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Mature Students’ University Guide

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

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Mature students are a significant part of the UK university landscape with over 140,000 mature students applying for entry in 2017. Despite this, it can often feel like universities are primarily concerned with appealing to 18 to 21-year olds.

Our guide, written in collaboration with the University of East London, will walk you through the process of going to university as a mature student, from deciding on whether to apply to getting financial support, with insights from a recent mature student graduate.

Click to skip to:
Deciding • Applying • Fees and Funding
Success story

Deciding to study

Approaching higher education as a mature student can be both an exciting and daunting experience.

You should consider several factors when you choosing if you want to go, and then later, where and how you want to study.

1. Your personal circumstance

Mature students are a diverse group with a variety of personal circumstances. If you are in your early twenties you may have very few commitments making starting university relatively straightforward.

However, you may also have a lot to consider such as your job, as well as current and future family commitments.

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

2. The study environment you want to be in

Once you have decided that a degree is the right move, you need to decide 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 certain location, it is worth considering what type of student body you want to be a part of.

All universities admit mature students, some will have very small mature student population whilst other institutions will have a relatively large one. For example, nearly half of the University of East London’s student population is mature students.

3. The student support on offer

Universities vary in the number of matures students they admit, and they also vary in the amount of support on offer.

It is vital that you research what support is available by visiting university websites and going to open days and meeting the relevant members of staff.  

Kristina, who studied at UEL says the support on offer was very high quality:

“The university is very flexible in providing teaching and support for older students. There are lots of options - courses part-time or online resources to cater for us students with busy lives. Many of my classmates took opportunities that were offered as they didn’t meet the usual entry requirements.”

4. Do you need a degree for what you want to do in the future?

Degrees can be expensive for anyone, costing up to £9,250 per year. For mature students, there is potentially an additional cost, as if you are already working you might have to sacrifice your salary in order to achieve the 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 acquire the expertise you want to get?

Applying as a mature student

Once you have decided to make the step and start university, it is time to begin the application process.

Broadly speaking, you will follow the same application process as younger students. You will have to create a profile in UCAS ‘Apply’, upload a personal statement, choose up to five courses. You are 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 twenties, early thirties 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. These are aimed at students who left education without the requirements needed to enter Higher Education.
    Find out more about Access to HE Diplomas.  

  • Foundation courses. You may be able to apply to study a foundation year as part of a degree. Foundation courses help students get up to speed with the subject they are going to go on to study and could be ideal if you have had some time away from education.

Fees and funding

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Finances can be an obstacle for mature students but
there is support available

Finance can also be a major concern for all students, but more so for mature ones as generally speaking, younger students often have fewer financial commitments.

Older students, on the other hand, may often need to consider how funding their studies will affect their household budgets.

To help mitigate such factors, universities have a wide range of funding options available for students. While mature learners can still apply for government loans from Student Finance, some universities offer scholarships aimed specifically at this audience.

Other government incentives such as Childcare Grants and Parents’ Learning Allowances can help support the decision to enter higher education.

There are many other hidden financial savings that are often overlooked when considering a degree – full-time students of any age are exempt from paying council tax, public transport is discounted and a huge number of businesses and institutions offer student discounts regardless of age.

Student Success story – Kristina, UEL

Kristina, 37, studied BA (Hons) Business Management (Marketing) at the University of East London (UEL), graduating with first-class honours.

What brought you to where you are today? Why did you decide to study as a mature student?

Ever since I came to live in the UK I have wanted to graduate from university with a Marketing degree. After three years of living in London, I decided it was time to progress my education and my career.

How did you choose your course and university?

I researched universities with good marketing courses and chose UEL based on the convenient location of its campuses and its modern buildings.

What are the pros and cons to returning to university as a mature student? What were your main concerns as you decided upon a course and university, and went through the application process?

My main concerns were whether I would be able to cope with the course being taught in English, as it is not my native language. I also worried about managing my duties as a mother and wife, and there were financial concerns as well.

Did you get advice on applying to university or research yourself? Were you able to get answers to all your questions?

I did my own research, but I also received a lot of advice when I went to visit the UEL campus.

How are you funding your studies?

I am self-sufficient but I used Student Finance to get a loan to pay my tuition fees.

How have you settled into university life? Has it been easy to make friends and join in the social life?

I found it really easy to talk to other people on my course. I made a lot of friends who I still meet up with regularly.  

How are you coping with a return to studying? Have you had to balance your studies against other commitments?

Yes! I had to balance my job and personal life with my studies but received plenty of support from my family and friends.

How does your university support you with any issues you may have? Does the university offer support specifically for mature students?

Yes, the university recommended lots of workshops and seminars to develop my skills. There were sessions on how to build my CV and prepare for interviews, how to look for jobs and information on mentorship programmes. This guidance was very useful especially for an international mature student like me.

If you’re studying as a mature student to further your career, how will your degree help your career plans?

I put in a lot of effort in my studies and worked really hard to achieve my first-class degree. I also won an award from the CMI (Chartered Management Institute) for the best student on my course. I believe this will help me stand out when applying for jobs.  I am now interning at a marketing department which is giving me the opportunity to apply what I learned during my degree.

What are your top tips for others considering going to university as a mature student?

I would advise people to follow their dreams and not give up because of age, language barriers or anything else. Try to get involved in the student life, and as much as it is possible, put effort and heart in everything they do. The hard work will pay off at the end of the day!

This article was written in collaboration with the University of East London.