How to be a successful mature student at University

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Best education and learning quotes
Best education and learning quotes

As I mentioned in previous posts, mature students face a unique set of challenges that differs from other students. However, the path to success is very similar for all.

What do I mean by being successful? Simple, getting good grades and finding a job afterwards that repays your efforts with financial rewards and career satisfaction.

Many people think that the real job hunt starts after graduation, they are wrong. I stupidly thought that too, everything you do at University is highly correlated to your success in the job market!

Therefore, in this post I am going to share useful tips on how to be successful as a mature student at University.

Firstly, few things to point out. Some students might already “naturally” do what I am going to share in this article. I must say I did not have such will and energy at that time.

I was not taking things seriously, particularly in my first and second year when I struggled to fit into the university environment and make friends.

All I wanted was to get my Degree done and escape from the hospitality industry.

That attitude was completely wrong! What made me realise I was on the wrong path were those “active” students and how successful they were, both academically and later in the job market after graduation.

The road to be successful

The tips and recommendations I am going to list below are based on my personal experience, including many mistakes that I made, as a mature student.

Just for the record, I started university at 26 and graduated at 30 in International Business & Finance.

I won’t bore you with my story on this article, if you are interested in that, you can find it here: “Starting University at 26 in the UK, my successful story as a mature student”.

During those 4 years I’ve met lots of students who ended up working for top companies and earning really high salaries.

However, unfortunately I have also met many mature students who gave up and dropped out of University.

This is why I started to align myself with the first category, because I wanted to change my life.

The idea of giving up and going back to do “any” job, mainly hospitality, was the fuel of my ambitions. I wanted to be a successful mature student!

1. Attend your lectures!

This might be an obvious one, but believe me it’s not. Even before Covid, all my lectures were recorded and made available few hours after taking place.

This gave a lot of flexibility in managing my study time and part-time job, but also “pushed” me toward a lazy habit. I would rarely go to class apart from when strictly necessary.

Moreover, I would leave lectures accumulate for weeks before needing to rush and watch them all at once when approaching deadlines or exams.

Even worse, sometimes technical faults would cause a really low audio quality (if any). I was missing the key invaluable information from lecturers!

You cannot imagine how many times I regretted not being there to ask clarifications on difficult topics.

Don’t get me wrong, having the benefit of watching (and re-watching) lectures at home is great. Sometimes I felt tired, had to work, or simply I could not be bothered to attend lectures.

Everybody has those days, there is nothing wrong with that, but please do no let it become normality.

You learn and remember much more in class surrounded by other students, and that’s what I started to do!

I instantly noticed the difference, definitely felt more active and improved my grades!

I wrote about studying online vs on-campus in another article, you can find it here if interested: “Study online vs on campus?”.

The University environment that surrounds you plays a massive role in your learning curve. It’s there for you, use it!

2. Class Interaction (sit in the front rows!)

If going to class means sitting at the back rows chit chatting or staying on your phone checking social media all the time, then you might as well stay home and watch the recordings instead.

Luckily, I never had this chit chatting habit, my issue was more around being mentally “absent” in class. I could not focus and listen for more than few minutes, I was struggling.

But guess what the most successful students were doing?

They were all sitting in the front rows, taking notes and interacting with lecturers in meaningful discussions.

The relationship between them and professors was inspiring, they were even calling each other by names!

Nobody from the back rows was ever interacting at all, most were not even interested. It looked like there were two different classes.

Then there was me, right in the middle and struggling to stay focused. So I thought, let’s give it a try. I started sitting in the front rows and “copying” what they were doing, their habits.

Everything clicked for me from that moment. It was like I was switched on, understanding rather than just listening. I was more involved in class discussions and I felt naturally “awake”.

On top of that, I made really good friends to exchange notes and study together. No need to mention that my grades improved significantly as a result!

I finally started turning myself into a successful mature student.

3. Network Network Network to be successful!

Networking is in my opinion the number one activity to do as a mature student. Please do not make my same mistake and isolate from everyone.

