I’ve noticed that a lot of the conversations I have on what it’s like to be a mature student are really just discussions of how challenging it can be to be non-traditional student. Let’s face it, being a mature student can be tough, and as mature students, we face unique issues and barriers that others may never come across. Nevertheless, having a singular focus on the challenges that mature students face can overshadow all the advantages and benefits that come with being an older student.
When I first started university many years ago, it was right after high school. Although I learned so much during my first jaunt through academia, I made some questionable decisions that really impacted my experience. My biggest mistake was I didn’t take being at university as seriously as I should I have. I wasn’t particularly interested in program I was enrolled in, so I only engaged with the course material when I needed to complete assignments or study for exams. I skipped 8:00 A.M. lectures, mismanaged my student funding, never participated in extracurricular activities, over prioritized my social life, studied for finals solely through last minute cram sessions, and barely kept up with assigned readings even for the courses I loved (I cringe when I think about the textbooks that cost me hundreds of dollars, that I have no clear recollection of ever having opened). Looking back I see that I really shortchanged myself, and my experience.
My experience now as a mature student is completely different than the university experience I had as a traditional out of high school student. In the time that passed between my two forays into academia, I gained the biggest advantage that mature students have: life experience. I worked in the real world, travelled, gained some responsibilities, and discovered what it is that I actually want to do with my life. Now that I’m back in school I really enjoy what I am learning and it shows in the effort and time I am putting into my studies. I have a better understanding of the material because I can put it into context using the experiences I have had in the real world. I have matured as a person, and as a student. I am (thankfully) much better at managing my priorities, expectations, and finances.
Being an older student does come with unique challenges, but as mature students, we have accumulated skills and life experiences that will help us succeed. Don’t be intimidated by your age or any time that has lapsed since you were last in school; think of it as an advantage.