Not all students are fresh out of school or college. There are those who take a year out, and those who take more than a year out — you know, a couple of decades, say.
In fact, nearly a third of students are classified as mature.
That doesn’t mean they wear cardigans and slippers, drink cocoa to help them nod off by ten and advise you not to run with scissors. It simply means they’re at least 21 by the time they start their course. Actually, most mature students are between 21 and 25, but as for the rest, they might be coming back to education at any point in their lives — even after retirement.
Some universities specialise in mature students more than others. At the University of East London, four out of every five students is "mature". Meanwhile, at the Royal Academy of Music, it’s more like one in twenty.
And guess what, this affects the atmosphere. We hardly need to tell you that people generally have a different idea of fun when they’re in their late teens and early twenties from when they find their first grey hair and realise their boobs fall into their armpits when they lie on their backs (and that’s just the guys). Almost every university has ’80s disco nights, but at some it’s retro chic, at others it’s reliving youth.
In some ways, the effect of a lot of mature students is similar to part-timers or local students (many students fall into all three categories). These students have lives and interests outside being a student and so student life as a whole is just that bit less stoked up on enthusiasm. Not necessarily a bad thing, depending on whether you think of student life beyond your course as a pastime or a waste of time.
Students can be classified as mature from as young as 21. If you were alive when Frankie said Relax or it was fashionable to wear shoulder pads so wide you could only go through doors sideways, you’re probably old enough to be a mature student. The only generally accepted definition is that mature students are not the same age as conventional students and they are (with a few exceptions) not coming to higher education straight from school.
In the vital statistics panel in the general section of each college profile, we provide figures for the percentage of mature students. That can vary from the single digits to a few universities where 18-year olds are the freaks. Naturally enough, this is one of the best indicators of how well geared up the university may be for mature students. After all, there’s safety in numbers. Or failing that, other people to moan with.
Most students’ unions (SUs) provide some facilities for mature students such as common rooms, mature student groups and specialised welfare advice. Make a checklist of needs from housing through to entertainment which will make a difference to which college you choose.
Although mature students often have roots and ties which may be an incentive to look no further than the most local college, many will find that special provisions for mature students may make a broader search worthwhile.
There’s not a great deal of difference in the funding available for mature students and their slightly younger counterparts. Almost any full-time student – mature, youthful or just plain childish – is entitled to the student loan up to the age of 60. Mature students should be eligible for the new maintenance grant and have a good chance of qualifying for extra help from the Access to Learning Fund.
Mature students are automatically classed as being independent, which means your parents’ income doesn’t matter a jot when you are being assessed for loans, grants and fee contributions.
Instead it’s your wonga that counts – and, if applicable, that of your husband, wife, civil partner or same sex partner.
If you’re thinking about going back to studying and becoming a mature student, as a first step you might want to have a look at www.lifelonglearning.co.uk
Remember, if you’re married or an independent student living with a partner, your other half's income will be assessed in the same way as parents’ incomes would be assessed for most students.
Although many students are aged over 21, many facilities still cater for the 18+ age range. Mature students can feel isolated and so it’s useful if there are others in the same boat and a forum for them to meet. Some SUs provide better support than others and many mature student groups organise their own functions. Under the Welfare section, the university profiles say whether there’s a mature students’ association.
Many universities have made a point of catering for mature students — although that doesn’t necessarily mean that they provide any better for their welfare — but the sheer numbers mean that many of their problems don’t come as such a surprise to welfare advisors.
Many universities have a mature students association, which is a start, and crèches and nurseries are quite common but standards, availability and cost all vary. Some don’t take very young children, some are hugely oversubscribed and some aren’t open for long enough during the day.