Preparing for study as a mature student

Go Higher West Yorkshire has plenty of resources to help you transition to studying, but as a mature student you might have different concerns to students who have progressed straight into higher education.

Tackling imposter syndrome

Many students report worries about not feeling ‘good enough’ or that, once accepted to an education course, they’ll get ‘found out’ as never really deserving their place. Imposter syndrome can often result in anxiety and self-doubt, and make you feel like your successes are not your own.

This can be especially true for those who’ve been out of education for a while, or perhaps had negative experiences when they were last studying.

Feeling this way is very common, but there are some steps you can take to reduce anxieties or thoughts of inadequacy.

Be open about your feelings and recognise when they emerge. Try talking to friends or family about your concerns – they are likely to see you in a very different light, and their perspective might help to put your anxieties into context. You might also discover you’re not alone. Remember, plenty of people feel challenged and uncertain when in a new environment.

Know your strengths and reflect on your achievements to challenge feelings of inadequacy. It might be helpful to recognise what you bring to study at a mature student, and the benefits of your experiences:

  • Any workplace experiences you have will make it much easier to apply your learnings to real-life situations and reflect on what you’ve been taught.
  • Your life experiences means you have a broader frame of reference for your studies, and are more likely to consider the wider context for your learning.
  • Achievements in your life might include managing your time, organising your household, balancing budgets, applying for support and communicating your needs. All these experiences will be valuable in an education context.

Don’t be afraid of failure. Learning is about recognising that you don’t already know everything, so embrace any setbacks as learning opportunities. Reframe thinking around success and failure – you can ask yourself “what will I do differently next time?” or “what information do I need in order to succeed?”. By approaching failures as opportunities to grow, you’re taking full advantage of being in a learning environment.

Seek help from student support services if needed. If you are worried about a particular aspect of studying such as your writing skills, mathematical ability or how to complete a research assignment, speak to your course leader or student services about what support is available. While feelings of inadequacy are common, they can lead to or worsen mental health conditions. If you’re worried about your mental health, speak to student wellbeing services.

The University of Auckland has advice for how to tackle imposter syndrome as a student.

UCL has given three tips for managing imposter syndrome.

Boosting your study skills

Go Higher West Yorkshire has information to support academic study skills.

UCAS has published study skills guides to help students make the transition to higher education.

Futurelearn has a lots of a free, online study skills short courses created by higher education providers and designed to support those returning to education.

The University of Leeds’ Skills to Succeed at University is a free online course with tips and first-hand advice from current students. It is aimed at learners who enter higher education through different routes, including as mature students.

Preparing for your course

Many course providers will share reading lists online or via email several weeks in advance, many of which will be available from your intuition’s library. If you want to buy a few books so you can refer to them over a longer period of time, identify the core texts you will need and check Amazon or eBay for second hand textbooks (which are much cheaper than new – just make sure you check you’re buying the correct version).

Begin by reading a few of the textbooks, and make notes of what you learn. It might be helpful to make a glossary of new terms so you can refer back to what you’ve learned. Getting a head start on reading will build your confidence for lectures, but don’t worry if you find the reading challenging – your lecturers will provide the context and support for your learning once you begin studying.

If you know deadlines in advance, it’s a good idea to plan ahead by making a termly plan with deadlines and other significant events (e.g. family occasions or key meetings at work) so you can see when your busy times are. Tell your family and work colleagues about when your academic commitments will be, and be upfront about what you need. It’s easier to ask for extra help if people know in advance how to support you.