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Here we are, (almost) ready to start this life changing experience, I bet you can feel the mix of excitement and anxiety coming together. In this article you can find some tips on how to prepare for University as a mature student with 5 simple activities. (edit: at the end of this post you can also find some study guides for people returning to education)
When I was about to start university as a mature student, I had some doubts regarding my “cognitive abilities”. Basically, I was not sure about competing with younger students, or at least performing at their level.
I was thinking things like: “I have been out of education for a long time, will I be able to cope with the university workload?”; and “I haven’t written an essay in years, I don’t even know how to start!” I won’t lie and say that everything was perfect. I have indeed struggled to cope with my new student life as an adult.
The study workload, as expected, gradually increased to a level that required a real effort and dedication. Having to deal with a job on top of that did not ease the process. Looking back at those times, the real question I should have asked before starting was: what can I do in order to be ready for university?
There were certainly some things I could have done. However, it is just too easy to think about them now that I have graduated. Nevertheless, these could really help you getting prepared for your university journey as a mature student!
When to start to prepare for university
It is important to identify a somewhat indicative point in time to start preparing for university. This is something that might vary according to your specific situation.
For example, I had to attend an access to higher education course before starting university as a mature student. That gave me a “taste” of what studying to a higher level would mean. However, let me tell you, university is something else.
After completing it, I had the whole summer (although I was still working full time at that point) to properly prepare for my return to education as a mature student. You might or might not have to do an access or foundation course, that depends on your specific situation.
What I would suggest is approximately one month/few weeks prior your start; so that everything is still “fresh” in your mind when you actually start.
Do it with curiosity rather than anxiety!
Obviously, this is something you do not need to stress about; take your time and do it with curiosity rather than anxiety! (when you are going to study from home, this article I wrote will help you a lot: “How to study at home effectively”)
Generally, the first two/three weeks will give you an overview of the topics covered in your modules. During this period you will probably have the opportunity to change your course selection; should you realise that some are not as interesting to you as originally thought (unless mandatory).
It is after that point that the workload increases significantly! Mind that, after passing that introductory period, changing course selection will be more complicated. This is important as I had to wait the whole academic year to change mine! After passing that threshold, I could not drop out from a course I was not enjoying to enrol into another.
How to prepare for University as a mature student
Now I will go through 5 tips on how to prepare for University as a mature student. I truly believe that these could have made things a lot easier for me. I now hope they will actually make things easier for you:
1. Read the News
I am not sure about your level of keeping up with the news, but mine was pretty bad. I was so into the work and home life that I did not know what was happening around me. As a matter of fact, sometimes I would not even know what day it was!
So as a start I would suggest to get in the habit of reading the news on a daily basis. The BBC News website is a fantastic source, their articles are generally very well written. They also use a variety of technical and sophisticated words that are worth getting used to.
These can come in handy when writing essays or delivering presentations. Moreover, keeping up with the news will give you the opportunity to get involved in class discussions; therefore enhancing a better interaction with lecturers and other students. Checking the news every morning for me has become so natural that is the first thing I do. Before that, after waking up I used to open all my social media apps.
2. Prepare your own glossary of terms (key activity!)
After you get used to reading the news, you should then focus on the subjects you are going to study. This is extremely important and, trust me, will save you tons of time later!! One of the most time consuming activity during my first semester was to search the definitions of complex words and acronyms.
This definition-searching process was taking me more time than actually studying! Just before starting the second semester, after consulting with my personal tutor he advised me with to create my own glossary of terms. This is certainly a key activity to do in order to prepare for university efficiently as a mature student.
I started reading articles and academic readings related to my degree (get used to Google Scholar and other academic sources!), highlighting anything that I didn’t know the meaning of. I would then find the definition and rewrite it in my own words. This last step is extremely important. Everything clicked at that point, I was attending lectures and actually following them without problems.
Whereas previously I would forget a definition few days after reading it, this time I would remember it for a long time. I don’t know the exact science behind this, but I assume that rewriting in my own words was the key. Everything sounded so much easier and it actually fed my desire of knowing more, reading more as a consequence.
I just cannot imagine how easier my first semester would have been if I had prepared my own glossary of terms before starting University. Start your own now! Trust me, it is worth it. I would really suggest using an alphabetical notebook as it will make everything easier to search.
