8 Tips for Returning to Study as a Mature-Age Student

ici - 8 Tips for Successfully Returning to Study as a Mature-Age Student

Going to university for the first time can be a daunting experience. You’re meeting new people constantly, learning new things, spreading your wings, and managing the financial constraints that so often come with university life. It can be stressful, but it can also be the most exciting time of your life. It helps too that everyone else is on the same daunting journey, offering you comfort that you’re not alone.

For mature age students, the experience can be a little different. Mature age students are often juggling course commitments with the demands of family or working life, allowing less opportunity for the ‘fun’ side of uni. That said, mature age students generally do very well at university, as they tend to be highly motivated, focused, and eager to learn.

What is a mature age student?

A mature age student is anyone aged over 18 years who has been out of full-time education for at least one year. Coming from a variety of backgrounds, mature age students may have:

  • Taken a break for a year or two to travel before starting tertiary studies
  • Taken a year or two out to work and save for further studies
  • Returned to postgraduate study after a break of several years
  • Raised a family before starting tertiary studies
  • Changed career or are seeking higher pay or promotion.

Whatever the reasons for you being a mature age student, there are things you should consider to make the experience a little less daunting and a little more enjoyable…

1. Choose a ‘flexible’ program

When researching courses, look for alternative options to the standard undergraduate courses that run on a daytime schedule. Check out online courses, weekend or season-intensive programs, or units that may offer evening classes. Basically, the more flexibility your course offers, the easier your studies are to manage. Online is a popular choice with mature age students, as it allows you to work on what you want, when you want, and from the comfort of your own home. This is particularly handy if managing childcare or other work commitments.

At the International Career Institute, we provide a learning schedule that suits you. Because there are no schedules, you can complete your chosen course slowly or in record time. By not locking yourself into a classroom’s timetabled situation, you’re in control. And having that control dramatically takes the pressure off.

2. Start right

Before you even think about starting uni, get organised. A last-minute rush can leave you panicked and disorganised all semester long, so take the unnecessary stress out of your life by starting right. Read assessment guidelines, organise regular child care, purchase all books and equipment you need, explore the academic style guide, take a short computer refresher course, and take a tour of your local library. The more you do before day one, the less you’ll have to do when it comes to study time.

3. Seek support

If your uni studies are going to affect others in your family, make sure everyone in your inner support network is on the same page as to why you are choosing to return to study and how you will need support. Put measures in place to assist with ‘normal’ duties like school pick ups, housework, and cooking meals, and schedule regular ‘additional’ study times, perhaps in your local library.

Also remember that there are external supports available to you, be it via counselling, tutoring or financial assistance like Austudy. Visit study support websites and download helpful study apps. Most importantly, talk to your personal tutor who is not just there to assess your work. Your personal tutor can offer you expert advice and is there to answer your questions, so don’t hold back!

4. Study within your means

It’s important to avoid adding financial stress to study stress. From textbooks, to equipment, to transport, there are several ways to cut down the costs of your study essentials. All International Career Institute courses are competitively priced and can be paid off in interest free weekly or monthly payments. Because there are no hidden costs you can afford the course you want and not get any nasty surprises along the way.

5. Set realistic expectations

Aiming high is important when starting out your studies, but your goals still need to be realistic. Being a mature age student is a double edged sword; in one sense you are older and wiser and may come with industry experience but in another you may be lacking confidence and the academic skills that come from regular study. Set expectations, but make them achievable by considering possible distractions. Otherwise you could be left disappointed and your confidence could take a knock.

6. Recognise your own comforts

If you know from the outset you’ll be uncomfortable sharing your days with people younger than you, consider studying online. Some mature age students love the interaction with the younger students in their classes while others feel like an outsider. Consider your own comfort and choose the right course for you.

7. Plan your time

The number one rule to successful studying is to plan your time effectively. Time management is critical whatever kind of student you are, but when you have added commitments it becomes even more important. Set a weekly timetable of your current commitments to determine how much time you have. Different courses have different routine tasks that need to be performed every week, so add these to your timetable next. Assignments and essays are extra tasks that will need additional time. Once you have everything listed as accurately and detailed as possible, cull where you can. Be wary of overly ambitious schedules.

8. Prioritise

The reality is that you can’t do everything. You can, however, always do “something”. Think about what it is that’s the most important task and if the time is available, do that. If you have multiple assignments due at the same time, set yourself private deadlines to prioritise work instead of multitask. Setting yourself earlier deadlines will also give you some leeway should a family member get sick or work suddenly gets very busy.

Getting on top of returning to learning

We mentioned at the beginning of this article that mature age students often feel they don’t have the same network opportunities as ‘typical straight-from-school’ students, but this is not necessarily true. Online learning programs almost always provide resources that allow you to connect with other students, which will not only be useful for your academic success but will help you feel less alone in your academic journey. Take advantage of interactive features like chat sessions and video conferencing, and you’ll pull everything you can out of your chosen course.

Yes, studying as a mature age student can be enjoyable and if you follow these tips, you might even say it’s fun!

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Gladys Mae


Gladys Mae serves as the General Manager and Head of Student Services at the International Career Institute. Gladys holds a degree in Mass Communication - Broadcast Media from the University of San Jose-Recoletos. She joined ICI in 2010 and has over the past 12 years been instrumental in providing leadership and guidance to staff and students alike. Prior to joining ICI Gladys led a multifaceted career with key roles in the banking and business process outsourcing industries.