Frequently asked questions by mature students

The decision to return to study is complex, and mature students may have different motivations and considerations than younger people when considering going to university or college.

We’ve collated answers to some of the most common questions you might have when beginning to think about the return to study. If you have a question that isn’t answered here, contact us and we’ll be happy to help.

What are the benefits of studying?

Higher education allows individuals – at any age – a chance to learn new skills and open up new opportunities.

For mature students, university or college can be a second chance to learn, an avenue to a new career, and an opportunity to earn more money.

Earning potential

By returning to study you can increase your long-term earning potential.

A non-tradition higher-level study option offers the opportunity to learn new skills, increase your industry knowledge and gain qualifications which demonstrate your abilities. Whether pursuing a HNC/HND, foundation degree or degree apprenticeship, a vocational study option is valued by employers and can lead to a greater choice of jobs and an increased salary over the rest of your career.

If you’re interested in pursuing an undergraduate degree, it’s worth noting that mature students currently have better progression into highly skilled employment or further study than young students. 75% of undergraduate mature students studying full-time before graduating in 2016-17 progressed into highly skilled employment or further study within six months, and this trend continues to improve. The average salary for graduates is 30% higher than for non-graduates aged 25-30.

“My degree has been instrumental in getting me to where I am today. You learn so much, and after qualifying, I got a job in ICU at Pinderfields Hospital where I spent four months before transferring to the Stroke and Neurology Rehab Unit at Dewsbury Hospital. The skills I learned, the experience I gained, and the contacts I made on the course were all instrumental in me securing my role.”

Student stories: Anees studied BSc Nursing (Adult) at Bradford University

Personal interests

Studying a subject at a higher-level introduces you to fascinating insights from experts, as well as the chance to meet others who share your interests. You’ll be studying with peers from many different backgrounds, and have the opportunity to find out about the latest thinking and innovations.

As a result of attending a higher education course, many people grow in confidence, learn new skills and access new opportunities. Studying can also open the door to new perspectives and ignite ambitions – leading to a career change or different focus in life.

“After my degree, I would like to create and build projects locally and internationally that can aid economic and social development. I am currently gaining volunteering experience with an organisation and am planning an international project that I hope to carry out in the next few years. In the future, I’d absolutely love to work for the UN development project working with indigenous communities.”

Student stories: Kate began studying BSc Interdisciplinary Science with Foundation Year before transferring to BSc Sustainability and Environmental Management at the University of Leeds

Community benefits

The benefits of higher education study aren’t just personal. By developing your skills, you can progress into new roles, with the opportunity to make a difference to your family, your community and society.

Many mature students return to study to gain qualifications in vocational subjects such as social care, law, psychology or healthcare. Once qualified, you will be directly supporting the community around you, and your experiences will bring value to the profession. Some professions have unequal representation of people from different backgrounds, so your input and perspective might be particularly beneficial.

What’s more, you can be a great role model for family members or people in your community to see that higher education is accessible, inclusive and rewarding. Your story can inspire others to follow in your footsteps and follow their goals.

 “Studying is helping me decide who I want to be in the future. I don’t have a set goal or a particular field that I’m aiming for, but I know I want to get into management to help people in the workplace. For me that’s the focus and the business modules give me an overview of lots of important skills I will need.”

Student stories: Leanne is studying BA Business Management at University Centre, Calderdale College

How will my experiences help me as a student?

It might be a long time since you’ve last studied full-time, and it can feel a little daunting to return to education. However, you’ll have plenty of experiences that are relevant to your studies.

Leeds Beckett University has listed 10 great things about beings a mature student, from having existing work experiences to being driven and career-focused – all of which you can bring with you to your student experience!

“Mature students are often seen as leaders and are welcomed by the year group as voices of experience and emotional maturity. In my cohort I am one of three elected student reps, who are responsible for knowing how everyone is feeling about the course and relaying this to the course staff. All three of us are mature students, which I think shows how respected we are for what we bring to the table.”

Student stories: Rich is studying BSc Physiotherapy at Leeds Beckett University

Can I afford to return to study?

For mature students already in a work, you may have to decide whether you can afford to sacrifice your salary (or part of it) to return to study. You may also have financial commitments such as childcare costs, mortgage or rent, transport and debt repayment which will affect the affordability of studying.

Funding and financial support is available to ensure that students don’t need to have savings for tuition fees, or have a perfect credit score to enter higher education or gain a higher level qualification. Loan eligibility does not depend on your income and there are no credit checks. However, maintenance loans might not cover all the living costs while you study so it’s important to think carefully about whether higher education is affordable for you.

