Returning to study after years away from textbooks can transform your career, but it can also be daunting. As a mature student, you might worry that you’ll feel isolated and stand out among all the 19-year-olds, or that you won’t remember how to structure an essay.
So, it’s good to remember that you’re not alone: plenty of other older people tread the same path and head back to the classroom and lecture theatre after years in the workplace. We gathered some testimonies from people who overcame their fears about going back to study, and found out the things they wish they had known beforehand.
Your experience counts
Tim, who studied English and creative writing at university after years of working in retail and the charity sector, says he hadn’t expected his career experience to help in his studies. But he says returning to learning taught him that “there is no such thing as wasted experience”.
His previous jobs gave him a unique perspective, while he also learned from other students’ backgrounds. “The conversations around the course material are always so rich and so interesting, because everybody’s got a different view about it,” he said.
Double check the financial support on offer
There is help available to ease the transition from work back into study, but make sure you know what you’re eligible for. Sian, who blogs as Helpful Mum, says she had to take on “a huge amount of additional debt” because a childcare grant she’d expected did not materialise.
You can get childcare funding if you’re in full-time higher education with children under 15 and it doesn’t have to be paid back. But you have to be eligible for other student finance like loans to qualify.
Making friends is easier than you think
Many mature students think they’ll struggle to build a rapport with younger students or meet people who are like them. And since having a support network is a huge help in getting through your studies, that can be a real concern.
Elliott, who recorded a series of YouTube videos as the Immature Student, began his degree at the age of 27 said he worried that 18-year-olds or 20-year-olds “won’t want to hang out with the crazy old guy”. But in reality, it turned out that some of the other people on his course were aged from their 20s to their 60s. And almost all the students were welcoming and friendly, because everyone “was there for the same reason – to learn a particular subject”.
Don’t worry about rusty study skills
Claire said that when she returned to education as a student nurse, she was intimidated by keen young students putting their hands up who seemed to know so much more than her. But after putting in the work at home, she soon got the hang of it again. “Once you get into it and start revising and reading up on things, you’re going to be amazing, I promise you,” she said.
She said some students on her course had been out of education for 20 years and still got high grades. Claire recommends making use of all the support your institution offers, such as library drop-in clinics, online resources and personal tutors. “Please don’t think you’re alone in this,” she said.
The risks are worth it
Putting your career on hold to go back into education can feel like a big risk, but it’s one that very often pays off. Hannah started a second undergraduate degree to pursue a subject she’s passionate about – physics – at the University of Nottingham. She said starting a bachelor’s degree all over again was “probably a one step back, two steps forward kind of thing”.
“Although there will be four years where I might not have much money at all, if I then went straight into graduate employment, I would probably be earning much more than I ever would in the previous career I had,” she says. “So, I think the risks are worth it.”