are if you go to university straight out of school that your world will then revolve around your study commitments, whereas I feel as a mature student that everything else needs to get done and then I must find time to study. So it’s a case of balancing and evaluating your time a little differently. You will be amazed by the fact that you will find time to do it, though I think motivation and determination are absolute musts for mature students as there are likely to be several things demanding your attention all at once.
Certainly at an institution like the Open University, there are plenty of mature students. They have a great mix, from school leavers through to retirees, so a wealth of different experiences are brought to the table at tutorials. I’d definitely recommend attending these, face to face or online, as they bring the study materials to life and it can be great to talk things over with other students as well as your tutor. In my experiences of these so far, I am often one of the youngest in the room – me, at 40!
It can be easy for people to forget what you’re working hard at, as it’s not visible to everyone that you are a student. They might see you at work or out with your family, but it’s unlikely they sit and watch you study – that would be a bit strange, wouldn’t it?! I think that can be difficult sometimes, as it is likely to be a big part of your life and something that you’re working really hard at, and it can feel overlooked. I have little advice to offer on this front, to be honest, I think it comes with the territory, so just know that fellow students do get it, and we are one hundred per cent behind you.
The biggest thing I’d say is to believe in yourself. It gets harder to do that the further we get from those school days, I think, but you can do it. So many of us are on this journey, and we’re doing it, we are going back to studying and are making a success of it. So give it a go, give it your all, and enjoy it.
You can read more about my Open University journey here. It’s been a long one, but I am nearly there now.
Are you a mature student? What would you add?