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Planning a career change: Should I go back to university as a mature student?

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If you’re in your thirties or older and considering a career change, you’re not alone. Millennials have been described as the “job-hopping generation” because we are far less likely to stick to one position or even one profession than previous generations.

Whether you’re returning to study something new or enrolling for the first time, there are many reasons people delay attending tertiary education and eventually become mature students:

  • Family commitments
    If you had children at a relatively young age or had caring responsibilities for other family members, pursuing further education may not have been an option before. Thankfully, there’s no age limit on learning, so you’re free to apply whenever your circumstances are supportive.
  • The cost of tuition
    Depending on where you live in the world, studying can be very expensive. Maybe you weren’t willing or able to make that investment before. Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean you’ve missed your chance! If you now have the resources to pursue higher education, it could certainly boost your income-making potential in the future.
  • Started working after high school
    If you managed to secure employment straight out of high school, you might not have seen the need for further study. However, later in life, you may be noticing attractive opportunities that require specific qualifications.
  • Uncertainty about what to study
    When you think about it, we make very important decisions for our future at a surprisingly young age! Maybe you weren’t sure what you wanted to do when you were younger, so you chose not to study at all. Now that you’re older, you have a clearer idea about where you want to take your career. You know what you want to study, and you can still do it!
  • The desire for a career change
    Many mature students obtained a degree in the past. However, after some time in the workforce, they’ve now identified another subject that interests them. They may be looking to specialize in a specific topic or make a drastic career change. Either way, additional academic qualifications could help.

Feeling a little apprehensive about the prospect of studying as an older student? That’s completely natural! Most mature students have some doubts when it comes to returning to the classroom, but you shouldn’t let your worries deter you from taking a life-changing step.

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Here are some of the most commonly expressed concerns about life as a mature student:

  • “I won’t fit in with my peers.”
    It’s unlikely that you’ll be the only mature student in your course. Last year in England, mature students made up more than a third of the country’s undergraduates and exactly half of its postgraduate students, for example.
    Even if you are older than them, you have one crucial thing in common with your classmates: a shared interest in what you’re studying!
  • “I’ve forgotten how to study.”
    If you haven’t been in a classroom since you were a teenager, it’s understandable to feel intimidated by the prospect of further study. However, you’ll likely find the experience of higher education to be very different from high school!
    For people worried about their stale study skills, refresher courses can be found online.
  • “The classroom has changed too much.”
    The classroom has indeed changed significantly, but you’re not the only one adapting to these changes! Over the last couple of years, technology has transformed the educational environment.
    Post-pandemic, we’re all dealing with differences in our daily lives. Maybe this is the right time to embrace a new challenge.
  • “I won’t have anything to offer.”
    This couldn’t be further from the truth. Some mature students struggle with insecurity because they believe their ideas will be outdated or irrelevant in the eyes of their classmates. In reality, your wealth of real-life knowledge will undoubtedly enrich your learning.
    Coming from a different perspective will give your classroom contributions a fresh angle.
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Remember, every student has strengths and weaknesses, mature or otherwise. Younger students will also have concerns about starting their course. In fact, they may be equally intimidated by you!
After all, you enjoy many advantages as someone studying later in life, whether you realize them or not. For example, you have:

  • Increased self-confidence
    Now is a stressful time, but in general, you’ll find that you know yourself more than the average first-time student, and this will bring you confidence. Moreover, having experienced ups and downs in the workplace, you’re bound to bring a certain level of resilience to your studies.
  • Real-life experience
    Theory and practice are two different things. What you’ve gone through in life—whether that’s parenting, working, traveling, or any other meaningful experiences—will help you understand how what you learn in the classroom can be applied beyond it.
  • Focus and dedication
    Young students are often living independently for the first time, which brings a whole host of fun and stressful distractions! As a mature student, you’ve already gone through these formative experiences. This can bring a greater degree of focus to your studies.
  • Informed decision-making
    When mature students choose to enroll, they usually have a goal in mind and are ready to commit themselves fully to achieving it. As a result, they are likely to approach the experience of studying very strategically, making smart decisions for their future.
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Are you planning to return to university as a mature student? Here are some top tips to ensure you make the most of this opportunity:

  • Remember that you’re not alone. Use online forums to connect with other mature students if there aren’t any in your class.
  • Access additional support if required. Maybe you need to boost your IT skills, or you’re unsure about citing sources. Courses and resources are available!
  • Consider flexible study options. Studying part-time and/or online could help you balance your responsibilities.
  • Think deeply about your skills and interests. Then, choose a course that you’ll really enjoy and one that will support you to succeed.
  • Don’t wait too long! After all, if the prospect of studying in your thirties scares you, how will you feel in your forties? It makes sense to take action sooner rather than later.

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