Information, advice and guidance
Mature students

Supporting mature students to apply to university

Prospective mature students who are considering making Higher Education applications face various issues to navigate, and they do so often with greater trepidation than younger applicants. Sometimes mature applicants have more ‘established’ lives, with seemingly immoveable features.

Most staff in universities will recognise the huge contribution that mature students make to a higher education learning environment. They often bring with them an inquisitive approach and a desire to get the most out of their experience. It’s very rare to find mature students who are only interested in doing the ‘bare minimum’ academically. At the same time, mature applicants can often have many doubts and concerns. This blog will take a look at how advisers can help mature applicants address any concerns. 

Will I struggle academically compared to younger students?

Mature students often doubt their own academic ‘prowess’. Thoughts about how many years or decades it has been since their last essay combined with concerns about managing part time work, childcare and finances often get expressed as ‘all those school leavers will be more academic!’. To counterbalance this, remind mature applicants that utilising skills like organisation, forward planning and problem solving will help them perform better, alongside developing their study skills. Also, mature applicants should recognise that the first year at university is aimed at supporting all students to adjust to a new way of life and study. Mature applicants mustn’t forget that school and college leavers will also have their own concerns about starting university too. 

How will admissions tutors view an application with more work/ caring experience?

Admissions tutors actually like having a varied cohort! As they will usually be teaching on the course, it’s in their interest to get students who can bring different perspectives and experiences. It’s important for applicants to demonstrate how their working or caring responsibilities have given them useful skills and insights and this will bring something different to the table. The experience and skills that mature students bring can be really insightful. But this may well need a certain amount of ‘polishing’ and encouragement from an adviser to ensure it’s turned into an advantage/selling point and not ‘felt’ as a disadvantage by the applicant. 

How can I write a personal statement concerning a subject I'm not working in?

See above! As with school and college leavers, there needs to be a considerable amount of time spent constructing this statement. All the usual advice stands here. Demonstrating how the applicant’s skills and experience will support their application is important. And getting across why they want to ‘change tack’ to do HE study, what they hope to get out of it and why they have chosen the subject they have will take a few drafts. What has the applicant done to demonstrate an interest in their subject area? For vocational courses, work experience will be an obvious suggestion. For non-vocational subjects, what reading has the applicant done around it? How have they developed their interests further? For instance have they attended workshops, talks or discussion forums? As with writing a decent CV, mature students often end up with more to say than there is space for. Helping them to construct a well put together statement that moves away from just listing books they’ve read or how ‘unsatisfactory’ their work life is at present will be invaluable here. 

Finance - can I afford it?

The reality is that many mature students will have far better budgeting skills than many 18 or 19 year olds. They may also have more financial commitments too! So helping them to get to grips with student finance figures will be an important starting point. Many universities will have bursary and scholarship information that they can research as part of the process and Advancing Access has its own bursary directory. Further information can also be found on The Scholarship Hub and the Complete University Guide blog. Many mature students will be in paid work before they go to university. This can give them a chance to save up a financial buffer before they begin their studies. It’s also worth discussing with them if their current employer could offer them part time work or full time work during the longer summer vacation. Alternatively, could they use their skills and experiences to work for a different employer part time or on a freelance basis. They could also look for work at the university they get in to – student ambassadors will often do work for university marketing and outreach teams, both in person and virtually. Some universities’ Access and Participation Plans may have mature students as a group to actively support in different ways and so they may welcome the support of mature student ambassadors. 

Managing 'life' outside of studying

There’s no getting away from the fact that some mature applicants may have more ‘complications’ to consider when they are applying to university. They may have children in nursery or at different stages of school or other family commitments. It can be a huge step to alter the practicalities around these commitments. Talking through how the practicalities might change will really help. For instance, who will do the school pick ups or drop offs? Encourage applicants to think about what financial or other support they may need from their family and friends. By developing a plan, applicants can ‘visualise’ how they will cope and succeed at university.  

If I don't study a vocational subject, will I get a career afterwards if I'm older?

There can be an assumption from some students that those leaving non-vocational degrees at Russell Group universities will purely aim to get into graduate schemes for big employers or the civil service fast track. Whilst a large number do aim for this, only about 10% of all graduates get into a graduate scheme after university. There are in fact far more opportunities in SME’s nationally than with these larger employers. The labour market research that people like Charlie Ball do suggests that having a degree, even in recessions, does help students find work. 

The skills that mature graduates have from both their experiences of work and studying will be invaluable here to help them plan their ‘exit’ from HE well. HE careers services are usually far better resourced than school and college careers departments and will have numerous ways to help students do this.  

For those students who really get the study bug, they could look at postgraduate study too. For more information about the opportunities and funding available here, these two sites are useful - Find a Masters and Find a PhD. For many occupational choices, having further degrees won’t always give additional weight though, unless it’s to conversion or training courses, e.g. a PGCE (to train to be a school teacher) or a social work Masters.  


Many mature students have a nagging doubt that they shouldn’t really be applying, almost imposter syndrome thoughts. In some cases, this can stem back to negative experiences they may have had in the education system previously, for example at school. Address these concerns with applicants if you can and also remind them that there will be current mature students and student support teams they can raise these concerns with too. 


This article also appears on Mark's personal blog which you can view here. If you would like to read a wider selection of Mark's blogs, they can be found here on his website. 


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