Returning to education as a mature student offers new prospects and the opportunity to make some major changes in your life. Whether you have had a career break to have children and want to get back into the swing of things, or missed out on university in your younger years for whatever reason, or you are looking for a completely different challenge in your career, returning to education empowers you to create new opportunities for yourself. Higher education qualifications can open all sorts of doors that would otherwise be closed to you. Whether that’s because specific knowledge is required to complete a job, such as the things you’d learn from a nurse practitioner degree, or because certain roles want to see that you commit and dedicate yourself to a cause for an extended period of time.
Another reason to go back into education may be to build upon your previous education. Completing a postgraduate qualification within an industry that you are already working can be very lucrative, as demonstrated in this article about salaries.
But going back to university later on in life throws up a number of different challenges to anyone, regardless of previous academic experience.
Getting Used To The Workload
Whether you are going back into education full-time, or you are fitting it around your current working commitments, the workload is something that you will need to get used to.
While courses are generally geared into easing you in slowly, if you are not used to academic life, or have had many years away from it, readjusting to the demands can be hard.
Another issue you may face is the fact that much of your workload will mean a considerable amount of self-directed study. If you have no experience of university life, you may not know what to expect. On many higher-level courses, much of the work is self-determined. You may not have much contact or guidance regarding a project or module. Often, you will need to put in a considerable about of research into a topic before you can complete any papers on it. This can be both time-consuming and stressful.
Fortunately, there are support services and your course handbooks and tutors should be able to help you out. Getting a head start on any of the work as soon as it is given will mean that you won’t be left cramming all of your essays and dissertations into the last week before their submission deadline.
Overcoming Worries Over The Age Gap
You may have concerns that you will be much older than the other students on your course, and that it may cause considerable culture clashes between you. Younger students often have a reputation for living a party lifestyle, and you may have concerns about how seriously other members of your class may treat the course.
But these stereotypes are fairly unfounded, and in reality, you may find that you are studying with a greater mix of age groups. Although you are very likely to be part of a course with a span of ages present, you will notice that many of the younger students will also take their responsibilities seriously. With the growing cost of university education leaving young students with long term debts, many really work hard to try and achieve the best results as they can so that they can reap the rewards with a better career at the end of their study.
Talk with other students on your course, regardless of their age. You may find that you have more in common than you’d expect, and universities are full of inter-generational friendships.
Balancing Your Work Around Your Life
Returning to education later in life means that you may have more life commitments than you would have had when you were younger. You may have an established career that takes up a lot of your time and energy. While you may be studying to enhance this career, you would not want to put it at risk by overcommitting in your studies.
Schedule your studies around your work. But remember, you may have a higher chance of burn out if you are taking on lots. Plan breaks, and remember that looking after yourself is vital.
If you have a family, it will be essential that you remember to still put them above your studies. That means specifically making time to spend with them. Try and keep mealtimes together and find an evening or a day that you can keep for family time each week.
Looking After Yourself When You Are Studying
Having to juggle your academic commitments alongside those of your career and family can really take it out of you. Understand before you start that you will need to be mindful of the signs that you are going to be putting yourself under a considerable amount of pressure and this may cause stress and fatigue. In turn, this could bring on depression, anxiety, and general ill-health if you allow yourself to become run down.
Get plenty of fresh air and try and go for a walk every day. This will help to clear your mind and allow you to focus better when you need to. Getting exercise will provide you with valuable endorphins which will make you feel positive.
Sleep is vital. Getting up to eight hours of sleep will help your ability to focus. During sleep, your brain processes all of the information received during the course of the day and as a result allows for better recall. Whether you are working in the evenings or not, when you reach a set time that you intend to go to bed, stop what you are doing.
If you have problems relaxing due to the number of things that you need to think about, start using relaxation techniques such as meditation. These will help to clear your mind and allow you to drift off into a natural sleep.
Remembering to eat, and ensuring that you are eating healthy is important. If you’ve got a lot on, you will need energy, and you will need to make sure that you are getting all of the vital nutrients and vitamins needed to keep you focused and healthy.
Above all things, remember that you should enjoy your studies. The chance to grow and develop your skills and knowledge should be rewarding. Allow yourself the time and freedom to appreciate this.