Becoming a mature student, how?? And barriers with having a long term illness?

(14 Posts)
HarryPottersMagicWand Thu 10-Nov-16 20:31:05

I went to uni at 18 and left at the end of my first semester. Panicking about debt and would I ever use the degree I was doing.

Hindsight being a wonderful thing, I am 35 and have known for years that the degree I was doing was the right one and I've always regretted leaving. Problem is, I am older and I imagine will be the only mature student on a course full of 18 year olds, I have 2 children age 5 and 8 and I also suffer from ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I haven't worked in years but I find I'm getting itchy feet and I want to do something. I'm currently on employment and support allowance, in the work related activity group and the job centre's so called help is also joke and it's not going to lead me to a job, I know I'm going to have to sort myself out. Obviously problem is a full time job is completely out of the question anyway and part time the hours would have to be limited, far limited than most part time jobs and I have no recent qualifications or experience. As you can imagine, employers will be clamouring to employ me grin. But as time has gone on, I do feel more able so I have a small hope that my illness has lessened.

After googling last night, the uni near me now does the course I started (only 3 in the country used to do it) and it said full time but also part time options available so I emailed to ask about part time and have received a response. Basically the full time option is half a day of lectures per module per week, 3 modules per semester so the full time option is 3 half days a week, which seems to god to be true if I'm honest. Part time is either 1, 2 or 3 modules per semester so I imagine a 3 year full time degree would take a long time going down the part time route.

What do I do? I am gobsmacked at the fees, full 9k per year for its course. I wouldnt bother with a student loan for anything else as DH works and we could scrape by, my money is due to end in May. But that much debt does scare me although I understand I'd have to earn 21k before it starts being paid off. To me a debt that's a minimum of 27k will never be paid off given I'd be late 30's when I graduate (this is all hypothetical of course, at the moment it's just an idea) I also don't want my family life to suffer too much but it still seems like a lot of time I'd be at home while the DCS are at school so work could be done then and evenings.

I don't know. It seems like a huge thing to do at my age and stage of life with the barriers I have. But I also don't want to waste ,y life which I have been doing up until now, apart from the DCs of course. I'm increasingly aware that they re getting older and when they are teens and later on leaving home, I need to have something there for me. At the moment I literally sit around waiting between school runs then see to them and that's it.

OP’s posts: |
Sadusername Thu 10-Nov-16 22:20:35

Hi Harry, I can't offer direct experience of your situation, however as someone who is in their 50s I can tell you 35 is not too old! Maybe you need to be over 50 to know how In lots of ways it sounds positive, your DC are at school giving you time to study and you seem very sure that this is the right course for you.
Reading Martin Lewis' take on student loans might help you get your head round the debt side of things.
Hopefully people with more relevant experience will chip in.

HarryPottersMagicWand Thu 10-Nov-16 22:53:17

Thanks, good to know I'm not too old grin, I do worry about being 'old' on the course and no one wanting to work with me. When I enter before I remember having to work in groups and I don't feel confident to approach a load of 18 year old and ask if I can join them. I do get quite anxious and I'm not good at approaching people but am happy for people to approach me first.

I've been having a look around online and it says a 25k salary would be payments of £30 a month! Which is nothing so don't think the money will be a factor for me. It will probably never even be paid off.

OP’s posts: |
glasshouse Thu 10-Nov-16 23:10:16

I'm in my second year of my degree and am over 50. You won't be the oldest and it seems to me that everyone is the same age when panicking over essays. Give it a go. It's the best thing I've done.

ElizabethHoney Thu 10-Nov-16 23:40:34

When I did my PGCE I was in my late 30s and nearly everyone else was 21 or 22. There were times when I felt very old!

However, they all wanted to work with me... Mainly because I was a grown up who was reliable enough to do the work I'd agreed to do to a high quality and who had the confidence to be bossy to anyone in the group who didn't pull their weight!

Plus they'd ask me for advice because I was so old and wise ahem

PitilessYank Fri 11-Nov-16 06:37:22

I think that you aren't giving young people much credit! They will of course be open to working with you. I think the younger generation is really very open-minded in that way. I am 50 and I have friends of all ages. Sometimes it astounds me that a 25 year old would want to hang out with me, but my friends in that age range tell me that's really silly.

PitilessYank Fri 11-Nov-16 06:38:04

Also, go for it!!


welliesandsequins Fri 11-Nov-16 06:49:06

Last year I finished an open university degree. I too have a long term illness, and at times it was hard. But the achievement I felt at the end was amazing!
The ou takes six years to complete a degree, it sounds like your course will be similar.
One of the reasons I chose the ou is because I could stop for a while if my health got worse, and then pick it up again.
I got a bursary from them for my fees (I was also on ESA). But not sure if you'd get that if you started a degree before.
I think ou may be worth looking into though.
But definitely go for it. What is the worst that can happen?!

kshaw Fri 11-Nov-16 07:45:24

I work at a university in a student facing role and you wouldn't just be around 18 year olds, will be a mixed group-I wouldn't worry about it!
And I wouldn't worry about your age, even if your degree takes 6 years, you'll be 41 - still 25 years of working left!

