How to prepare for University

How to prepare for University as a mature student

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Here we are, (almost) ready to start this life changing experience. By now I would expect that you have completed your application and ideally received your an offer; either conditional or unconditional. If you are still in the application process, this post about “How to write a personal statement as a mature student” might help you. However, in this specific article I will discuss how to prepare for University as a mature student.

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 will not lie and say that everything was perfect. I have indeed struggled, particularly during my first year, to cope with my new student life.

A group of mature students on campus

The study workload, as expected, gradually increased to a level that required a real effort and dedication. Having to deal with a part-time job on top of that did not simplify 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 are 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. This is something that might vary according to your specific situation.

For example, my access to higher education course (foundation course) ended in June. On the other hand, my first year of University started in September. This means I had the whole summer, although I was still working full time at that point, to prepare for my return to education.

What I would suggest is approximately one month prior your start, something that I have not done. Obviously, this is an activity you do not need to stress on; take your time and do it with curiosity rather than anxiety!

If you are going to study from home, then this post will help you a lot: “How to study at home effectively”.

Being honest, the foundation course did give me a “taste” of what studying to a higher level would mean. However, let me tell you, University is something else.

Generally, the first two/three weeks are structured to give an introduction and overview of the topics covered in the course. During this period you would 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

Now I will go through some 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. Just to let you know, I studied International Business & Finance.

This definitions 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.

Taking notes and highlighting with markers

I started reading Business related articles and academic readings (get used to Google Scholar!), 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 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 have used this one * A-Z Notebook (choose the size between A4 and A5), it lasted till the end of my studies as it has got a really solid frame. To be fair I still have and look at it when definitions I find online are way too complex. In any case, if you want to choose another just make sure the frame its “robust” and doesn’t get damaged easily; I always carried my notebook around with me in my backpack!

I also made my “student essentials” list that I used when I was a mature student. You can discover it 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 Degrees 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 for how 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 terms of at what level you should revise, I would suggest ideally the equivalent of A-level; or at least GCSE if you are finding it too difficult at the beginning.

I was “lucky” because maths modules, equivalent to A-levels, were mandatory parts of my access to University course. Therefore, if you are going to attend one as well, I would expect you will have to do some too. In any case, I would really recommend you refresh your maths knowledge before starting University, regardless of your Degree topic.

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 answer the question on how to prepare for university. 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.

Planning ahead for time management

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 in hospitality. Thanks to the industry’s flexibility, 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!!

5. Pre-Networking

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.

networking, mature students

For example, I joined a mature student group where I was able to connect with people doing my same Degree course. 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 “matured” 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!

Need some motivation? In the image below you can find what I read to build good habits and a strong student mindset!

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.

Conclusions on “how to prepare for University as a mature student”

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 efficiently for your new academic life, I would also suggest to consult other sources, perhaps coming from your University itself.

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.

There is another suggestion that I did not cover in this post: writing. Since this is a huge area, I will cover it in more details in another article on how to write academically. (update: link here, “how to improve academic writing skills”)

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“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail” ― Benjamin Franklin

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