- Visitors & Friends
- About the University
Life as a mature student
Coming to university as a mature student can be exhilarating, challenging and sometimes unsettling. Your reasons for coming may be both personal and professional, including picking up your education from where you left off; extending your qualifications, to improve your employment or promotion prospects or to prepare for making a career change; or following an interest for its own sake.
Despite a wealth of life experience from work, home or prior training you may feel unsure of what is expected of you in the unfamiliar environment at university. The challenges and dilemmas you face will be different to those of younger students.
- Adjusting to university life
- Feelings that may come up
- Learning to manage your time and work
- Updating your skills as necessary
- Understanding the pressures you face
- Making time for yourself
- Making use of all the help available
Adjusting to university life
It can take time to adjust, both to being in an educational institution and to the learning experience itself. You may feel that a lot is expected of you when you start your course. In your first weeks you will find that you have to:
- adjust to being in a large institution, get used to being with your fellow students;
- begin an intense programme of study;
- keep to timetables and deadlines;
- learn how to access resources;
- take responsibility for your own learning, managing your own programme of study and revision;
- Living away from your partner;
- Living with students much younger than you.
As well as all this, you may have to balance the demands of running a home, perhaps working part-time, with your course requirements.
Oxford University Student Union (OUSU) has a Mature Students' campaign which puts on social events several times a term and offers the chance to meet other mature students from across the University. If you would like to join the mail list, please email the Vice President (Graduates), who is responsible for mature students, at email@example.com. If you have suggestions for events, or issues we can be campaigning on please contact the Mature Students' officer on firstname.lastname@example.org.
OUSU also runs a free and confidential student advice service, offering support on any issues affecting students. If you have any problems, please email email@example.com to make an appointment to see one of the advisors.
Feelings that may come up
Mature students often work very hard, and make considerable sacrifices to get to university. Often they find themselves questioning whether they have made the right decision - an understandable reaction to the changes. You may feel any or all of the following:
- I'm overwhelmed by the amount of work.
- I'm out of practice. I don't have the skills.
- I don't have enough confidence. I didn't know I'd feel like this. I feel so lost.
- Everyone else seems so young! Time is running out. This is my last chance. I've set my standards too high. There's too much pressure on me to succeed.
- I'm worried that when I do get my degree it won't be worth it.
- I'm not getting the support I need from partner/children/friends.
- Because of my other commitments I'm missing out on aspects of student life.
Learning to manage your time and work
Gaining a degree as a mature student can require all your organisational skills. It will need a radical reassessment of priorities.
Ask yourself whether you can scale down the housework or arrange your finances so that you don't have to work too hard during the term. Can you ask more from friends, family and partners? If you find this difficult, it may help to remind them, and yourself, that you'll be able to help and support them once the deadline has been met, or the exams are over.
As far as your academic work is concerned, you'll find it will help to divide tasks into immediate and less urgent, and prioritise ruthlessly. The more you break down your work into small tasks the more you're likely to find the time to do them. You may find that it helps to set aside a special place and time for working. This will help to create the right mood for working. If you have small children, probably the only time available to read and complete coursework will be when they're in bed. As time goes on, you'll find you get used to making the most of all the time available.
Ask your tutors for help if you feel you need extra help in managing your time and work.
Help is available at the Student Counselling Service for students who lack confidence about their academic and study skills.
Updating your skills as necessaryThe University offers a range of courses to help you develop your skills. OUCS offers courses in computer skills, including in office software and specialist programmes used for research, for a nominal fee. The libraries also provide training in how to use them, including how to carry out online literature searches. The language centre gives students the opportunity to learn a new language, either in classes or through individual study in their library. The Student Union offers finals forums - classes to help you prepare for your finals - in Hilary and Trinity terms. If you feel you need to develop a particular skill, do speak to your tutor or supervisor to discuss how to find support in this.
Understanding the pressures you face
It may help to recognise that being a mature student does bring special pressures. This may particularly be the case if you are also attending to the demands of a family and children. You also may not be giving yourself enough credit for non-academic skills that you have acquired.
Try not to put extra pressure on yourself by being perfectionist – acknowledge it will take time to get back into the rhythm of studying and that it will all seem unfamiliar and perhaps frightening at first. Talking to others – whether students in the same situation or one of your tutors – may help to put things in perspective.
If you feel overwhelmed and troubled by conflicting demands to the extent that it is affecting your work and enjoyment of life, it may help to talk to a counsellor.
It is important to allow some space for yourself, however impossible or unrealistic this seems at times. Try to spend some time doing things that make you feel better, whether by being with friends or relaxing on your own. Take time to recharge your batteries.
Making time for yourself
Trying to make yourself work when your head is full of other pressures will never work. It sounds simple, but often the best thing to do is to take a break. There are loads of great green spaces in Oxford that are perfect for clearing your head such as The University Parks, The Oxford Canal and Portmeadow.
Making use of all the help available
The most important thing to do if you are experiencing problems, particularly if they are affecting your work, is to ask for help. Everyone at Oxford goes through a difficult phase, but the earlier you ask for help, the quicker you may be able to resolve the problem. Your college and department have a number of people who will be able to advise you - undergraduates can contact their moral or welfare tutor whiles graduates can contact their college advisor or department's Director of Graduate Studies for advice.
There is also a range of services across the University that you can access. These include:
- Oxford University Counselling Service
- Childcare Services
- Oxford University Student Union runs events for mature students and student parents.
- Student Information - visa advice
- Harrassment Advice
- OUSU Student Advice Service: free and confidential advice on any issue. They can help you if you are not sure who else to talk to.
- Nightline - a term-time listening service run by students.
Depending on which college you are at, you may be able to join the MCR, rather than the JCR. This will enable you to meet and socialise with students closer to your own age, and should help you deal with worries about fitting in. You can contact your MCR President before you arrive to find out if this is possible - be aware there may be a charge for this.
Your college will also have an extensive welfare system in place. Although the detail will vary by college, colleges tend to have a combination of welfare/moral tutors, Junior Deans, students trained as Peer Supporters, college doctors and nurses, and common room welfare officers, who you can contact if you are experiencing difficulties.