Back in the saddle: a mature students’ guide

If you’re a mature student, the chances are you’ve probably been out of education for a while. Suddenly being thrust back into the world of academia can feel a bit daunting, but as one former mature student suggests, it’s a bit like riding a bicycle... by Julie Robinson

Going back to University was something I’d always promised myself. Faced with actually walking through the door on the first day, however, it turned out I was more nervous than excited. My biggest fear was that I wouldn’t remember what to do, but in more ways than one, it really was like getting back on a bike!

It didn’t take long to pick it up again…

I’d done a bit of preparation by taking an AS level the year before, but I still had doubts about whether I was ‘good’ enough and whether I’d be able to produce work of the standard required for a degree.

Fortunately, I’d overlooked two important things. Firstly, that I was on the course on merit, because someone had read my application and decided I was capable of doing it! And secondly, that academic study, as with most things, is something that gets easier with practice. Yes, I was a bit rusty to start with, but once I’d stopped panicking, I actually found that I got back into the swing of things relatively quickly.

The other thing to remember is, if there are things you’re finding challenging, there are lots of places you can look to for help. I had a fantastically supportive personal tutor and my module/seminar leaders were there to answer more specific questions about the course. I also attended quite a few skills sessions in my first year to help with more general things like academic writing and referencing. So, take full advantage of your tutors’ office hours, make friends with your Academic Support Librarian and investigate the workshops and 1-2-1 support on offer from Student Careers and Skills if there are specific things you need help with.

I still had the occasional wobble…

For me, it was usually exams. My coursework marks weren’t bad, in fact they were pretty good, so my first set of test results came as a bit of an unpleasant surprise. Just when I was starting to relax and enjoy the ride, I’d suddenly hit a bump in the road!

As it turned out, exams just weren’t my thing. I worked on my technique (the skills workshop on exams might help here) and my marks improved slightly, but so did my coursework grades, so I never did really close the gap. The one thing I did learn, however, was that modules which were mostly (or even 100 per cent) coursework played to my strengths, so, when I was choosing optional modules, these tended to be the ones I went for. As a general rule the King of the Mountains isn’t always the fastest sprinter, so work out what you’re good at and try to steer yourself in that direction!

The hills seem easier if you ride with the peloton…

mountain

One of my biggest concerns before arriving at University was that everyone else would be so much younger than me and I’d have no one to talk to. I’m pleased to say, I was wrong! The majority of people I encountered on my course were really friendly and welcoming and I also came across a surprising number of other mature students along the way, in my department, on shared modules with other courses and even someone I worked with!

There were always plenty of people from my course to chat with if I was having difficulty with a particular topic, but developing a network outside of my immediate academic context also gave me the chance to talk about some of the issues that the other students had less understanding of, particularly around juggling study with work, home and family commitments. Warwick SU has a dedicated officer supporting Part-Time and Mature Students and they should be able to point you in the direction of any relevant groups or events where you can meet people in a similar situation.

Sometimes there are advantages to being a ‘veteran’…

As the old adage goes ‘with age comes experience’ and the one thing I found as a mature student was that I already had a lot of the skills I needed to get me through the course. Time management, prioritisation and project management were all particularly useful, but I think the biggest thing was having the confidence to just go and talk to people – something the 18-year-old me would have been horrified by! The other thing I suspect is that I took far more advantage of some of the extracurricular activities – guest lectures, film screenings, research seminars – than I probably would have done had I gone straight from school and I’m sure I got more out of the experience from being that little bit older…

That’s not to say being a mature student doesn’t come with challenges, but getting back in the saddle is still one of the best decisions I ever made!

Images: Legendary R-1000 / tonykuoli / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

February 4.2-17 “FDR” Denver Airport Cycleton Group Ride / reid.neureiter / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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