Lots of people feel a desire to go to college later in life, whether it’s to get their first degree or retrain in a different field. Yet, at the same time, they may feel nervous about returning to formal education as an adult. While the prospect of being the oldest person in your class can be daunting, being a mature student also has its advantages – and age should never stop you from pursuing your dreams!

That being said, going to college later in life also involves overcoming specific issues. These include relearning how to study effectively and balancing your studies with your current work and family obligations in a healthy way. That’s where this post comes in.

Keep reading to find out what you can do to give yourself the best chances of succeeding as a mature student.

The advantages of going to college as an adult

Firstly, let’s address any concerns that being a mature student puts you at a disadvantage. This is simply not true. It’s becoming far more common for people to attend college when they’re older, so you don’t have to worry about feeling like you don’t belong on campus. Not only that, but the vast majority of institutions also have special services and social groups for mature students, making it easy for you to meet people in a similar situation.

Being a mature student probably means having several years of work and life experience under your belt. As such, you’ve likely already developed the self-discipline, time management and organizational skills necessary to juggle your various modules' reading and writing assignments and succeed in a degree program.

In addition, if you’ve decided to return to college as an adult, you almost certainly have clear goals for what you want to achieve. This will make it much easier to dedicate yourself to your studies and sustain your motivation levels throughout the program. Lastly, even the fact that you’re closer in age to your professors can be helpful. This is because it makes you feel more confident approaching them with questions and builds a good working relationship.

Applying for college as a mature student

The process of the college application is slightly different when you’re older. Firstly, you have to do everything by yourself without the assistance of a high school career counsellor. Secondly, if you’ve been out of education for a while, the procedure might have changed since you were at school.

To begin with, research which colleges offer the course you’re interested in. Don’t forget to check the module lists to see which programs focus on the specific parts of the subject that you’re interested in or are relevant to your goals. Then you can check campusreel.org to calculate your chances of acceptance at the various institutions.

One factor to remember is that you’ll almost certainly need to submit evidence of your prior qualifications and give details of two or three academic or professional references. If it’s been a long time since you were in school, this might take longer than anticipated, so start early. That way, you’ll also have plenty of time to ensure that your personal statement is perfect.

Honing your study skills

A big part of ensuring you pass your degree with flying colours is learning how to study effectively. Here are some top tips for levelling up your skills:
  • Don’t just read over your notes and textbooks multiple times; this is not an efficient way to retain the information they contain. Instead, try to actively test yourself on the material. This mimics what you’ll be expected to do in an exam and strengthens your memory, making it one of the best study methods.
  • Space out your learning. Multiple short study sessions tend to be more effective than fewer longer ones, so bear this in mind when crafting your schedule. Online flashcards can be a big help with this because they use spaced repetition to gradually increase the length of time between testing you on the same card as a way to solidify the information in your mind more effectively.
  • Focus on understanding, not memorizing. This not only makes information easier to remember, but it also helps you to tackle new problem sets and questions more successfully. Ask yourself why a particular fact is actual or how an answer was arrived at instead of just learning it by rote. Where possible, try to link new pieces of information to ones you already know to create a broad network of knowledge you can draw on.
  • Experiment with different learning styles to find out what works best for you. Explore many options, from flashcards and mock exams to videos, audio materials and books.

Top tips for balancing your studies with work and family life

Perhaps the most significant factor that worries mature students is how they’ll be able to successfully complete a degree program while also working and/or raising a family. If this is weighing on your mind, try the following tactics:
  • Figure out a study schedule that fits around your existing responsibilities, and do your best to stick to it, rather than just studying as and when you find yourself with free time.
  • Consider studying part-time rather than full-time to reduce your workload and avoid burning out.
  • Set up a productivity-boosting study space at home to help you complete your academic work more efficiently.
  • Think about the online study as a way to benefit from greater flexibility over when and where you learn.
  • Network with other mature students for advice, support and friendship, whether by joining a society at your college or linking up with people from different institutions online.
  • Speak to your current employer about the possibility of working more flexible hours to ensure you can attend classes without your work suffering. They might even be willing to contribute to your tuition fees if your degree program is in a relevant field.
  • Make use of college services if you need them and ask friends and family for support, too – you’re sure to find people who are more than happy to help you achieve your dreams!