Am I too old to study? Studying as a mature student

Mature student

Who is a mature student?

What is considered a “mature student” varies throughout the world – whereas in Finland it’s a normality to start university when aged over 20, but in the UK, you are already considered a mature student if you are aged 21 or older.

In general, the age of graduating classes is decreasing. When comparing the years 2005 and 2011, the age of acquiring a first degree has dropped from 25.2 to 24.7 years and older students are respectively graduating almost a year earlier, aged on average 27.9. (OECD Indicators, 2013)  Also, in the UK, the statistics of 2014 shows a drastic drop in the number of mature applicants – which was highly criticised by the government, as education is meant for everyone and it is clear if the ever-increasing fees is making it just that much harder for less well-off people to enrol into higher education.

The benefits of studying at an older age are, nevertheless, easy to point out. Many mature students are more motivated in their studies than others: they have had the time to decide what they want and now they are going for it – all out.

This is not always the case with younger students, who are afraid
of getting left behind if they take too long dwelling on decision-making. That is why the older students should embrace their age rather than be embarrassed about it.

It is not a hindrance to be older and in higher education – on the contrary. Those people sitting in the front row of the lecture hall, those who have the courage to stand up and ask for more clarifying answers when something is unclear, those people looking like they could be your parents – they are often the most mature students.

Why are they sometimes having more of an advantage than the youngsters?

Because they have passed the phase of “oh my god I have no idea what this means, but if I ask the tutor, everyone is going to look at me and think I am dumb”. Most of 18-year-olds nowadays think that is it stupid to ask how to print a document. But for someone aged around 40, with three children, coming back to education after a working career, it is a completely relevant question that they are not afraid to ask.

I was 22-years old when I started my bachelors degree. My peers were mostly 18-year-olds or some of them even 17. I was told multiple times that I was too old for starting my studies, that I should already be graduating. And every time I had this conversation with someone, I wondered if they were right.

I had no children nor was I that much older than the others, but it was surprising how much more “mature” I had become from the age of 18, within those few unplanned gap years that I took.

It sometimes seemed like there was this huge Grand Canyon between me and the other students celebrating their 18th birthday, coming up to the lectures looking like the night had ended up rolling in the bushes. Those moments I felt the most happy I had spent my night in bed catching up with HIMYM.

They recently raised the age of retiring here in Finland to 65. So with my math skills, even if I graduate at the age of 28 with my master’s papers, I have 37 full working years ahead of me. It makes me feel astounded to say the least. It is a long time. I sometimes feel tired already now, after my 7 years of mostly part-time working.

And for some, it is not the first higher education degree that they start as a mature student. Many realise after getting the diploma that the job is not for them. It is amazing how full of possibilities world is, even if you decide to change your mind!

So don’t be afraid of taking a gap year or even another, because you have time. It is more important to study something you feel motivated about, something that teaches you things  you need not only in an exam, but you are actually interested in.

by Suvi Loponen

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