With the increasing need for qualifications in the workplace, more and more people are going back to college, or starting university courses in their 30s, 40s and beyond. In fact, in the UK about 20% of new graduates are over the age of 25. And it’s even higher in the US, with around 39% of students in the older age range. As with most things, there are advantages and disadvantages and it’s important to consider these before making a decision.
While 18 year olds are at university to improve their chances in the job market, they have many other reasons for being their. They wish to enjoy the student experience, often living away from home for the first time, with access to cheap alcohol and entertainment, new friends and a whole new environment. All of this is an important part of growing up and finding their way in the world, but gives older students a clear advantage, as they are usually much more focused on education as a means to a better job and an improved quality of life. Lecturers therefore welcome mature students, knowing that they are likely to take their studies more seriously than school leavers.
However, whilst mature students may not be tempted to overindulge in the college bar, they might be facing learning for the first time in many years. So they could have greater problems adjusting to studying than their younger colleagues. Fortunately, universities and colleges now provide additional help to assist students of all ages and backgrounds to get over initial problems with learning, by providing workshops on study skills, one to one help with assignments and specialist tutors for dyslexia and literacy and numeracy.
If you are concerned about your ability to keep up, you should check with the college in advance to see how much support is available. You will also find that teachers are much more approachable these days and classes much more student centred than previously. So don’t be put off if you had bad experiences at school. It may be possible, or even advisable, to take a short course before embarking on a degree or professional qualification. This will enable you to ease your way back into studying and address any problems before you are faced with deadlines, exams and the other pressures of a high level course.
As an older student you might also have to adjust to having less money, especially if you had a well paid job before. Alternatively, you may have to continue working in order to support a family. This can create additional stress and so you should plan your schedule before starting your course. This involves getting your support system in place, to ensure that childcare arrangements are organized and work schedules arranged to facilitate studying and attending lectures. If you feel that full-time work will not be possible, it is essential that you plan your finances accordingly, either by saving, taking out a loan and of course, checking to see if any financial aid is available in the form of study grants or bursaries.
A popular alternative for older students is distance learning. In fact, with spiraling student debt, many younger students are also choosing this option. It can be an excellent way of balancing existing responsibilities with gaining new qualifications. Degrees are often modular, allowing students to adjust their pace of study if necessary.
If you missed the opportunity to study when you were younger, going to college in middle age can be a liberating and exciting experience.
© Waller Jamison 2007