Study strategies for mature students
Being a mature student
It may seem like light years since you left school. So even though you're excited at the prospect of returning to education, you may be starting to feel anxious.
Take comfort. Your tutors will be very glad to see you because mature students generally work harder than everyone else. You've also got experience of life that has broadened your outlook. It doesn't matter what you've been doing since you were 16. Whatever it was, it will have made you a more rounded person. Your tutors will respect that.
As a mature student, there are particular areas of undergraduate life that you might need to address particularly, as your maturity and previous experience provide you with special challenges and opportunities.
- Do not wait for others to speak out: the tutor may be relying on you to get the ball rolling.
- Your past experience and study will enrich seminars, so use it as it becomes relevant.
- If you are concerned about saying too much and taking over your seminar group, discuss this with your tutor rather than keeping quiet.
- Your fellow students will not view you as different from them as long as you respect their views and join in as their equal.
- If you have not had a chance to prepare well for a seminar, avoid the temptation to miss it: you will still have something to contribute.
- Do not abandon the instinct for networking that you will have developed in your working life: you will find it invaluable at university.
- Try not to wait until an outside speaker or interesting lecturer offers you an email address or contact number: make the first contact.
- If you are working in a group, be the one to organise contact lists. Undergraduates often forget to do this until it is inconveniently late.
- Networking outside your immediate department or school will be useful to you if you decide to alter your degree profile at a later stage.
- Remember that your professional contacts will still be useful to you, either during your degree or once you have graduated, so try to maintain some external networks.
- Make sure that you allow yourself some free time to socialise - it can make all the difference in helping you to feel a part of the life of your university.
- Socialising does not have to be expensive or confined to the evening: lunchtime can be a useful chance to wind down off campus or as part of a revision group.
- If you are unsure about breaking into a socialising group, try joining one of the many undergraduate groups that you will have seen advertised in your Students' Union.
- Seminar groups work well together during revision sessions, so try to keep up some contact with your various seminar groups.
- Socialising need not be elaborate. If you are short of time (or cash), meeting up for just half an hour before a seminar or lecture can be a great support.
For more information, see the expanded Socialising section.
Mature students' groups
- First, find yours! They are often poorly publicised, but they exist in most universities.
- Mature students' groups tend to give you as much as you are prepared to put into them, so be ready to get involved. Some people find any organised group off putting. Do not feel pressurised into joining a mature students' group - you are a student first, mature second.
- Explore the full range of services provided by your mature students' group. Can they help with finances, accommodation or study skills, for example?
- If you are using your group as a social base, try to attend other social events as well, so that you do not begin to feel defined entirely by your age.
- You are used to managing your time, so have confidence in yourself and your abilities.
- Use time management techniques (lists, working patterns, rest breaks etc.) that have worked for you in the past: they will also apply to your life as an undergraduate.
- Even if some younger undergraduates manage to look as if they do little more than drink coffee, they have their own demands on time, so try not to let yourself assume that your time is more pressurised than theirs.
- Make a pact with yourself that some things will always matter (getting assessed essays in on time, for example) whilst other things can be allowed to slide into the vacations (completing reading lists, perhaps) if your outside life intrudes into your study time.
- Make a personalised study timetable and use it as your primary time management tool, to be adapted or followed as your life and work dictate.
For more advice, see 'Time management' in Skills and techniques.
Using your own sources
- Keep all of your notes from previous courses or work related exercises and make sure that you have them to hand when you need them.
- Do not assume that your professional or leisure related sources are irrelevant - they may be useful in individualising your work.
- If you are unsure about whether to include material from your own sources, ask your tutor rather than abandoning it.
- Making connections between courses is vital, so decide whether your life experience can help you to do this, even if it is not directly relevant to the assignment you have been given.
- Despite its importance, try not to preface every seminar comment or essay paragraph with references to your past life. It will be relevant at times, but you are at university to focus on your new future and to face new challenges, rather than retreating into the comfort of your past.
This content has been written by Lucinda Becker, author of The Mature Students' Handbook.