A beginner’s guide to third level for Mature Students. Ok, so you’ve done a bit of living since leaving school at whatever age and made the decision to return to education as a mature student. What now?
Well firstly congratulations! Making the decision to return to education after however many years is not an easy one and it deserves to be recognised. Nobody is saying that all first time students have it easy, but a lot of the time mature students have extra constraints that can make the return seem a bit daunting or overwhelming.
You might have, rent, kids, mortgage, grand-kids, a disability – seen or unseen, car payments, lost a job, be in recovery, be a lone parent, have had bad experiences with education in the past, be financially unstable and on and on.
Any of the above examples, or anything else that applies, combined with the pressure of everyday college life may make you feel very overwhelmed or unprepared, especially in the very early days. From my personal experience and my mature student friends I will be honest and tell you that you MIGHT have a day (or two) when you think “I just can’t do this what the hell was I thinking”. I want to assure you now, YOU CAN DO IT!
Here’s a few useful tips that might make the transition back into education that bit easier. I’ve broken it down into some common areas of concern.
- Check out SUSI to see if you are eligible for a grant, you may receive tuition, maintenance or both. Even if the eligibility reckoner says you are not eligible, APPLY! If you get refused and believe the decision does not reflect your actual circumstances APPEAL! You can apply each year if your circumstances change within that year. If you are a lone parent you may be eligible for the maintenance grant through SUSI so long as you stay on that payment and do not change to BTEA (Back to Education Allowance).
- Look for Bursaries and Scholarships. The university may have different scholarships and / or bursaries available under different categories. Credit unions have a scholarship which members can apply for if going to third level education. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul also offers education grants.
- The university offers a Financial Hardship Assistance Fund to students called SAF (Student Assistance Fund) which is assessed based on financial income. The applications usually open to registered students in September / October and information can be found in the mature students / access office or by contacting the welfare officer in your TU Dublin SU . Campuses may offer additional financial assistance to help with childcare called CAF (Childcare Assistance Fund).
- There are many different levels of support available within the university itself, student nurse, doctor and counselling are all available. The nurse and counselling services are free but there is a nominal fee for the doctor. Each campus health centre has slightly different systems in place ; Tallaght campus Medical Centre information can be found by clicking here, City Campus here, and Blanchardstown here.
- Likewise with the counselling services information for Blanchardstown can be found here, Tallaght here, and City here. Whichever course or campus you choose, be assured mature students are very much integral to the university and more information for mature students attending City Campus can be found here, for Blanchardstown here, and Tallaght here.
- Social support is extremely important when going through your degree program! It might be difficult for your family and friends to understand what you are going through if they have not been to college themselves, but even if they did go directly from school it is a very different experience for mature students and school leavers attending university. That’s OK! There are others like you, you are not an alien species, and between me and you, the lecturers appreciate the balance having mature students brings to the lecture hall.
- Look for other mature students in your course during orientation time and when classes start, and generally there seems to be a kind of gravitational pull between you so this won’t be too daunting! You will make great friends no matter what age they are, but truth be told having people who have similar commitments to you will definitely make things easier for you. On those days when I felt like I just couldn’t take one more day of college it was my mature student friends who also had home/kids/work commitments going on who could rationalise me back to calmness again!
- Do talk to your family and friends about your new college experience though! You’ll probably bore the pants off them at times but they can’t understand what you are going through if you don’t tell them. Also, even if they don’t fully understand your experience they have got your back and will be 100% proud of your accomplishments.
OK so depending on what you have been doing since you left school there’s a good chance you won’t have written anything to be marked by someone else in a while! It might suddenly hit you when you are given your first assignment and you could feel like you don’t know what the hell you’re doing or where to start. First, Breath! Second, did you know that the university offers a range of academic supports? These vary between different campuses, your first port of call, the library! The libraries on campus often offer all kinds of courses or one-to-one classes on topics from accessing useful journals and e-books, referencing, and structuring academic writing. Click here for your campus library: Tallaght Campus Library information Blanchardstown Library information City Campus Library information.
Hot tip! Manners and politeness in the library and with your librarians goes a long way. Librarians are full of useful information on how to use printers, useful resources etc. be nice to them!
