Let’s be honest, as a mature student at university you are going to have a slightly different experience from the average. This topic often attracts a wave of “fake positivity” that can cause more harm than good. What I mean by that is all those people trying to prove the opposite, that all students are the same.
Funny enough usually these people never actually experienced University as mature students. Don’t get me wrong, you are going to be a student like others and I will always encourage you to start! The main difference I want to address here has nothing to do with fair grading, I am talking about feelings!
Although I personally did not like the sound of it, I also acknowledged that an “adult returning to education” (this was the category I fell into) was indeed a true statement. Just for the record, I started University at 26. But where does the difference in student experience come from?
I spent four years at University as a mature student. I can tell that the main factor driving this difference in feelings is: perception. In this post I want to address a specific aspect of perception: how you are perceived by the academic environment around you. Knowing what to expect in advance can have a huge impact on your University experience!
Perception as a mature student
Perception plays a massive role in your student experience. The sooner you understand this inner psychology, the better your experience will be! Now let’s focus on that aspect I mentioned earlier. This is important because you have really little control on how others perceive you at the beginning.
This is probably among the trickiest aspects of a mature student experience. However, you can change your perception of the environment around you. I started to realise the truth in my third year, where University really tested my skills and knowledge. It is only after that moment that I realised how my University experience differed from others. So what is really like to be a mature student at University?
How you are perceived as a mature student at University
It is here that the castle crumbles.. University students do NOT share the same experience. I would define it as “being under the spotlight”. The clearest example that made me realise this situation was when doing group presentation. Mind that, as I was studying a Business Degree, these often involved a panel of experts coming from the real business world, as well as my lecturers.
Therefore the pressure was high, really high. I started to notice a sort of special attention to me when presenting. The amount of questions and the time spent on me, compared to my fellow students in the group, was much more. It was like they were expecting more from me compared to anyone else. I was reserved a “special treatment” and they were asking me very difficult questions. This is what I mean by being under the spotlight, cause all eyes were on me.
I never really had the courage to highlight this situation to my lecturers, nor to my personal tutor. Many times the other students in my group would say to me after the presentation “they went hard on you with all those questions”. Although there is no certainty about the reason, obviously me being a mature student sounded as the only plausible explanation to me.
I experienced the same when meeting with other students to discuss group projects and other University related activities. It was like everybody was expecting me to take the lead, organize the work and put in more effort. All the “paperwork”, scheduling meetings, interaction with lecturers and external figures were often my tasks.
To be honest, I would not even think about sharing these feelings with anyone. After all, as I mentioned earlier, it was true, I was “different” from the average student.
Was that pressure feeling really a problem?
First of all, I was only 26 when I started University. I want to stress this part not only because I considered myself relatively young, but also because I felt young. I still do nowadays actually. The situations I outlined earlier could not take that away from me!
I started to enjoy the “extra pressure” coming from the University environment. I must say, it kind of helped me! It increased my desire of being successful, it fed my ambitions. I was there for the specific reason of changing my life, so I started to ignore all the rest. Everything changed from that moment, after I accepted the reality and stopped complaining to myself.
I realised that the environment around me was just “curious” about me rather than malicious! Then I started to make real friends and expand my academic network. I got accepted into that world. When meeting with other students, most of the time I would take the lead naturally without waiting or feeling “obliged to”.
I developed my leadership skills and I enjoyed seeing other being reliant on me. Moreover, my presentations skills improved a lot and I learned to manage the Q&A sessions effectively, no matter how “tough” the assessing panel was.
Therefore, the way you are perceived as a mature student at University is not a problem! Sometimes it is just a matter of changing your perception in order to change how others perceive you! There are few books that helped me a lot, you can find them below if that interests you.
Focus on your goal and be yourself
If anything similar happens to you, I would suggest focusing on your final objective and adapt to the situation. Transform it in a strength to develop yourself and take advantage from it! Once you start being aware of the environment surrounding you, you will ease that pressure feeling. There is nothing malicious but just simple curiosity (hopefully).
No matter what age you start, you are a student like others! Your life, for one reason or another, brought you to University at a later stage. As a consequence, you will have a slightly difference experience as a mature student. What is the problem with that? Nowhere.. we are not all the same.
Things will come naturally, friends of any age and from any background, relationships with the academic staff and so on. University is a great place and a life-changing experience, just be yourself and make the most out of it. You will find a lot of support if you know where and how to look for it, that’s why perception is important!
Similarly to what I discussed above, the way you perceive the environment surrounding you also plays a role. In this case though, you have much higher control than vice-versa. I have described this feeling as being like a “fish out of water” in another article; you can find it here if interested “An adult going to University, feeling inappropriate?”.
Please mind that everything above is based on my experience as a mature student at University. Therefore, that does not mean that you will experience the same. However, being honest the majority of mature students that I met during those years had similar experiences.
Obviously, there so many positive aspects of going to University as a mature student that I have touched on different articles; for example here you can find one of them if interested “Is going to University as a mature student worth it?”. As I mentioned at the start, the reason why I wanted to touch on the relation between perception and being a mature student is simple: fake positivity. This is why I wanted to share with you my experience as a mature student. I hope this read can help you.
“To know each other we must reach beyond the sphere of our sense perceptions” – Nikola Tesla