You’re HOW old? Being a mature learner

“I’m nervous about this essay.”


“I’ve not written academically for years.”


“And I know the type of essays I used to write will not be up to the standard here.”


“I think I’ll need some help.”

“Fantastic, these are brilliant insights. You’re doing very well. I’m certain you can do this.”

I had this conversation in first term of first year with a course tutor. Without a hint of irony, he listened to me describe the experience I didn’t have, and immediately pointed to another skill I did have.

Sure I didn’t know what I was doing, but at least I recognised that. If there is a single conversation which (for me) sums up being a mature student at York, it’s this. 

Settling in as a mature learner

Yes, believe it or not, I am a mature learner (just). I started my course at 22, the youngest you can be to qualify. Only four years older than my course mates, but the gap felt huge.

Whilst the majority of my new friends were fresh from A Levels, flush with study skills and still knocking out essays in their sleep, I hadn’t even opened Microsoft Word in four years. As I told my tutor – I needed help.

The truth is I was terrified. 

I needn’t have been.

The support on offer at the University of York is brilliant, and in that first term I went to every office hour (set times when you can meet your tutors one-to-one), writing centre appointment and workshop I could find.

When I received my mark it was (as I was later told by the same tutor) exactly the kind of mark a student should aim for at that stage. I was so relieved. The huge disadvantage I imagined I was at, was just that – imagined.

Making friends

The life of a mature learner is different to that of a normal fresher. It’s easy to feel different to everyone else – not just academically, but also socially.

My sweet course mates often rushed to reassure me that I didn’t look at all older than them, but really I want to look older – because I am. Or rather, I want to look my own age.

What I didn’t want, however, was ‘late’ nights (anything past 10pm) clubbing, or to move from my nice house into student halls, so outside my course I didn’t really mingle with other students at first.

I knew support for mature students was there if I had wanted it – and I received regular emails about mature learner meetups.

Now, though, I have lots of friends on my course and through joining societies I was able to become properly engaged in student life.

Getting involved

Being older also gave me the confidence to try things which my course mates seemed less inclined to do – like standing to be a course rep, or going on a study abroad programme.

I was also more confident, more settled in who I was, and I knew how to cook when I started studying – all huge advantages! 

Now my degree is ending I’m beginning to ‘notice my age’ again. As lots of my friends are going back home to live with their parents I’m getting married and moving in with my new husband.

Looking back now, I am so glad that I came to university. I’ve mentioned the things I struggled with here – but the benefits of coming back to education far outweighed any difficulties. I have loved every second of being a mature learner, and am so excited to have a degree.

Thinking of becoming a mature learner?

Wondering if university is for you? Explore university study skills and the support available for mature students at York with our free online course.

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I am a mature learner from York, studying English and Related Literature. I am also President of Print Soc, and love travelling.

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