Going Back to School: A Mature Student’s Guide
The decision to go to University, though exciting, can make even the surest of souls start to feel uncertain of themselves. Questions of ‘is this right for me?’, ‘can I afford it?’ and ‘will I fit in?’ will understandably be buzzing around the heads of those planning to start their studies this September. However, let’s take a moment and spare a thought for the mature students amongst those numbers. For them, worries like these may be casting significantly bigger shadows right about now.
That’s because attending University straight after taking A-Levels is often described as being part of “The Experience”: a chance to fly the nest, to party, and to grow up a bit (or at least figure out how the washing machine works). Even if you’re not set on a particular career path, it’s almost expected that you’ll go if you’re the academic type. Plus, there’s also a good chance that Halls will be swimming with potential new BFFs, all filled with the same nervous excitement and looking to extend their social circles during the chaos of Freshers’ Week.
Choosing to go back to school after a considerable break is an entirely different prospect, though. It marks a change and/or progression of career or, at the very least, a monumental life adjustment. That places a great deal of pressure upon academic success (even more so with that ever-present student debt breathing down your neck)!
It’s no wonder that I was nervous when I decided to take the plunge. I was only 25 then, but doubts had already begun to seep into my mind. I bandied around phrases like ‘too old’, ‘past it’ and ‘left behind’, wondering if my time had come and gone (in case you’re wondering, it hadn’t. After three years of hard graft, I am the proud recipient of a first-class honours degree – I even got a couple of academic prizes thrown in for good measure!)
If you’re feeling the same way, then don’t panic! Here are a few hints and tips that can help you make the most of both the social and academic elements of University life.
Put Paranoia at Bay
On your first day, it may feel like there is a neon sign hanging over your head, pointing out your existence – and your age – to all those in proximity. There isn’t. No one is staring at you! Truth is, everyone else is far too wrapped up trying to get to their classes, find a good seat and locate the toilets to pay attention the people around them.
Besides, when they eventually do notice you, you’re not going to scare them away! They will (of course) have encountered adults before, but might not be used to being treated as one. So, unless you start threatening to clean their room, they will probably just be pleased to have someone around with a little life experience under their belt who treats them as an equal.
Be warned, though: if you violate these terms of equality by trying to pass along all your years of wisdom, you may find yourself frustrated. Just as you had to learn from your own mistakes, so do your younger counterparts. Lectures about drinking too much/staying out/sleeping around/wasting money should be avoided (for no other reason than you’d be wasting your breath).
Never Judge a Student by their Colouring
Just as you can’t judge a book by its cover, neither can you ascertain a person’s intelligence and/or likeability through observation of their acid green nails and matching hairdo.
At University, people will inevitably surprise you. Those who, at first glance, seem alien to you may end up sharing the same thought patterns and mental processes. One of my closest classroom allies, for example, looked as if she had fallen from the pages of Cosmopolitan; we couldn’t have been more different! When it came down to it though, we almost always agreed.
I guess what I’m saying is that, sometimes, similar minds can lurk in the strangest of places. Don’t pass up the opportunity to get to know someone based on assumptions (whether about their age, accent or fashion sense) or you may be missing out.
Getting ‘Down with the Kids’
University can put a lot of pressure on you – especially if, as an older student, you feel you have something you prove – to be the brightest, funniest and most interesting person in the room.
Let’s get one thing straight. Normally, I would avoid using worn-out clichés as a rule of thumb, but given that I’m handing out advisory titbits I’m going to make an exception:
Don’t try to be something that you’re not. People will warm to you a lot more if you just be yourself. (There, glad we got that over with.)
Underneath the gags, I’m making a serious point here. There’s nothing wrong with having a bit of fun, but remember that you don’t have to be a teenager to succumb to peer pressure. Avoid emulating your wilder youth and trying to ‘get down with the kids’ where you can! For example, don’t try and keep up in the drinking games if the most you’re used to is a glass of chardonnay at dinner – before you know it there’ll be incriminating evidence all over Facebook of your drunken exploits, and no one wants to be the butt of a joke.
When Life Gets in the Way
Attending University whilst trying to maintain the usual state of domestic normality can make you feel a bit like you’re leading a double life. Of course, these aspects of your world are bound to clash from time to time, particularly if you’re trying to do your academic work in the family home, but what should you do about it?
It’s important to escape the chaos in order to focus on your schoolwork. Concentration can be the key to success. Assign yourself a workspace free of crayons, water bills, ironing and shopping lists (ideally, with a door you can close behind you when you need some peace and quiet!)
Also, try to set time aside specifically to complete any outstanding assignments for coursework or classes. This can be difficult, but without set working hours it’s all too easy to put things off.
Remember Why You’re There!
Though I’ve stressed the importance of social connections, they obviously aren’t the reason you’ve chosen to go to University. At the end of the day it’s the qualification that counts – that, and the doors it could potentially open for you in the future.
If you’re struggling or falling behind and really don’t feel comfortable asking your classmates, approach your lecturers. They are, after all, there to help you! Moreover, you’ll find that their feedback and assistance can be a valuable resource when negotiating the academic minefield: they will know all the complexities of the material you are studying, and will have studied it themselves in great detail.
Obtaining that qualification may not be easy, but it’s worth the effort. Keep reminding yourself why you’re there, what you have set out to achieve and how far you’ve come already. There’s nothing wrong with giving yourself a pat on the back every now and then, and this undertaking gives you good reason to hold your head high!
This article is also available to view via http://blog.grads.co.uk