Go Higher: It's never too late to learn

Mature students are enthusiastic, hard-working, diligent and have lots to offer, writes Tamsin Smith
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The Independent Online
Mature students are exactly that - mature. They are what most professors dream of, the ideal student. They are mature, open-minded, enthusiastic, hard working, and diligent. But they suffer one major affliction - anxiety.

No matter that they have held down a job, had a mortgage, run their own business, brought up six children, been married and divorced or widowed, most mature students admit they lack self confidence when it comes to academic matters.

Going to university or college is about studying a subject you enjoy in detail for three or four years. It is there to encourage independent thinking and critical analysis and to question what people say. It is about sharing ideas, debating issues and enriching your life with knowledge.It is not about competition. It is not about who comes top. And it is not about who is cleverest.

"A lot of mature students suffer from low self-esteem because they have come from a background of low educational attainment," says Anne Wyatt, Study Methods Advisor at the University of Exeter.

"Most have made heavy sacrifices, whether financial or familial to get to university and they become anxious they cannot cope. All they need is reassurance.

"The fact they have been accepted into a university or college means they are more than capable of academic study, so long as they can cope with their home life at the same time.

"Those who make it always say it was worth it for what they have gained.

"Most agree it was the best time of their lives, that it changed their outlook on life and aspiration and that they feel more confident and knowlegable."

According to figures released by the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principles, 54 per cent of first year students are mature, as are 89 per cent of first year part-time students.

"They certainly add a vital ingredient to academic study," says Pamela Hoad, admissions officer at the University of Exeter.

"They are the ones at the 9am lecture on a Monday and the 5pm lecture on a Friday. They are always present at seminars and tutorials, always hand in essays on time and always have a lot to contribute.

"They might still be interested in sex, drugs and rock n' roll, but most have already been there and done it so they are far more settled and mature about life.

"In order to get to college or university in the first place, they have often made incredible financial or familial sacrifices, so once they are here they are determined to make the most of it which is a great example for other students."

Unfortunately, mature students do face significant barriers when studying a degree as they usually have other responsibilities to take into account such as partners, children and mortgages.

Although drop out rates among mature students are tiny compared with other undergraduates, the pressures of home or money can often be too tough to bear.

Pamela Hoad suggests most mature students will need at least pounds 4,000-pounds 5,000 a year to study and can expect debts of pounds 4,000-pounds 7,000 when they leave.

She said: "Higher education will give you a great sense of exhilaration and achievement, most agree it is the best times of their lives. But it can be a struggle and requires the utmost dedication from all students regardless of their age."

Having a degree will enhance your job prospects when you graduate whether you decide to change careers, or return to your old occupation.

You can also expect to be paid more, achieve promotion faster and face less unemployment, and at the very least, going to university or college will make you far more confident and self-reliant so you learn to create your own opportunities as well as capitalise on those offered.

"If you are thinking about going to university, the best thing you can do is research it fully, and discuss it with your friends and family as their support could be essential," Pamela advises.

"Consider going to one close to where you live as it cuts down on travel costs, and make sure you find out as much as you can about your chosen course so you know what work is involved, what kind of commitment you can expect and whether there are any hidden costs."

Nearly 80 per cent of mature graduates seeking employment in 1996-97 were successful within six months according to 'What do graduates do? 1999', published this month. It contains advice and information about the types of career that graduates enter and is available through Sheed & Ward Ltd tel; 0171 702 9799 for pounds 8.95.