In education, a mature learner refers to anyone starting their studies at age 21 or over. The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service highlight that “every year thousands of mature students go to University”, with “over half” aged between 21 and 24, and “around 40%” over 30 (ucas.com, 2022).
Why go to University?
There are a number of reasons to consider higher education as a mature learner. These include:
- To explore a subject you are passionate about
- To progress further in a current career field
- To learn new skills and knowledge
- To change direction and take on a new challenge
Mature learners often look to balance their studies alongside work or caring responsibilities. Higher education institutes recognise this and offer help and support.
Finding the Course for You
Finding the right course for you is essential to starting your journey into higher education. Thinking about what you’re passionate about, what motivates you, or the qualifications that jobs you aspire to need, can be a good start if you don’t already know what degree you require to reach your goals. Once you have a subject or course in mind, you should consider how you want to study.
Full time? Your course will take place over the recommended minimum length time frame for your subject, with the potential to be required in university up to five days a week.
Part time? Your course will take place over a longer period of time. This allows for more flexible learning so you can study, but also have time for other commitments such as work or family life.
Distance / blended learning? Distance learning allows you to learn remotely in your own time, giving you the flexibility to learn when and where you want. Blended learning is a combination of in person and online learning, providing a mix of learning from the experts and teaching yourself, with all your course materials available online.
Find out more about other pathways including degree apprenticeships and work based learning:
The next important factor to consider is whether you will be willing and able to move away to attend university, or if you’d prefer to commute. This can be an easy way to narrow down the choice of institutions you will consider applying to. Either way you decide, there will be support available to ensure that you settle into your university experience.
Once having considered the course you would like to study and the rough location of the university you would like to attend, you can go ahead and start researching where might be the best place for you. The UCAS website’s search tool is a great place to start, allowing you to search by course, university or location. Searching specific university websites can also be helpful, especially if looking for a part time or distance / blended learning courses. Booking onto open days to go and visit the university, speak to current students and lecturers and get an overall feel for everything is always recommended. A university on paper can be very different from one in person.
You can search for potential universities using:
Different courses at different institutions will vary in their entry requirements, however as a mature student you should not worry if you do not have the “right” qualifications listed, as a whole range of qualifications are in fact accepted. According to UCAS “students from the UK apply holding over 450 different qualifications” every year (ucas.com, 2022).
Higher education providers encourage applications from mature students, as they make an important contribution to university life through their range of different experiences and qualifications. Due to this, entry requirements for mature learners may differ or be more flexible than those advertised to school leavers. Work and life experience, as well as other skills you have developed, can also be taken into account – so it’s important to make the most of your UCAS personal statement and emphasise relevant prior experience, employment, and training that has helped you develop unique skills and strengths that you can transfer to your studies.
See more about undergraduate entry requirements and applying as a mature learner here–
It is useful to contact the admissions team of your preferred institution to discuss their expectations before formally applying. This is the best way to see if you would be eligible with your current qualifications and experience, or if you would first be required to take an Access to Higher Education course.
What is an Access Course?
- Designed for adults looking to return to education that do not have the traditional qualifications needed to be accepted onto a higher education level course.
- Help prepare students for study at degree level, providing relevant academic subject knowledge and the opportunity to learn how to approach study at university-level.
- Typical length of course would be one to two years.
- Advanced Learner Loans are available to help pay for Access to Higher Education courses. You would only start to pay this back once you are earning a certain amount and the loan would be written off entirely once you go on to complete your higher education course.
More information on Access Courses can be found here–
Once you have decided on what and where to study, you will need to consider how you will fund your studies. It is important to make yourself aware of when student finance applications open, as the sooner you apply, the more time you have to make sure your finances are in order for the start of term. Student finance can provide the following loans:
What is a Tuition Fee Loan?
- Covers the cost of your undergraduate course fee and is paid directly to the institution you are studying at.
- There is no age limit on eligibility, providing you will be studying for your first undergraduate degree.
- Universities and colleges can charge up to £9,250.00 a year for a full time undergraduate course.
- You can check the tuition fee costs for your course and university using the UCAS search tool.
What is a Maintenance Loan?
- Goes towards the cost of your living expenses such as food, accommodation and travel whilst studying for an undergraduate course.
- The loan amount will be dependent on several factors including: where you will be living whilst studying, if you will be studying part time or full time and your household income.
- If you will be studying part time, the loan amount will also be dependent on your course intensity, as you must be studying at an intensity of 25% or more to qualify for the loan at all.
After graduating your tuition fee loan and maintenance loan will be added together to create one ‘student loan’. You will only start repaying this loan back the April after you finish your course, if you are in employment and earning above the threshold repayment. As of 2021/22, the threshold for full time students is £27,295, while the threshold for those studying part time is £25,725. Once you hit this threshold, you then only pay 9% back each month of what you earn over the repayment threshold. Your repayments will be taken automatically from your pay each month, somewhat like tax is, so you don’t have to worry about missing a payment.
