Are you a mature student considering applying to university? Our guide will help you decide if it's the right step for you, and why you shouldn't be put off if you're uncertain.
University is not just for teenagers and young people!
Although it may seem university is only for those who are 21 or under, these days this is far from the case, as more and more people are applying for higher education courses at any stage of their life.
Mature students choose to study for a variety of reasons, for example they may want to change their career, improve their job prospects or just learn more about a subject they really enjoy.
You should not feel put off from applying for a higher education course because you think it’s too late or you won’t fit in. At some universities, mature students make up nearly half of all undergraduates. In the UK, 60% of all undergraduates are over 21.
Universities and colleges always welcome mature undergraduates, as they are usually enthusiastic and often have a lot to contribute in class because of their extensive life skills and experience.
Since mature students are valued at higher education institutions, course requirements will generally be quite flexible and a wide range of qualifications will be accepted.
Do I need formal qualifications?
Although some mature students take A levels, AS levels, BTEC Nationals and Scottish Highers, most universities will not ask you to have formal qualifications. You can search for the entry requirements for any undergraduate courses you are interested in here: http://www.ucas.com/students/coursesearch/.
While some mature students will have these more traditional qualifications, most institutions will accept other qualifications, such as Open University credits, Access course credits and professional qualifications.
If you have not had any formal education for a few years or more, you may want to look into attending an Access course at your local college to help refresh your study skills. This will aid with your preparation in returning to full-time study and get the qualifications you need for your entry requirements.
Studying an Access to Higher Education course
Access to Higher Education courses are particularly aimed at adults returning to formal education.
They normally last for 1 year full-time (although you can study them part-time), thus offering a faster route into higher education than A levels or similar qualifications.
They are usually taught in further education colleges, and offer an accessible and comprehensive introduction to the type of study you will undertake in higher education.
Some Access courses are linked to a certain degree subject, but most offer a general introduction to an area of study, e.g. Access to Science and Engineering, which can open up a wide choice of degree subjects.
They will particularly develop your skills and confidence in written and oral communication, numeracy, information processing, and effective use of information technology and other resources.
You can search for an Access to Higher Education course here: http://www.accesstohe.ac.uk/. The site also has more information on Access courses, such as how long they take, what they involve and how to apply.
Some universities and colleges offer a foundation year to introduce mature students to the subject area of a degree course.
However, any students, not just mature ones, can take these foundation courses if they do not have the appropriate A levels, or equivalent qualifications, in these subject areas. A foundation year enables a mature student to be ready for an undergraduate course, even if they have never studied the subject before.
Although there are no standard entry requirements for mature students, exact requirements will vary, and you will have to provide evidence of your ability to study at an acceptable level, or evidence of some relevant experience to your chosen course. This is so the institution know you will be able to cope with the academic demands of the course.
It’s a good idea to get in touch directly with the admissions tutors for the course(s) you are considering applying to, and ask to make an appointment with them so you can talk about your position before filling out your UCAS form and making a formal application.
They may ask you to provide a CV, listing your employment history and academic achievements. Qualifications that are no longer offered, such as the CSE or GCE O level, are still taken into consideration at universities and colleges.
If you have other queries about qualifications or entry requirements, or your application in general, UCAS have a handy frequently asked questions section, which may contain your answer.
Will I be able to cope with all the studying?
Any university or college that accepts a mature student on to one of their courses believe they have what it takes to cope with the workload. This will be due to your Access course or other achievements you’ve made that are equivalent to studying at higher education level.
Undertaking a degree requires you to:
- Organise your time effectively
- Read material, such as text books, journal papers, etc.
- Research and analyse data, and make conclusions
- Write essays, reports and other assignments
- Use information technology.
An Access course will help you develop the relevant skills for higher education, as well as subject knowledge.
However, the skills listed above can not just be acquired through study – any experience can be relevant here, e.g. your job, voluntary activities, or other interests that have required you to read widely and in depth.
It’s a good idea to find out how much reading, writing, and public speaking might be involved in a course before submitting your application for it. You'll be studying it for the next 3 or 4 years, so you want to make sure you'll actually enjoy it.
Family and friends
It is important that your family and friends are prepared for the changes you will be making in your life so you can study in higher education.
This is likely to mean changes in some of your relationships, to a certain extent.
You will need to talk to those that will be affected most about what arrangements you can make to overcome any difficulties during your studies.
