The 7 Secrets to Surviving University for Mature Students

Sussex university, mature student, starting uni, fresher

Thinking of going back to university? Over the age of 30? Read my 7 secrets to surviving university to avoid making the same mistakes I did as a 31 year old Fresher and make the most of your time as a mature student:

1. Choose your course carefully: Why do you want to go to uni? Do you need a specific qualification or are you just ready to learn something new? If you are aiming for a certain job do your research, find out what potential employers are looking for and how likely they are to recruit graduates from your course. Is there some specific work experience you can gain in that area before you start? If so now’s the time to start volunteering a few hours a week, because when you graduate your existing working relationships could come in very handy to help you stand out from the crowd and get that job.

2. Join in: Yes, being a Fresher when you are over 30 can feel a bit weird, and being around all those gorgeous teens and twenty-somethings can make you feel a bit old and wrinkly, but it can also be a real benefit to make some friends and allies on your course. The younger members of the group can be utter geniuses at helping with techie issues and will be able to show you how to save things in clouds and all sorts of exciting things! They are also a lot of fun to be around and will keep you young and cool(ish)! So get involved socially if you can now and then, no one is expecting you to be out clubbing all night if you have kids at home, but joining in the odd fun activity over a flavoured vodka can really help form supportive friendships. And don’t forget you have a lot to offer your fellow students too, whether it’s just a bit of life experience, how to cook a chicken without getting food poisoning, or tips on applying for jobs, chances are you’ve been there and got the t-shirt, so don’t be afraid to share your experiences.

2. Don’t panic if you change your mind: Choosing the right course can be a very difficult decision, and may have taken you an age, but don’t worry, if you have already started and you are having second thoughts, you might just need to talk it through and find out more about what’s to come on your course, and it might not be too late to switch. Ideally before you apply to uni you should think about what you really have a passion for and love doing and if you pick the right course your studies will come naturally to you. But if you think you have chosen the wrong course just get some advice as quickly as possible and if it’s your first term you won’t have missed much if you need to change your course.

3. Don’t believe everything you hear! It’s always the brainy ones that say they’re not doing any work and are out all night partying. This creates a popular idea that year 1 of your course is just a practice for the real thing, you can really flunk out and it doesn’t matter. This may be the case if your life always goes swimmingly, or you really can party all night and stay awake in lecture theatres the next day, but for most mature students taking a degree is like juggling six balls, if one drops the whole act could fall through. If you have a crisis or an unexpected issue in year 2 onwards it will help your cause no-end if your tutors can see that in year 1 you gave a consistent performance and took your studies seriously from the outset. Believe me, you’ll be glad you worked hard if a crisis rears it’s ugly head – you’ll have far less to catch up on and far more support from your tutors and peers too.

4. Be honest with yourself: What are you really good at, and what is your weakest subject? You’ve successfully chosen your course but in year 2 you’ll need to choose your next modules. If you decide, like I did, to challenge yourself with a module you know you will find tricky (flipping hard!), be prepared to work uber hard, or to potentially take a hit on your final points. I made the mistake of taking a module I knew I would find tough (foolishly) thinking I would benefit from the extra challenge. What-a-mistaka-to-maka! Yes, I enjoyed it, but I found it very hard and came in under par compared to all my other modules. In the end it could have made a difference to my final result and I wished I’d realised that at the time and had been more honest with myself about my likely performance. This goes for your dissertation too – choose a topic and theme you genuinely enjoy – you will know that topic inside out by the time you do the Dissertation-Dash so you might as well enjoy it!

6. Don’t be too much of a swot! Mature students are generally highly motivated at uni, they have often taken years out of their career, and/or a big hit on their finances and lifestyle to be able to attend in the first place. So naturally they can also be very keen to make a good impression with tutors and very excited to impart any knowledge they may already have (because they are so keen they bought and read all the text books a year early) on the rest of the class. But don’t forget, as a mature student your life experience may have given you more confidence to answer every question, and some of the younger students around you may just be a little shy. It’s nice to let them speak too! And if you shoot your hand up at every given opportunity you might as well shoot yourself in the foot because they’ll soon learn to leave it all to you and when you are feeling a bit tired/hungover/brain-dead you’ll wish they hadn’t come to expect all the answers from Suzie-Swot!

7. Never be too proud to ask for help: If you are struggling, personally, financially or in any aspect of your studies, don’t hesitate to ask for help. As a mature student you will have tremendous pride in your achievements, of course, but unforeseen issues can affect anyone and carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders will stop you from enjoying the amazing opportunities you now have at uni. There will ALWAYS be someone who can help you work it out, and even just talking it through can be a huge relief. Studying is hard. Managing your life/family/workload is hard. The two together are exhausting. Sometimes you will cry. I promise you that. But this is your time now and you will have some of the best days of your life and memories that will stay with you forever when you are at uni.

Being a mature student is a pleasure and a privilege, just take some time to enjoy it and soak it up my friend. Soak. It. Up.

Do you have any secrets for surviving uni? How did you get through it? Where did you go and what did you study? Or is studying something you would like to do one day? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Donna xx

Mums' Days

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