In general, us Millennials tend to do things a little differently to the generations that have gone before us; less of us are getting married, we are having children later in life (or not at all), owning a house is harder than ever. But what about education? Generally, for Millennials and the generations that come after us, following secondary education with degree study at university is the norm, many having completed a masters and even entering PhD study by their mid-twenties. But what about the ones who choose not to go down this route. The ones who decide to get a job when they leave school and work until they decide where their true passions lie. What about becoming a mature student?
Like me. My name is Lauren, and I am a mature student (FYI, I hate that term).
It is strange that some people really get in their own heads about the thought of pursuing study later in life. Don’t get me wrong, I was in a privileged position whereby I could leave my very secure, full time job to dedicate my time to an undergraduate degree, aged 28. I get not everyone is that lucky. Although I did work hard to get myself to this point. But I must admit I was a little apprehensive, not only at the thought of returning to education after ten years, but what the overall perception would be of a girl in her late twenties, doing what people a decade her junior were expected to be doing. I eventually learned to quash those doubts and have thrown myself into education 100%, and its genuinely one of the best decisions I have made. But it did get me thinking, how many people pull the breaks on their educational dreams, just because they are apprehensive about pursing it later in life? So, I thought I’d indulge some handy insights and musings that might hopefully change some minds, whether you’re in need of some convincing that you are indeed young enough for university life, or you are someone who has perhaps been guilty of judging later learners too quickly. Either way, I hope this instils some confidence and helps take the “mature” out of “mature students” – we are just learners, like everyone else.
1. Learning Has No Age Limit – You’ve probably seen this phrase on some inspirational quote Instagram somewhere, right? As cheesy as it might sound, it is right. Anyone that expects their learning to be complete by the time they finish uni in their mid-twenties are destined to lead a very bland life indeed. Personally, I think there is something really inspiring about someone who wants to keep building their knowledge and reinventing who they are. It keeps life interesting; who is to say you can’t have a complete career overhaul in your 40s? Taking the leap and going back to learn is liberating and gives you control. Since I returned to study, I’ve felt more engaged – I want to read more, be creative and I have rediscovered passions I just never had time to indulge in when I was working full time. I have gained so many new interdisciplinary skills in a mere two years which could transcend into many vocations. Keep that in mind the next time someone sneers at your choice to put education first. Which leads me to my next point…
2. Do Not Let Small Minded Opinions Rule Your Decisions – Some people just don’t seem to get the phrase “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”. We do, as human beings, often take to heart the opinions of others, even when we know it is nonsense and bad for us. A lot of the time, people don’t even realise the impact their views might have, but it can be detrimental and stack up the ticks in the “cons” column for studying. Once I accepted my place at uni and began to tell people my plans, I encountered, for the most part, amazing support. But some comments weren’t so helpful. A lot of people assumed I was doing a masters, which wasn’t what bothered me, given my age I completely understood, it was the response when I said it was in fact an undergraduate degree – “Oh! So, you’ve never been to uni then? Wow that’s insane.” Or “Oh god, how on earth are you ever going to integrate with a bunch of 18 year olds that just want to get pissed every weekend. You’ll be the odd one out?” or “Does it not worry you that by the time you graduate, you’ll be 30?!?” – yes because once I hit 30, my life is as good as over isn’t it? Thing is, none of this stuff was said in malice, it was people not considering the consequences of what they were saying (its also worth mentioning these comments came from “acquaintances” as opposed to close friends and family). Yet regardless of what they meant, these comments are judgemental, and although I learned to brush them off, I can understand how a torrent of similar viewpoints could really put someone off their decision. The way I look at it is, none of these comments are constructive, other than making me more determined to be successful. They certainly aren’t worth dwelling on, and if these “fears” are genuine to these people, it says way more about their insecurities than it does about the courage it takes for someone who is trying to better themselves.
3. You Will Find Common Ground With Your Fellow Students – Mirroring one of the unhelpful comments mentioned above, feeling alienated from the younger student demographic is something people mentioned to me frequently, and it did make me nervous. I am a naturally introverted person so any setting where I have to meet a lot of new people can be difficult for me. The thought of being singled out as “different” because of my age, was on my mind. The way I dealt with that was by reminding myself, although it would be nice to make new friends, my primary aim at university was to work hard and get my degree. Semesters at university are short, so if I did find myself uncomfortable in classes, I knew it wouldn’t be for an extensive period of time. My true experience, however, couldn’t be different. Absolutely no one on my course has ever questioned, been derogatory or passed remarks about me coming to study in later life, if anything they have been nothing but interested about my life before uni and things that I’ve experienced. I have never felt like anyone has looked at me and saw my “age” – it’s much like being in a workplace, there ‘s often a wide range of ages and skill sets and everyone brings something to the table. I am lucky to have made really great friends in my time at university and honestly, I think anyone who passes comment about you not being able to integrate with those of a different age group is doing a disservice to younger people.
4. Don’t Forget Everything You Have Achieved Before – Like I said, I enrolled at university ten years after I left school. But that doesn’t mean I’ve sat idly in that time, with no achievements to my name. If anything, my career pursuits in the heritage sector pushed me towards the degree I am studying today; I never would have considered it if I hadn’t gained some experience first. Not only that, I do feel more confident and comfortable in myself now, than I did as a school leaver. I have a more concrete idea as to what I want to achieve and how I am going to get there – at 18, I didn’t have a clue. And I know that’s not true of everyone, some people know what career they want from childhood, but for me, it wasn’t that clear cut and I am so glad I took the time to think and plan what I wanted to do. I also have experience working in a managerial position, which really helps me get organised and have a clear and concise way of dealing with my workload. Don’t ever forget how much life experience can bring to the table and aid you in your education. And the good thing is, the older you are, the more of it you have.
Anyway, I don’t know if any of this is deemed useful and I can obviously only speak from my experiences. But I do hope it might put an ease to anyone who reads this and is considering going back to learning, at whatever age, and whatever level. Let’s get rid of the “mature” and be grateful we have the privilege to be students.