These plans should be finalised and in place ready for when you begin your course, to help keep any potential disruption to your friends and family to a minimum.
If you do not make suitable adjustments, you may become stressed by any problems that arise, or may even have to take time out of your course to sort out these personal issues.
You will also have to organise in advance any financial, childcare and/or travel arrangements.
It’s also a good idea to make a timetable of your lectures, seminars, etc. and how you will fit in your studying around this.
Try to work out how much time you will need to spend on campus each day, including time spent in the library and at social activities.
Although attending a university or college as a mature student may seem daunting, remember that you will meet lots of new people and make friends from different backgrounds.
This will enhance your experience as a student, as will studying with people who have similar interests and who encounter the same challenges.
They will be there to provide mutual support when things get tough, and they will value the support and advice you can provide too.
Further help and information
Having read through the information above, you may wish to find out more on specific aspects of higher education not covered here.
The external links below provide more information and advice on Access courses and other qualifications that can get you into higher education.
Access to HE courses
More information about Higher Education Access courses.
Association of British Colleges
The only trade association in the UK dedicated to distance learning providers.
UK government website providing information for mature students considering entering higher education.
National Extension College
A non-profit organisation that has been providing distance learning courses for over 40 years.
Open College Networks
The leading credit-based awarding body in the UK, offering high quality, flexible, credit-based qualifications.
Open College of the Arts
Open College of the Arts offers courses in art history, creative writing, fine art, garden and interior design, music, photography, film and digitial media.
The Open University
The Open University is the UK's only university dedicated to distance learning.
Tips for writing a personal statement
A good personal statement can mean the difference between receiving an offer and being unsuccessful. Your personal statement is where you show us that you have what it takes to study on one of our undergraduate courses.
Learn how to:
Your personal statement
A personal statement is a piece of writing that you submit as part of your UCAS application to universities. It is used by universities during the admissions process to decide whether you are suitable for the course you are applying for.
You only write one personal statement for the five courses and universities you apply for.
You may want to apply for a variety of different courses - if this is the case, write about common themes relevant to all courses.
Plan your personal statement
It is a good idea to plan out what you want to say before writing your personal statement.
We are looking for evidence of your interest in, enthusiasm for, and understanding of your chosen course.
- why you are interested in the subject
- your ambitions and how taking the course will help you achieve them
- why you are interested in progressing on to higher education.
You must tell us about:
- your reasons for choosing the course (this is the most important part of the statement)
- your skills (and their relevance to your chosen subject)
- wider reading you've undertaken
- work experience (especially where this is relevant to the subject)
- any achievements or prizes you have won during your study or work
- your wider interests and hobbies
- any careers plans you might have.
If you are a mature student you can use your personal statement to talk about your wider experience and the skills and knowledge you have gained; as well as why you are now thinking about returning to education.
Structure your personal statement:
Use a clear structure in your personal statement and make sure each paragraph logically follows on from the one before.
- include an eye-catching and interesting introduction, as well as an engaging middle section and conclusion
- write around 4,000 characters (47 lines). The UCAS application will only accept this number of characters as a maximum
- think carefully about how you end the statement - you want a positive, forward-looking final paragraph.
Write your personal statement:
- be honest and write in your own words - the best statements are always the most genuine
- use clear language and avoid extravagant claims
- show what makes you stand out as a candidate
- be analytical rather than just descriptive - don't just tell us what you've read or what you've done, we want to see what you gained from this, or how it changed your perception of your chosen subject
- reflect on your work experience, especially if you are applying to courses linked to a profession (such as Social Work). We want to see evidence that you've had relevant work experience and how this has given you an insight into that profession
- draw on your other experiences - for example, are you a member of a society, have you won any awards, scholarships or prizes?
- provide evidence of your key skills, including research, critical thinking, communication, organisation, planning and time-management
- highlight any career aspirations you might have and show how the course will help you achieve them
- use accurate grammar, punctuation and spelling
- proofread your statement and ask a friend or relative to read it.
Less is often more in a statement, so focus in detail on a few topics, rather than writing a statement that becomes a long list of things you’ve done.
Remember - what we really want to know is why you've applied for the course, so this should be at the heart of your statement.
Make sure you allow enough time to plan and structure your personal statement carefully, ensuring you include everything you want to say.
If you are invited to interview, go back to your statement so that you can familiarise yourself with the information you have given us.
For more advice, see the UCAS tips for writing a personal statement