I always carried my notebook around with me in my backpack! If you need some recommendations on student essentials, I made a list that I used when I was a mature student. You can discover it here or in the image below if that might interest you!
3. Maths Revision (sorry)
If you think that mathematics is not relevant to your subject, you are wrong! Obviously, some subjects naturally involve a higher level of maths than others, but this is not the point. Revising maths, especially if you have been away from it for a long time, is key to prepare for University!
No matter what subjects you will study, I really suggest start doing some revision. There is plenty of free material online. Why? You might not even notice it, but by doing that you will sharpen your cognitive skills! You will be able to (re)develop skills such as problem solving, analytical thinking, testing hypothesis, collecting-validating-interpreting data and so on.
Here you can find an interesting article about the importance of numeracy as well as useful resources for exercises: National Numeracy – why is numeracy important?
In any case, I would really recommend you refresh your maths knowledge before starting university as a mature student, regardless of your degree.
4. Plan ahead to prepare your University/life schedule
You will hear this term a lot during your academic experience, alongside time management. Planning ahead is really another key factor to prepare for university as a mature student. But what exactly can you do before actually starting?
The first thing I would suggest is to request the academic calendar for your degree and all subjects, if available. Alternatively, most universities usually can provide access to the previous academic year’s calendar. However, mind that it is highly likely that it will differ from your actual schedule.
But why is this an important thing to do? I used this pre-calendar tip from my second year onward to plan my part-time work schedule and “family things” in advance. If you are starting university as a mature student, I’m sure you know what I mean.
I could use lots of useful information just by scrolling trough the calendar. For example, most of the times I would know that I would need to attend lectures only three days per week. In the best scenario, I was able to know indicatively which days as well.
This allowed me to plan ahead my work rota for my part-time job. I would share information with managers to design my “personal rota”. Moreover, I would be able to reduce/increase my working hours according to my academic calendar.
Mind that there is not only the obvious exam period, which can be easily predicted, but also mid-term tests, conferences, careers days, webinars, insight days and so on. Some of these are very important events that you should attend for your future career. Therefore, being able to plan ahead your schedule around them is very beneficial!!
Another important recommendation is to start building your network as soon as possible. Many mature students, like I did, feel inappropriate for the University environment. As a result, they tend to isolate and struggle to socialise with other students.
Remember that there are A LOT of mature students around an University campus! This is not a status you should be ashamed of! Social media platforms can be very helpful for building your network before jumping into this unique experience. I would definitely recommend to find and join all possible groups related to your University and interests.
For example, I joined a mature student group where I was able to connect with people doing my same degree. Some of them were just about to start like me; others were in more advanced years and some had already graduated! You cannot imagine how useful that group was! I found great people in their first year to share my University life with, from lectures to coffee breaks.
Moreover, all the tips coming from more “mature” students were absolute game changing, both academic suggestions and financial recommendations on how to use student discounts. Not to even mention “secrets” quiet study spaces and tips on how to move around the campus and library!
However, mature students groups and chats are not the only pre-networking activities you can do. In fact, I would also suggest joining already other groups of your interest, from societies to sport or anything that can help you fit into the university environment as a mature student.
Study Guides for Mature students
As mentioned at the beginning, below you can find some study guides for mature students returning to education. All of them are easily found on Amazon and I left a link for each that will take you there straight away. Please also let me know if you have other guides to recommend for mature students and I will add them to the list!
- * The Return to Study Handbook: Study Skills for Mature, Distance, and Workplace Learners.
- * The Mature Student’s Guide to Writing (Palgrave Study Skills); particularly good if you are unsure about your writing skills.
- * The Mature Student’s Handbook: 47 (Macmillan Study Skills); this takes a broader approach compared to the one above.
Conclusions on “how to prepare for University as a mature student”
If you have been out of education for a long time, starting university as a mature student might look harder than it actually is. I really hope this read has given you some ideas of what you can do to prepare.
Summing everything up, I would suggest to: read the news every day; prepare a glossary of terms related to your subject and written in your own way, revise maths ideally at the A-levels; start to plan ahead your time by using the available calendar; expand your network.
Please mind that these suggestions are personal and strictly related to my experience as a mature student. Although I am fairly confident that these “tips” can help you prepare effectively for university, I would also suggest to consult other sources, perhaps coming from your university itself.
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“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail” ― Benjamin Franklin