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Getting into higher education as a mature student
Becoming a mature student can be rewarding - and a place at university or college could be closer than you think. Work experience and Access courses offer alternative ways into higher education, and there are lots of options to help you fit learning in with other commitments.
Why get into higher education as a mature student?
University isn’t just for 18 year-olds: 60 per cent of undergraduates in the UK are over 21. People make the decision to get into higher education at all times of life and for all sorts of reasons. For some, it's a long-held personal ambition - perhaps one they have more time to achieve when they’re older. For others, higher education is a way of opening up new career options.
Higher education and your career
A higher education qualification can demonstrate that you have skills and qualities valued by employers - useful if you want to get on at work, or you’re just looking to boost your employability in uncertain times. Many employers support staff who want to improve their skills - and some are even willing to help with course costs.
And if you’re looking to change career, higher education could help you re-train and get where you want to be.
Find a higher education course that fits in with your life
If you’re looking for a way to fit higher education in with your life, there are more options than ever before.
Find out what it’s really like being a mature student
Need some tips on how to balance study with work or family life? Get your questions answered or share your experiences on the Student Room’s forum.
You’ll also find videos of students’ real life stories, and a map that lets you look up options for mature students at individual universities and colleges.
Part-time study and flexible learning
Around 40 per cent of higher education students do part-time or flexible courses. They’re especially popular with people who have family and work commitments.
Foundation Degrees and certificate or diploma courses are quicker to complete than traditional degrees - and can often be ‘topped up’ at a later date. On some courses you build up credits at your own pace, until you have enough for a qualification.
Higher education courses are available at many local colleges, so it’s often possible to study close to home.
Rather than attend lectures, on a distance learning course you study from home at times that suit you.
You’re likely to have regular contact with tutors and fellow students online - and may meet up in person for occasional study groups or residential events.
See OpenLearn for a free taste of what distance learning is like.
Finding the right course and institution for you
There’s a huge range of courses to choose from, but there's plenty of information available to help you find the right one.
Funding your studies
If you need to continue earning while you study, part-time and flexible courses can be combined with work.
And if you do a full-time course, you may be entitled to extra financial help if you have children or there’s an adult who depends on you financially.
For student finance, you'll automatically be classed as an 'independent' student if you're 25 or over when you start your course. However, you can also be classed as 'independent' if you're under 25 - for example, if you're married or have care of a child.
Routes into higher education for mature students
Some mature students get into higher education with A levels or with equivalent, work-related qualifications (like NVQs or a BTEC).
But traditional qualifications aren’t always necessary. Some institutions may give you credit for professional qualifications or relevant work experience. Others won’t always ask for formal qualifications because the course itself has units aimed at giving you the right study skills and ‘foundation’ knowledge.
Finding out about entry requirements
Entry requirements vary between courses, so if you have one in mind it’s worth looking up the entry requirements online. To find out whether a university or college is willing to take your work experience into account, get in touch with the admissions tutor for your course.
Access to higher education: updating your qualifications
One qualification widely accepted by universities and colleges is the Access to Higher Education Diploma.
Developed with support from universities, the diploma is designed to provide a good grounding in the knowledge and study skills needed to succeed in higher education. It’s equivalent to A levels, but courses are put together with people who haven’t studied for a while in mind - and most don’t require prior qualifications.
There are over 1,000 courses leading to the diploma, in subjects ranging from arts and humanities or legal studies to science and technology or nursing.
Many allow you to study part-time or in the evenings. Most local colleges offer Access courses, so there’s probably a suitable one near you - and a number are available through distance learning.
Choosing an Access to higher education course - get help and advice
Use the Next Step course search to find courses at all levels, including Access courses. Advice is available online, over the phone, in person or by email.
Get the Aimhigher guide for mature students
If you’re thinking about getting into higher education as a mature student, there’s lots more information in ‘Make your dreams a reality’ - the Aimhigher guide.
You can download a copy below, or order one by:
- tel: 0845 015 0010
- textphone: 0845 015 0030
Quote reference 'URN 09/1160'. An audio version is also available (quote 'URN 09/1337').