- What if I have a disability that impacts on me doing assignments? Don’t worry. TU Dublin knows and understands that some students have additional needs and has procedures in place for such instances. Each campus has staff specifically to support students with a disability and give more information on resources available to you. Definitely get in contact with them to find out more information. City Campus students click here for more information, Blanchardstown students click here, and Tallaght Campus is here.
Plan! Plan! Plan!
You know the old adage that says “if you fail to prepare then prepare to fail” well I have to be honest and say its not 100% accurate, for mature students going to college I would change it to “Fail to prepare then prepare to be stressed!”. That’s the truth! Things start off slowly in the first week or so, then boom, it feels like everything is coming at you from all angles and you start to panic. Get yourself a diary and carry it with you, IT WILL SAVE YOU MUCH STRESS (If you’re up on techie stuff use the diary on your phone or google calendar)! When you are given an assignment write in when it’s due, and the week before pop in a note “xyz due next week”. This makes it easier to prioritise your workload.
Some lecturers might give out their assignments in the first week but they’re not due as soon as assignments you get in week two or three, when you have it written down in a diary and you consult it regularly you know what you should be working on when. Don’t be afraid to make a start on assignments as you get them while you have time, you can start researching the topic even if you haven’t covered much yet in that module and can add to it as you go. It doesn’t always (rarely in my case) happen that you get an assignment done early, but honestly do try your best to keep on top of them, I tell you this as someone who has had many a 3am meltdown because I had an assignment due at 9am I wasn’t finished! Don’t make my mistakes, kids get sick, cars break down Printers fail and so on! It is MUCH BETTER family: to be done early than rushing around like a headless chicken in a tizzy on the day something(s) are due.
This is a phrase bandied about the place like its going to go stale if not used so often people dismiss it, DON’T BE ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE! It might sound like an airy fairy alien notion but it is so important to start good self care off from first year, as they say “practice makes perfect”, by the time you get to your final year and are stressed about finals and GPA’s it will be more manageable if you have good self care habits ingrained.
What is this “self-care” you speak of I can hear you say?! In the simplest of terms it’s looking after your physical and mental health so your brain and body don’t get overrun, exhausted and burnt out!
- Self care involves you taking some time for yourself to do something you enjoy. This might be going on a nice long walk, binge watching your favourite series, or doing something creative. (Probably along the lines of what we used to refer to as hobbies!)
“But I am a grown up now I don’t have any hobbies” do I hear you right or is that the echo of my own sentiments ringing in my ears?! Think of something you really enjoy doing, reading, writing,cooking, etc OR something you would love to learn to do, dancing, pottery, acting, WHATEVER YOU LIKE! As a ticked running shoe company would say “JUST DO IT”! Do it on your own or with a friend or the good thing about starting university is, there’s LOADS (literally so many) societies and clubs you could join where you’ll meet people who also like that thing you like! Think of something you like to do, and I would be pretty sure there’s a club or society to suit your interests, and, guess what, if there’s not, get in contact with your SU and they’ll advise you on who to speak to to start your own!
- “Pencil it in” …. As I said earlier planning is key. Especially to implementing good self care. If you don’t put it in your schedule IT WON’T HAPPEN. Goodwill and all the best intentions WILL NOT SUFFICE. Even if you are not sure what exactly you want to do initially just pencil yourself in an hour for yourself at least twice a week. Even if all you do is read a book in the bath for that hour, that’s GREAT, you’ve given yourself some quality time and engaged in self care! Woo! Keep it up!
Look, I get that some of that may read like I am a negative Nancy, but I have been where you are so I am hoping by being honest about what can be off putting or daunting and giving some solutions and resources will reassure you that you’ve made a brilliant decision in returning to education as a mature student. I can also tell you that YES sometimes things will be hard but overall when it’s all over you will miss the fun and frolics of being in college, the friends you’ve made, the banter along the way, you’ll probably even miss lectures and if you’re a weirdo like me there’s a chance you’ll even miss doing assignments! (Wait – Did she just actually say she missed assignments??? I know right! ).
So, get involved in everything you can, link in with the students union to find out all the details of upcoming events and campaigns.
Above all else, it goes by so quickly, before you know it you’ll be a graduate remembering with fondness the nerves you felt in your first semester, so, enjoy it! Be proud of yourself, and, STICK WITH IT because when it’s all over and you get that final award it is honestly one of the best feelings in the world!