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Adult learning tips: 5 reasons mature students nail it

Mature student numbers at universities may have dropped significantly in the last year, no doubt due to the inflated fees and Brexit blockers, but 10% are still graduating over 40 and many are turning to online courses.

Officially, any student over 21 is considered ‘mature’, but there’s no upper age limit to adult learning or prerequisite that you have to actually act maturely. I should know after being nicknamed ‘the most immature mature student’ when I studied my full-time degree in my early 30’s. I may have had fun, but I also had the life experience and determination to get a lot more out of my time at university than most of the puzzled young students around me.

If you’re feeling nervous about the idea of being a mature student or seeking to better understand your mature study mates, then here’s 5 reasons why adult learners kick all kinds of ass:

1. Study cougars know what they want

Just like a feisty cougar out on the pull, study cougars – aka mature students – know what they want and keep going until they get it. I was surrounded by confused young students on my course who would often ask me advice and open up about how lost they feel about their future. So, I was not surprised to discover that 52% of students agree with the statement ‘I have no idea what I want to do with my career’. The pressure to know exactly what you want to do for the rest of your life or even the first five or ten years of your adult life is just unrealistic. Yes, you may have found a talent or even have a few ideas by the time you are 19 or 20, but only the lucky few will get it right the first time.

Unfortunately this means that the majority of students in full-time study end up coasting, not even sure they are studying the right subject. Whilst adult learners still may not get it right all the time, the older a student is the more likely they will know what they want and be more focused on excelling in a specific subject area. Adult learner objectives are either to improve their career prospects or study because they’re deeply interested in the subject.

This means that whether they plan to study full-time at university or college or enrol in an online training course – adult learners are more likely to be successful and pursue a career in that subject area.

TOP TIP: This is one for young students and adult learners alike. Don’t just rely on your chosen course, work on extracurricular projects too. This will not only help you explore the breadth of your talents, but also demonstrate that you are proactive to future employers.


2. Tick tock their time management skills rock

Time management is one of the biggest lessons for new students. There’s a lot of hand holding in school and college, so when you start a full-time course or online course you realise quite quickly that no-one is going to tell you what to do and when to do it. Most adult learners have already been hurled into life and had to learn to manage their own time. Whether that is as a parent or in a job with high pressured deadlines. If you’re considering enrolling as a mature student then rest assured, you may not be able to pull off the latest fashion trends in quite the same way but you’ll be miles ahead with your time management skills.

TOP TIP: Remember to add in time slots for down time or social. It’s all part of refinding yourself and exploring your limits.


3. Sharing the love: adult learners are great collaborators

If you have any mature students on your course, then you also have an opportunity. Many students approached me during my time at university for advice on time management or a wider perspective on their own career direction. Adult learners have already practiced being part of a team in the workplace and will be open to collaboration and helping other students on their journey, so if you can connect with them it will be well worth it. 

TOP TIP: Never underestimate the power of ‘who you know’. Age should not cloud your judgement of others as everyone you meet has something to teach you and the connections you make during study can lead to, or indeed block, opportunities in your career down the line.  Make sure you connect with others on your course through facebook groups and organised meetups.  Sites like MeetUp are a great way to  collaborate with people who share your interests.




4. They know their limits in the classroom and down the pub

Adult learners know their limits both in the classroom and down the pub. The older the student the more likely they have faced adversity and been forced to toughen up along the way. They may have done some stuff right over the years, but they’re also likely to have got a lot wrong in life. This not only makes them resilient and more likely to ride through the tougher times during study, it also makes them a great mate to have during study.

Beyond the classroom, while they may join in with the white t-shirt social antics, they’ll also make it past the pre-drinks and be able party late into the night.

Speaking of limits, if you’re completing part-time study alongside a part-time job or looking after a family then use your noggin to set some realistic goals for yourself along the way. It’s likely to be trial and error, but learning what you can realistically do in the time you have will eventually become clear.

TOP TIP: If you are keen to get involved with student antics, don’t try to match the drinking levels of young students in freshers week or at socials. If you want to avoid the drinking chant then get a pint of pop and pretend it’s laced with vodka or rum.



5. Adult learners can whip themselves into action

Self-discipline is a skill that is often learned over time. While some students may take to it like a duck to water, most young students will be too busy socialising and struggle to make their deadlines. Not only are mature students more practiced in self-discipline due to the challenge they have already faced in the ‘real’ world, they’ve also made sacrifices and taken risks to go back to study.

This means they are more likely to take their studies seriously and be able to whip themselves into action when the going gets tough. No amount of education can teach you how to be tolerant and patient of the constant twists and turns life can bring. Because you have more life experience and the determination to develop, you are more likely to be able to manage your own time and make your deadlines.

TOP TIP: If you are struggling to find focus, remind yourself why you are doing the course. Try visualising the impact it could have on your future and the reward of passing the course.

Are you ready to take the plunge into adult learning?

The idea of returning to study as an adult can be intimidating as you imagine walking into a classroom packed with young uns. The reality is far from that. Each year, hundreds of qualifications and certifications are earned by mature age students who are just as busy and financially-constricted as you are.

Of course, if you want to avoid the classroom or would rather study at home then there are also plenty of elearning courses out there that can give you the same reward and boost you need to make progress in your career.