See funding your return to study for more information about what financial support is available.

Student loans are different from other types of borrowing because they do not appear on your credit file and your credit rating is not affected. However, if you apply for a mortgage, lenders may consider if you have a student loan when deciding how much you can borrow.

Some higher education institutions offer scholarships aimed specifically at mature learners. There are also other government incentives such as Childcare Grant and Parents’ Learning Allowances.

It’s worth noting that full-time students can access discounts on travel, council tax, and many consumer products and services.

If you enrol and then your financial circumstances change while you’re studying (for example your partner loses their job), you might be eligible for your college or university’s hardship funds. These are designed to help if you’re having financial problems. They are awarded by the institutions themselves, with the amount of money decided on a case-by-case basis.

Am I eligible for student finance?

Whether you qualify for student finance depends on:

  • your university or college
  • your course
  • if you’ve studied a higher education course before
  • your age
  • your nationality or residency status

University or college

All Go Higher West Yorkshire’s members offer eligible courses and therefore you can get student finance to study with them.

Your course

The following higher education degrees are usually eligible for student finance:

  • a first degree, for example BA, BSc or BEd
  • a Foundation Degree
  • a Certificate of Higher Education
  • a Diploma of Higher Education (DipHE)
  • a Higher National Certificate (HNC)
  • a Higher National Diploma (HND)
  • an Initial Teacher Training course
  • an integrated master’s degree
  • a pre-registration postgraduate healthcare course

If you’ve studied a higher education course before

You’ll usually only get student finance if you’re doing your first higher education qualification, though there are some exceptions:

  • If you stopped your course within the first year, you’ll get funding for the same course or a new course when you go back.
  • You might also get funding if you suspended your course or withdrew before it finished – and you’re going back to study any course.
  • If you stopped your studies for a personal reason (for example, you were ill or pregnant) you might get funding for all of your course – you should apply online with supporting evidence.
  • You may get limited funding if you’re ‘topping up’ a higher education qualification, for example you’ve finished an HNC, HND or Foundation Degree and now want to do an Honours degree.
  • You may be eligible for funding for a second degree in some science or healthcare subjects

Your age

Tuition fee loans are available to all learners regardless of age.

Maintenance loans are only available if you are younger than 60 on the first day of the first academic year of your course.

Your nationality or residency status

People of any age are eligible for full support from Student Finance if:

  • you’ve been living in the UK, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man for 3 years before starting your course
  • England is your home, for example, you live and work in England and have not moved there solely for the purposes of study

You’re either: a UK national or Irish citizen; settled under the EU Settlement Scheme; or granted settled status for other reasons.

How much will I have to live off?

If you’re living independently (not with your parents) and studying outside London, you can get up to £9,706 per year in maintenance loans to support your living expenses (for 2022-23). However, you’re not eligible for a Maintenance Loan if you’re 60 or over on the first day of the first academic year of your course.

The loan is paid directly into your bank account at the start of term. The maintenance loan amount is dependent on your household income and your course start date.

You can use the student finance calculator to estimate how much Maintenance Loan you’ll get – it will also tell you if you’re eligible for extra grants or allowances.

As you might not get the full amount, you might have to plan other ways to fund the rest of your living costs. This could include part-time work alongside your studies, assistance from your local council, bursaries, scholarships, or help from a partner or other family members.

If you decide to work alongside your studies, Prospects has a guide for balancing study and work.

Both tuition fee loans and maintenance loans are repayable. They are grouped together for repayment – further information is below. How much will I repay?

Unlike other borrowing, the amount of student loans you repay depends on your income at the time, and not how much you owe.

Regardless of how much you owe, you repay 9% of your income above the repayment threshold for your plan type. If you’re not working or your income is below the threshold, you won’t make any repayments. This online student loan repayment calculator can help you estimate how much you’ll pay each year, depending on your income and debt.

Example: If you’re employed, repayments will be taken out of your salary at the same time as tax and National Insurance.

Any outstanding debt will be wiped off 40 years after you graduate, regardless of how much you still owe.

Check the current repayment thresholds

Should I study full-time or part-time?

Full-time study means you get your qualification faster, and you can start benefiting from your new skills and knowledge in a shorter timeframe. However, for some people the challenge of studying full-time, caring for family, managing health needs and potentially also working can be stressful.

Most colleges and some universities offer part-time courses, which are normally taken over a longer period, so you can balance study alongside other commitments.


