Higher education for mature students

mature student

That back to school feeling isn't just for the kids; around a third of undergraduates are mature students.

If you're already juggling parenting duties and a job, reentering education can seem daunting, but there are many options available. The UK has the most extensive range of further and higher education study opportunities in Europe.

What are the options?

You can sign up for evening courses, online learning programmes or the Open University - all of which offer flexible study. 

If you're interested in gaining a higher education qualification, such as a degree, and can commit to something full-time (part-time study is also available), then the UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) website is a great way to get an overview of what's available.

Depending on your reason for studying - to change career, start your own business, or just to rekindle your love for a favourite school subject - it can be worth seeking advice from a careers advisor. The National Careers Service can help you get in touch with someone who will suggest suitable options based on your educational history, aims and interests. They can also let you know if you'll need to take any Foundation courses first.

Applying for a course

"I'm a mature student and can honestly only say positive things about it. I'm the only one amongst my cohort and I truly don't feel any different to any if the 18-21 year-olds (I'm 46!)." nameuschangeus

UCAS handles all full-time applications on behalf of UK universities and higher education colleges, so you'll make your application through them, rather than directly to the institution. The UCAS website allows you to browse through thousands of courses offered by universities and colleges across the country.

When making an application, you'll need to write a personal statement to explain why you're applying to your selected courses. You also need to secure a referee to write a reference for you: a teacher, trusted advisor or employer. It is important to consider the course entry requirements, such as the grades needed for a place.


Finance and childcare

If you're an undergraduate with children, you can apply for a Childcare Grant or Parents' Learning Allowance. The Childcare Grant helps with the costs of childcare; you can apply for one on top of any other student finance you get from the government. You don't have to pay it back and it doesn't affect your income-related, unemployment or housing benefits. However, you cannot apply if you or your partner claims the childcare element of Working Tax Credits.

"Student finance are great at helping. There are lots of options. As I already had an NVQ3 it meant I wasn't eligible for government funding. But I can apply for a bursary and loan for mature students, which works in the same way as student loans."

Childcare Grant

A Childcare Grant can cover of up to 85% of your childcare costs, depending on your household income. You can apply for a grant of up to £155.24 a week for one child or up to £266.15 a week for two or more children. The amount is slightly more if you're in Wales.

Parents' Learning Allowance

A Parents' Learning Allowance will help with course-related costs if you're a parent with dependent children. Full-time students could get up to £1,553 a year. The money can help pay for books, study materials and travel. How much you get depends on your household income.

The Parents' Learning Allowance doesn't have to be paid back, is paid on top of your other student finance and won't affect your benefits or tax credits.

Adult Dependants' Grant

You may be eligible for the Adult Dependants' Grant if an adult is financially dependent on you, for example an elderly or disabled relative. The maximum available is £2,757 a year in England and £2,732 in Wales - the amount you receive will depend on your income, the dependant's income and other grants you're receiving. 

You can apply for this on top of any other student finance and you don’t have to pay it back; however the grant will affect other income-related benefits and tax credits you might get.


mortar board and degree

Is it worth it?

Mumsnetters who've been there - and got the cheesy graduation pic to prove it - on why it worked for them:

"Mature students tend to do well at uni as they are usually used to juggling and adapting because many already have existing commitments. I still worked, commuted 50 miles to uni, looked after the children and house and graduated with a first. It was hard, but I saw it as my one chance to prove myself and was determined to make the best effort I could."

"I went back to uni at 30 and it was the best thing I ever did. Choose your course not just for how useful it might be, but also something you'll really enjoy doing, because three to four years doing something you don't enjoy is a waste of time. If and when you do go for it, do exactly that. Mix with everyone from 18-year-olds straight out of school to lecturers." textfan

"I never had a problem fitting in as a mature student. There were a lot of twenty-somethings and quite a few thirty-somethings, but you are all equal in the fact you are all learning."

"My mother did her degree in her late 40s. I remember the night before enrollment she was getting cold feet and saying she was too old etc. She wailed to my dad that she'd be 50 when she graduated. Dad replied 'You'll be 50 anyway, you may as well be 50 with a degree!'"

Guest post: Why returning to university later in life was the best decision

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Last updated: almost 3 years ago