CustardShoes Fri 11-Nov-16 13:02:13

My advice is, if you are really keen to do further study, champing at the bit - go for it!! Don't see the fees as a debt - see them as an investment in yourself, your future, and your family's future. From what you say there are career advantages in degree level learning & training.

I welcome mature-age students - most of us lecturers love teaching people who know why they want to be at university & have taken a posiotive decision to do so, rather than being there because it's the done thing, like some sort of middle-class finishing school.

IMO, you'd have to have been under a rock not to know about the £9k fees ... BUT the good news is that fees loans are available for part-time study as well. Look at the moneysavers site to see arguments about why you should take a fees loan.

However, when you write:
Basically the full time option is half a day of lectures per module per week, 3 modules per semester so the full time option is 3 half days a week, which seems to god to be true if I'm honest. Part time is either 1, 2 or 3 modules per semester so I imagine a 3 year full time degree would take a long time going down the part time route

I think if you go into study thinking only of the scheduled face to face hours, you are heading for disaster. When I write a new module, I tend to estimate that for every hour of face to face teaching, I require the students to do about 3-4 hours of independent study. So I estimate the required reading for a 3 hour class to take about a day, plus further reading, plus researching & writing an essay.

A full-time course is just that - full-time.

From all you say, with family & a chronic illness, you would be far better to do the course part-time. Even that is likely to be a strain on your health. You will need to get professional documentation of your health issues to seek a 'reasonable accommodation' for your chronic illness, but you still have to do the degree. So you'll need to sort out childcare, domestic arrangements, and how you'll cope with the workload with ME.

Good luck!

HarryPottersMagicWand Fri 11-Nov-16 13:53:01

Thanks. Yes there is a lot to think about and I also know that 3 half days a week are far from all the work you do. I was going over last night what my first semester was like and I felt like I was always at uni but when I worked it out, I wasn't actually in lectures and seminars all the time but often in the library.

My only thing about the OU (I have requested a prospectus from them as well) is, is it all learning from just reading stuff? I'm not great at learning solely from books, I learn better by having it explained and doing stuff (the degree I'm looking at has simulated environments to work in).

I was aware of the 9k fees but I hadn't really thought about them in a while as I never really seriously thought about going back and doing it. I am concerned about the impact on my health and I'd hate to make it worse again but I do feel and shift and if I look back it's probably been happening gradually over time.

I've been looking at the whole ESA/studying thing and there is conflicting advice. Apparently you can still get it but only if you get DLA/PIP and sometimes they say you can get it but the DWP say no you can work. It's annoyingly not very straight forward. DH's wage isn't massive and if I did lose my benefits, things would be tight. Plus DH has just reached his student loan threshold but unfortunately he is on the very old system where it has to be paid back within 5 years regardless of how much the loan is so we are about to lose quite a chunk a month for the next 5 years. The new system, whilst having much higher fees, the payback system is much better.

OP’s posts: |
Ilovelearning Sat 12-Nov-16 23:58:19

I started at University in September at the age of 53. In a class of 50 there is myself and one other who are mature students. Any group will mirror real life, in that some students do not want to interact with us, others actively seek us out and the majority are somewhere in between. Nobody has been negative about our age, in fact quite the opposite, they think it's fantastic that we are doing it. There is also an amazing amount of help from the Disability and Wellbeing Services. It is full-on trying to keep on top of everything and I do think it would be sensible to consider the part time option in view of your health and the fact you have two young children. Although it may take a lot longer than you would like, it may be a lot less stressful. Good luck in whatever you choose to do!

BunloafAndCrumpets Sun 13-Nov-16 00:17:46


Another one saying go for it!

I managed to complete a medical degree when I had CFS. It was bloody hard work but I did it and am forever glad I did. There may be ways you can make it work. If you've had CFS for a while you'll know that you can find ways of managing your day to try to prevent crashing. I had a lot of contact hours but tried to conserve energy elsewhere e.g.:
- ate v simple to prep meals
- minimised walking in my commute
- did basically all my revision / assignments from my bed as it was the least exhausting place to be!

Also, I have done a short OU course which I really struggled with. My CFS affected my concentration to some extent and I often felt 'foggy'. Having fellow students and real life tutors to bounce ideas off was more motivating for me than the OU.

Good luck with your decision smile

MollyHuaCha Tue 15-Nov-16 18:28:29

I'm in my early fifties and have just started university. I have a chronic health condition, but It's so energizing being around young people, I genuinely feel just being there is good for my health. Go for it!

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