Full-time undergraduate degrees or their equivalents (foundation degrees, HNCs and HNDs) are usually 120 credits per year. Institutions broadly agree that students can expect to spend 100 hours learning to gain 10 credits. This means that you can expect to be studying for 1200 hours per year. Learning for most modules takes place during university or college term time, which means you’re likely to have more time off over Christmas, Easter and summer break (you may still have independent study to do during these times however).

Many students choose to take a job while studying. If you decide to work alongside your studies, Prospects has a guide for balancing study and work.

Contact hours

Be aware that different courses have different contact hours (the time you’re required to be in university or college for lectures, seminars, lab work or placement).

  • Some Humanities and Social Science subjects have relatively few contact hours (as few as 8-10 hours per week), but students are expected to study independently in their free time.
  • Performance-based courses will expect you to practice in your free time, and also attend and perform at concerts and workshops during evenings and weekends.
  • Health and social care courses have placements which are equivalent to a full time job and continue over college or university holidays.


Vocational courses tend to be more flexible as they’re often designed to be undertaken alongside work or other commitments.

Most full-time undergraduate courses are designed for students who are able to fit their other commitments around studying. Mature students are sometimes frustrated that teaching and assessment timetables are released very late, and there might be changes at short notice. Speak to your HE provider about any commitments you have, and ask what flexibility is available.

If you need more flexibility, for example for childcare, work or medical commitments, it might be that part-time study is the best option for you.

There are many benefits to studying part-time:

  • Part-time courses might be delivered via evening and weekend classes, day release, or study breaks, helping you manage study around your other commitments
  • Some contain a combination of online and offline work, with regular assignments and tutor support
  • Some course deadlines can be altered to fit around your other responsibilities too

The admissions teams at each university and college can also advise you on studying part-time.

Hearing from current part-time students at Leeds and seeing them excel in their studies encouraged me to apply for a course. At this point, as a single mum and having been away from any form of education for over 20 years, I still had worries about studying alongside work. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to manage my time and juggle university together with all my other commitments. But I was desperate to develop myself – not only for myself but also for the sake of my children – so I applied for the course and was accepted to start the following September.

Student stories: Mari is studying a part-time Foundation Degree in Learning and Teaching (Special Educational Needs and Disability)

Can I study online?

Distance learning, also called remote or online learning, is a way to study higher education with greater flexibility, which may suit your circumstances. Make sure you select a reputable provider, and if you need tuition fee and/or maintenance loans to help fund your studies, check if the course and provider are eligible for student finance.

From many providers based in West Yorkshire, fully-online study options are limited to pre-higher education courses or postgraduate courses. The advantage of fully-online study however is that you can select from a wider range of HE providers.

Will I fit in?

A significant proportion of all students have had a break before returning to study.

  • In 2018-19, there were 478,000 mature students studying at undergraduate level at English higher education providers (over 30% of the total number of undergraduates).
  • In 2019-20, 38% of all undergraduates entering a higher education course were over 21. This percentage rose to 62% of all students entering higher education at FE colleges.

This means that your chosen college or university will have experience of providing for mature learners, and it’s unlikely you’ll be the only one on your course. Research shows that mature students often feel like they fit in at college or university: in 2020, 70% of respondents aged 25 and above to the National Student Survey agreed or strongly agreed with the statement ‘I feel part of a community of staff and students.’

However, mature learners are likely to have different needs to young students. You might be a parent or carer, and may work full or part-time. While many younger students choose to live away from home while studying, mature students are less likely to live on campus, more likely to live in their own home all year round, and more likely to commute. Read our Support for mature students section for advice on what support is available, including travel, accommodation, and support for parents and carers.

There are many social opportunities while studying, and you’re likely to find something to suit you. You can join student societies based on your specific hobbies, interests, identities and/or cultural background, as well as to see if there’s ones commuting students, disabled students, and students with caring responsibilities. If not, why not set one up with other students who have similar experiences– it’s a great way to build additional experience while studying. These can be a great way to meet other people who share and understand your perspective.

If you’re nervous about your academic abilities or being ‘too old’ for education, see our section on preparing for study as a mature student.

“As a mature student I was worried about how I’d settle in with the younger students and if it would be difficult to fit in. I would encourage mature students not to be put off by this as I found it is possible to feel included. To do this I made the effort to keep talking to younger students and now I feel part of the student community here at Beckett and we regularly communicate and work together. It works well in class to too, hearing different perspectives from students of different ages.”

Student stories: Nusrat is studying BSc Criminology at Leeds Beckett University