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Applying to university

University guide for mature students

Our guide walks you through the process of going to university as a mature student, from deciding whether to apply to getting financial support.

Mature student using laptop at a university lecture


  1. What's a mature student?

  2. Deciding to study as a mature student

  3. Applying to university as a mature student

What’s a mature student?

You're a mature student if you start an undergraduate degree aged 21 or above.

Although it can sometimes feel like universities are primarily trying to appeal to younger people, mature students form a significant part of the UK university landscape. In fact, over a third of all students starting undergraduate degrees in UK universities in 2018 were mature students (source: HESA).

Deciding to study as a mature student

Approaching higher education as a mature student can be both exciting and daunting. You should consider a number of factors when you’re choosing if you want to go, and then later where and how you want to study:

Your personal circumstances

Mature students are a diverse group. You could be in your early 20s and have few other commitments, making starting university relatively straightforward. Or you may have a lot to consider, such as your job and family.

Carefully considering your current situation will help you determine whether or not going to university is feasible, and if so, what type of degree you can study and how. If a full-time degree isn’t manageable, research part-time and evening courses, or distance learning.

Your ideal study environment

If you’ve decided a degree is the right move, you need to figure out where you want to study.

The majority of mature students study at a university local to them. However, if your choice is not limited to a location, it’s worth considering what type of student body you want to be a part of. All universities accept mature students – some will have a small mature student population, while others will have a large one.

Available student support

Universities differ in the number of mature students they accept, and there are also variances in the amount of support they offer. It’s important you research what support is available by visiting university websites and going to open days.

Career alignment

For mature students, there’s potentially an added cost to consider if you’re already working, in that you might have to sacrifice your salary (or part of it) to study your degree.

Ask yourself how important it is for you to get this degree. Do you need it to progress professionally or retrain to work in a new industry? Is there a cheaper, quicker way to gain the expertise you want to get?

Group of university students sitting outside and working together

Applying to university as a mature student

Broadly speaking, you’ll follow the same application process as younger students.

You’ll create a profile in UCAS Apply, upload a personal statement and choose up to five courses. You’ll be subject to the same application deadlines as other students.

Entry requirements

The main difference when applying to university as a mature student is the entry requirements.

A mature student can be as young as 21 but many are in their late 20s/early 30s or older, and may have left school without the necessary A Levels or equivalent. If this applies to you, you can look at alternative ways of meeting entry requirements:

  • Access to Higher Education (HE) Diploma, for students who left education without the qualifications needed to enter higher education
  • Foundation courses, which help you get up to speed with the subject you’re planning to study – ideal if you’ve had some time away from education

Fees and funding

Finances can be an obstacle for mature students, who often have to consider how funding their studies will affect their household budgets.

To help mitigate this, universities generally have a range of funding options available. While mature learners can still apply for government loans for student finance, some universities offer scholarships aimed specifically at them. There are also other government incentives such as Childcare Grant and Parents’ Learning Allowances.

Consider some often-overlooked ways to save money while studying your degree – full-time students of any age are exempt from paying council tax, public transport is discounted, and many businesses and institutions offer student discounts regardless of age.

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