Things they don’t tell you about being a mature-age uni student

Let me tell you about Pete.

I met him on a fishing trip. He looked and sounded like a wharfie, with scrubby stubble and what you might call an earthy sense of humour.

I thought he was a tradie. I was half right. He used to be a builder, but at the age of 28 and with a skill set that was already providing him and his family with a healthy income, he took the brave step of chucking in his job and enrolling at university.

Like so many young people, he had started on a career path not entirely of his own choosing. His dad had encouraged Pete to take up a trade so he could fend for himself, and Pete didn't know any better.

But by the age of 28 he knew exactly what he wanted to do - medicine. So off to uni he went while his wife kept the household ticking over.

When I met Pete he was in fact Professor Pete, a obstetrics specialist who was renowned for his work in IVF.

The Australian medical community would have been poorer but for Pete's decision to enter university 10 years after many of his classmates in school had done so.

He initially had a few fears about going into an environment where almost everyone else was younger than him and, in his mind, probably way smarter.

Pete was worried that he would make a fool of himself, that he would be out of his depth, that he would be wasting his and his lecturers' time.

His concerns were unfounded. Pete had something that so many younger students struggle to find - focus.

He wasn't going to be sidetracked by the social side of university, he had considerable life experience under his belt, and he knew why he had enrolled and what outcome he wanted.

Never too late

Pete is a great example of why studying at university should not be ruled out as an option just because you are at a different stage of life than the usual student cohort.

There are plenty of reasons why people choose to start or return to study as a mature student ("mature" in university-speak means anyone over the age of 23).

Like Pete, it could be because they have found clarity about what career they want, or it could be a desire to upgrade professional skills or acquire new qualifications in a bid to advance a career already chosen.

Perhaps it stems from a love for learning, or it's viewed as a pathway to personal fulfilment.

Whatever the reason, going to university as a mature student has the potential to change your life for the better, and due to the flexibility that modern universities offer in terms of how you structure a course, people can tailor a learning program to suit their lifestyles.

There is also plenty of evidence that mature students do better at university than those fresh out of high school.

Here's some reasons why:

They are self-starters

Mature students make the decision to go to university. They haven't been persuaded to enrol by peers, parents or a school careers counsellor. They know exactly what they want to achieve and why. In other words, they are focused on an outcome of their choosing. The motivation to study springs from within themselves.

Unlike the younger brigade, mature students are less likely to be rendered delirious by the social freedoms and temptations campus life can provide.

They have life experience

Putting university on hold for years or even decades doesn't mean people haven't been getting educated in the meantime.

Mature students usually have learned many skills that will be useful when taking on tertiary study.

Time management for one. They've already worked out how to juggle work, family commitments and personal commitments. Prioritising comes naturally.

They are usually better networkers than kids straight out of school, and therefore can harness help from fellow students, tutors, lecturers and others who can assist in their learning.

An abundance of enthusiasm

Mature students are keen as mustard. They are up for the intellectual challenge and relish the stimulation that comes from re-entering the world of learning after perhaps having been stuck in a bit of a rut for a few years.

School-leavers, on the other hand, have already sat through more than a dozen years of formal teaching without a break and can be a tad jaded or easily distracted.

They can do it their way

Because mature students have in all likelihood spent a few years having to prioritise their time between work, family and social commitments, they already have the skills to integrate study into their daily routines.

Modern universities are also vastly different places of learning than they were even a decade ago. New technology has created flexibility for students and academics alike, changing the ways - and timeframes - in which people can participate in courses.

Griffith University's Flexible Degree program, for example, allows students to structure their learning schedules across three semesters each year instead of the traditional two, which means they can accelerate or minimise study workloads according to their needs.

Online resources also facilitate the convenience of learning from home or in remote areas, which is a great option for people who have parenting or job responsibilities that restrict their ability to attend campus.

The window never closes

It is obvious that society is going through an upheaval created by disruptive technologies the likes of which hasn't been seen since the Industrial Revolution.

The ways we work and learn are at the forefront of that change, and it is creating countless opportunities for people willing to adapt.

Education is the key to grasping those opportunities. With more ways than ever before to upgrade your knowledge through innovative and flexible university courses, the window for learning need never shut.

And as Pete discovered, age is no barrier.


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