Feel like you’ll be the “old woman” in the class? Alison debunks the myths about returning to study as a mature age student.
By Alison Drew-Forster via Mamamia
I am a ‘woman of a certain age’ which is to say, somewhere North of 40 and South of 50.
When I first went to Uni, we wore a lot of layered fluro and acid wash, our hair was permed and Madonna was the “next big thing” of music.
When I returned to university as a mature-age student to make the switch from law to journalism, I realised that most of my classmates were not yet born at the time I completed my undergraduate studies.
I realised that most of my classmates were not yet born at the time I completed my undergraduate studies.
Just as an FYI, you should know that this post is sponsored by Charles Darwin University. But all opinions expressed by the author are 100% authentic and written in their own words.
There are many good reasons why women in their 30s and 40s consider going back to study. Some are planning to return to the workforce after a period at home raising kids and feel they need a qualification to get them back in the game.
Others already have an established career, and want an additional notch on their belt to help blast through that glass ceiling. Some, like me, want to completely change careers.
But being women, we can usually manage to persuade ourselves there is a more convincing reason not to take a risk and try something new.
So enough of the negative self-talk.
We’ve prepared a cheat-sheet of the top 6 reasons that hold women back from returning to studying – and why they’re wrong.
1. I am too old.
Actually, mature-age students (usually defined as being older than 25) are increasing in numbers across Australia. One 2006 study calculated 38% of a university’s annual enrollment were aged 21 or over.
Being older also means being wiser. You bring a wealth of life experience to your course that younger generations just don’t have. And when your lecturer makes references to anything that happened before the ‘90s, you will not just understand it, but have first-hand experience of having lived it. Besides, if you study online then most people will only know you by your name not your age (unless you want to tell them your life story).
Most Universities not only appreciate the contribution of mature-age students, but have special networks and support systems in place to help you settle in to academic life.
2. I don’t understand technology so there’s no way I would do my degree online
Instead of being scared of new technology (I actually groaned the first time my lecturer told us we had to join Facebook), embrace it.
It will make your learning more fun, assignments easier to complete and makes for great additions to your CV when you can say things like “experience with online content management systems.” You can stumble right from your bed to the computer and, wham, you are at university studying online. And you can put yourself first, study when it suits you, and make first claim on the family technological gadgets for a change.
If you really are petrified by new technology, or don’t know your Google from your Bing, then you could enrol in a basic computer course at your local TAFE, Adult Education Centre or even at the uni, before beginning your formal studies.
3. I can’t afford to even pay for one semester’s fees.
Whilst some of us are old enough to remember the heady days of free university education, the reality today is you should expect to have to pay fees. (Plus all the other stuff like a laptop, if you don’t already have one, textbooks, stationery, internet and child care.)
The good news is FEE-HELP for higher education is available to all Australians. Basically, the government lends you the money and then from the happy day when you start earning real money (above a particular threshold), you pay the loan back in little bite sized chunks through your tax.
Other good news is many universities have scholarships which can cover a range of costs from fees to textbooks. The scholarships are usually divided into what you are studying and there are even some dedicated to mature-age students.
4. I’ve got two kids in primary school. How will I juggle everything?
Studies indicate the biggest concern to mature-age women who are considering a return to study is “responsibility conflict”. They wonder how they will squeeze study in around all their other commitments such as children and/or paid work.
For me, the answer was a supportive partner and friends, and a timetable that allowed me to drop the kids to school before the first lecture, plus tutorial scheduling meant I was there at the gates to pick them up at 3.30pm. There are also online and part time options to suit anyone’s schedule.
Sure, I often had to study until late at night. But one of the benefits of studying alongside those younger peeps is when you can’t work out how to upload that hyperlink into your Wiki at 11.30pm, you can guarantee at least one of your classmates will be online and have the answer for you.
And if you are a mum, then you are used to being organised. So take that experience and use it to help develop good studying habits.
Plus it is a good example to set for your kids: being prepared to work hard at following your dreams.
Devote energy at the start of the semester to understand what your lecturers expect of you; meet with them for further guidance if need be.
5. I can’t remember how to write an assignment, what if I fail?
Mature-age students tend to be highly motivated to succeed. If you have, like me, given up your day job to study, you want to make damn sure it is worth it.
Accept it is normal to feel anxious and afraid about returning to study. But remember, as a mature-age student, you are there because you really want to be there; and use that motivation to spur you on. You also may be able to use your life experience to your advantage, helping you to understand issues quickly and easily.
Once you get going you will surprise yourself at how well you can do. If you are still anxious, consider a uni preparation course to build your confidence. Most offer one.
6. Can I even get into uni?
After all that procrastination, you may have not thought about actually getting in. There are lots of different eligibility requirements and pathways into uni such as work experience being counted, or previous study. And why not just give it a go?
The worst thing that can happen is that you will be opened to a new life experience, whether you finish the course or not.
As for me, my own return to study as a 40 year old, turned out to be one of the best times and happiest experiences of my life. Sure there was stress, but I hadn’t felt as alive or had so much fun in years.