University’s all well and good when you’re a young buck with cash to burn – but when you’re getting long in the tooth, nights of partying on campus make you want to reach for your Horlicks and catch 40 winks.
Student unions up and down the country aim for a specific demographic – there’s a reason why Made in Chelsea stars make a shedload from guest appearances at student club nights. Sandi Toksvig or Armando Iannucci probably won’t be heading to a union near you any time soon.
University applicant body UCAS gear almost all their marketing towards school leavers, leaving the older generation to figure out a path for themselves.
In an institution expecting a large majority of 18-year-olds to enter their first year, how can a mature student feel like they’ll fit in?
Mature students stick together
Some universities are well aware of this problem. The University of Bristol groups its mature students together in an attempt to create a more approachable atmosphere.
Alison Wylie, a mature student who took her second degree at Bristol in 2008, said, “I was worried I would be older and ‘different’, but the other matures have the same other responsibilities and the same attitude to study, which is an enormous boost.”
While younger students make friends in halls or on wild nights out, their older counterparts have to socialise in classrooms. But with the added strains of parent and working life, even the social aspect of learning might recede to the background.
Moreover, separating mature students from their younger counterparts runs the risk of ghettoising them. In a microcosm of society filled with youth, some older students could feel even more alien.
The positives – and alternatives
Alison, however, sees the positives in becoming a student later in life: “I would encourage anyone who wants to keep active post child-rearing to take up studies again.
“It’s by no means easy, but this first year has shown me that with support and understanding from the tutor and peer group, those of us who have not studied for a long time can fall into the pattern of time management and stimulating work.”
Those on the hunt for a more concentrated form of study, without the distractions of campus, have turned to the net.
Online business degrees have improved in leaps and bounds for mature students, allowing them to study while they work. While younger students might grow impatient at the isolation inherent in online studying, the more mature among us might take comfort in cramming from home.
Many people who have felt excluded by the youthful faces at university have found their footing in distance learning, or bit the bullet and socialised with a younger crowd. But no matter what path you choose, the added focus that comes with age will help you on your way.