More on loans and the repayment thresholds can be found at:
Important to note:
- If you do not finish your course, you will still need to pay back what you borrowed until that point.
- Just like any other loan, your student loan will accumulate interest. This is usually set at a lower rate depending on government policy at the time.
- Your repayments automatically stop if you stop working, or your income drops below the threshold.
- Student loans do not go on credit files.
- Your student loan will be written off after 30 years.
Further information on how student finance works can be found here –
Alongside the student loan, there are many other forms of financial help available. These will generally be dependent on meeting certain criteria, but unlike your student loan, they will not have to be paid back, so it is definitely worth looking into what else you could be eligible for.
Scholarships and bursaries
- Many institutions will offer scholarships and bursaries to help certain students fund their studies. These can be offered to students for a wide range of reasons, including academic achievement or personal circumstances. It’s a good idea to look at their individual websites, or speak to their student services directly, to find out if you would be eligible and how you could apply.
- More on this can be found at: Additional Funding
NHS Learning Support Fund
- If studying nursing, midwifery or to be an allied health professional, you may be eligible to receive funding from the NHS Learning Support Fund.
- This training grant includes payment per academic year to help with maintenance and study costs.
- Students eligible are also entitled to part reimbursement of additional costs incurred when attending a practice placement, when a valid claim is made.
- Additional funds may also be applied to your grant if you are studying a specialist subject, such as mental health nursing, or if you are responsible for children.
- See more on this fund here: NHS Learning Support Fund
Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA)
- DSA is support to cover study-related costs you may have due to a mental health problem, long term illness or any other disability.
- The type of support and how much you will receive depends on your individual requirements – not your household income.
- This can be claimed in conjunction with student finance.
- All institutions will have their own hardship fund to support students having financial difficulties. Applications are generally means tested, with your income and expenditure taken into consideration.
- If studying a medical course, the Exceptional Support Fund is another branch of the NHS Learning Support Fund. This is a means tested grant, designed to help students experiencing unforeseen hardship during their course.
Additional funding may also be available to help you if you choose to study to become a teacher or social care worker. These will be dependent on certain factors, but again worth looking into if you are interested in either path. More information can be found at Additional Funding
Saving Money at Uni
It can also be a good idea to have a look at often overlooked ways to save money whilst studying. For instance, full time students of any age are exempt from paying council tax and many businesses offer student discounts regardless of age.
Further information on additional funding can be found here –
It is important to remember wherever and however you decide to study, help is always available. Course providers want to see you succeed, so there will always be a whole variety of support services on hand for whatever you may need. Most institutions will have whole departments dedicated to supporting students and their success, so it could be helpful to look up what your chosen institute offers, as not everywhere will cater to the same level.
Examples of help generally on offer include
- Study skills support – returning to education after a break and the prospect of having to take notes, attend lectures and write assignments can be overwhelming. Many first year courses include modules on study skills to help students adjust to learning and writing at university level. However, your university library can always provide support on this area, as can your personal tutor.
- Wellbeing support – support of mental, physical and psychological wellbeing will all be available. Institutions will have many ways this support can be reached including in person, online or on the phone, as well as suggestions of external help services that can be accessed.
- Employability and careers – if you need help finding a part time job, or just need someone to look over your CV, many institutions will have a team dedicated to helping you find employment both during and after your studies. Some may even offer continued employability support and advice for a certain number of years once you graduate.
More information on student support can be found here: Getting Undergraduate Student Support
Students with parenting responsibilities
- Being responsible for and/ or caring for a child or children under 17 years of age could mean you are entitled to additional support, as institutions are aware that balancing such responsibilities alongside studying could mean challenges arise from time to time.
- Childcare facilities – many institutions will have on-site nurseries, making it simple to take your child straight to campus with you. Places will fill up fast though, so it’s always good to apply early.
- Family accommodation – Some institutions will provide a limited amount of accommodation specifically reserved for those moving to the university as a family.
- Childcare Grants and Parents’ Learning Allowance – there are further means tested options of extra financial help available when you have the responsibility of caring for a child. These can help with childcare costs and do not have to be repaid.
More information on support available for students caring for children can be found here: Students with parenting responsibilities
- University societies are open to students of all ages. They are a great way to take some time for yourself to do something you enjoy with likeminded people.
- Many institutions will have societies specifically for mature students, students with children and commuting students for instance.
- Seeking out such societies, or events put on by your university for such groups, is a great way to meet people in a similar situation to yourself – which in turn can help you build up a support network.