At first, I did not feel confident and appropriate for University. For that reason I used to stay always on my own, going back home as soon as my lectures were done, not getting involved in class discussions etc.

Thinking about it now makes me laugh, how ridiculous that was! There are several benefits of networking at University, both academically and career-related.

Remember that your fellow students could not only be your future colleagues, but also your future job referrers!

Networking with other students will also improve your grades, I can guarantee that. From exchanging notes to studying together in the library, these activities will make the whole journey much smoother.

However, they are not the only people you should focus on. Please network with your lecturers! Almost all my professors had solid relationships with real companies, from SMEs to multinationals.

They would be regularly in touch for projects such as consultancy and research. It is important to establish long lasting relationships with lecturers, they might introduce you to the right person for your career. Moreover, they could put a good word in for you!

The connections you can make at University are key for your future career! I have also discussed more benefits in another article, you can find it here: “Is going to University as a mature student worth it?”.

4. Extracurricular activities

If you think about it, everyone around you is going to have the same qualification as you.

Therefore, in order to have an advantage on your future “competitors”, you should start boosting your CV already while studying. Again, I was making a huge mistake in this regard.

I already had a part-time job, I could not be bothered to do anything else in my spare time. I thought that was enough to give me an advantage, considering that prior to that I had been working full-time for several years.

Was it really like that?

Obviously having a solid work history is always a plus when doing job applications. However, when employing at a graduate level, many hiring managers want to see more than just work experience.

I can assure you that as I have done dozens of jobs interviews after graduating, and I was asked for extracurricular activities! Then I regretted not doing any.

Guess what those successful students were doing? Those sitting in the front rows and interacting with lecturers?

They were involved in all possible activities, their names were everywhere! I envied their energy to be fair, but I wish I followed their way of living University from the start.

The major extracurricular activities would include sports clubs and societies.

However ,on top of that, I would definitely recommend to get involved in extra projects and academic competitions!

All of these are not only great ways of networking outside of your class mates, but also getting your name known around while boosting your CV!

5. Conferences, Webinars and Career Events are key for success

This is a must do thing to do! They are great opportunities for developing key relationships with employers.

Similarly to lectures, attending these events just for the sake of it does not give you any benefit.

If you are going to attend a conference or a webinar delivered by companies/hiring managers, you need to make sure they notice you! What do I mean by that?

Just as you would do during class, take notes and listen carefully. Then prepare some really thoughtful and challenging questions for the Q&A session.

It is during that part that you have the opportunity to have a direct contact with them, make sure you use it smartly!

Evenly important are career events and recruitment days. Again, just attending those is not going to make you any different from the rest.

In fact, the majority of students who attend those events all do the same things; go from stand to stand; ask the same questions over and over; get told to register their interest on the companies’ websites; collect some gadgets.

Where is the value in that? My suggestions is to select few specific companies you like (rather than going around to all).

Do some research about the companies values and missions; describe your unique situation and interests; ask for any follow-up to the event e.g. insight days or other recruitment events held by the companies in their premises.

This is exactly how I got my first internship, I have explained it here if that might interest you: “How I have secured an internship as a mature student”.

These are great opportunities to catch in order to become a successful mature student, don’t let them slip away!

Conclusions on how to be successful as a mature student

Whereas the challenges can be different as a mature student, I will always say that everyone has the same opportunities to succeed.

It is up to you to decide if and how to use them! Too many times I met mature students who gave up on their studies or who ended up going back to their hated jobs.

Never give up! Find a way to make it work when times are difficult. It is during those that you can show your resilience.

I would recommend reading this book, it helped me a lot! You can find it on Amazon* The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People; a masterpiece that focuses on realism rather than abstract “fake” positivism.

If you want to find out more about what books I have read to change my mindset, you can find out more here.

Sometimes all you need in order to be a successful mature student is just a change of habits!

As I said in the beginning, these recommendations are based around my experience, my mistakes, and everything I have seen with my eyes during my time as a mature student.

So please consider that it might not be the same for you. Best of luck!

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“Some people dream of success, while others wake up and work hard at it”Mark Zuckerberg