Being a mature student

How to choose a degree course as a mature student

Note: I’m a mature student currently studying with the Open University. I’ve also got a degree from a bricks and mortar university, so I’ve studied at degree level both ways. This is the first in a series about being a mature student.

Embarking on a degree course at any age is a big deal, but I think there’s a particular set of things to consider as a mature student. You might be thinking of taking time out of work to study or wondering how you might fit studying in alongside work and, you know, real life.

Here’s some things you might consider while you weigh up your options.

  • Do you actually need a degree? If you’ve decided on a career change to be a doctor, then obviously yes. But if you’re thinking about career enhancement, or studying for pleasure, does it need to be a) as rigorous and b) as expensive as going the degree route? There’s loads of free / cheaper courses available everywhere on the internet. I list some examples below. Ultimately, for me, I wanted the rigour and the structure which I knew would make me get the work done, but you might (very likely) have better willpower than me.
    • OpenLearn from The Open University has cut down versions of some of its modules available. This is also a great resource if you’re deciding whether to study with them on the paid route and want to sample some of the materials.
    • Harvard have free courses here and MIT are here.
    • Udemy have tons of pay as you go modular courses.
    • Many universities have lifelong learning or continuing education departments, which offer anything from paid short courses to paid masters degrees. For example, Cambridge ICE is here.
    • And of course YouTube is your friend to find info on almost anything, although you might need to hunt around to find quality videos on your chosen subject.
  • What do you want to study? Again, if you want to be a doctor, or your employer is funding an MBA, this is not going to trouble you for long. However, if you’re looking for a degree to enhance your career or for your own interest, then you’ve got more options to think about. Don’t think you need to study one ‘pure’ subject like English or Psychology necessarily; lots of unis now offer joint honours courses where you can mix two subjects and some like the Open University offer a lot more flexibility than that (I’m on my fifth of six modules, only two of which have been in the same subject). Also think beyond the subjects you studied at school; lots of uni subjects aren’t really covered at school but you might absolutely love them.
  • How will you fund it? Great news if your employer will pony up for a work related degree (although check the T&Cs) but for the rest of us we’re going to need to find the cash. In the UK you might be able to access loans via Student Finance, and depending on your circumstance its always worth checking what bursaries and grants the institution you’re applying to can offer. Make sure you’ve taken all the costs into account, not just tuition. That might include accommodation and equipment.
  • Do you want to study full-time, part-time, fully remote, partially remote or on campus? This is going to have a huge impact on which institution you choose. If you’re going for the on campus route, it’s worth finding out how many mature students they have. You might love being the only one with a bunch of 18 year olds, or hate it – only you know. Some institutions specialise in mature students, like Birkbeck London. If you’re going partially or fully remote, definitely check out their credentials for remote learning. Some bricks and mortar unis have had to pivot hard to this model during the pandemic, with understandable teething problems, whereas others like The Open University have been built for remote learning from the ground up. This means, for example, that they’ve got materials designed to be consumed in a variety of ways like video, audio and e-books, that you can download and take with you.