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A complete guide to university for mature students

The majority of university students head straight to university after sixth form or college or begin after a gap year in which they go travelling or gain valuable work experience. Due to this, most students are 18 or 19-years-old when they begin their undergraduate courses.

However, you can attend university at any age. Thousands of mature students apply to university each year to develop new skills, further their careers, or open up new career options.

A third of undergraduates are mature students, so if you wish to study at a higher education level and you’re not beginning your time at university straight from sixth form or college, then you are certainly not alone.

This article is a guide to university for mature students and those considering becoming one. We’ll begin with what a mature student is, followed by a step-by-step guide to the application process.

What is a mature student in the UK and how old are they?

A female mature student sat at a desk in university, studying and taking notes

Any undergraduate student over the age of 21 is classed as a mature student; at postgraduate level, a mature student is over 25 years of age.

More than half of mature students begin their university studies between the ages of 21 and 24, and a further 40 percent of mature students begin when they are over 30-years-old.

Some mature students achieved the grades required to progress to university but took a few years out for one reason or another.

Others have no or poor previous qualifications and access university through a Foundation course, an Access to Higher Education (HE) diploma, or through relevant life or work experience.

A smaller number of mature students will already have one degree under their belt and wish to study another subject or return to university at postgraduate level.

Every mature student’s case is unique and will be assessed as such; if you wish to attend university and need more information, get in touch with UCAS or a specific university today and get that conversation started — whatever your academic background.

How to become a mature student

Once you’ve decided you’d like to study as a mature student, you’ll be wondering how to get started. Simply follow the steps outlined below.

Choose a university

Firstly, you need to choose a university. If you have a family or plan to study while you work, then you’ll probably be hoping to attend one of your local universities; if you’re more flexible with where you can live, then you’ll have plenty to choose from.

Attending open days can be beneficial when deciding on a university, and virtual open days have become more popular since the dawn of the pandemic — meaning you won’t have to book time off work or spend money to travel around viewing various campuses if you don’t want to.

If you aren’t tied to a specific area of the country, you can choose a university based purely on the courses available and, perhaps, their mature student population — all universities accept mature students, but some have a larger population of older students than others.

Choose a course

Depending on your personal circumstances, you may wish to study full-time, part-time, find an evening course, or opt for distance learning.

You probably have a subject in mind already. Still, there can be a variety of courses for just one subject, so once you have narrowed your university options down, spend some time browsing the available courses in your chosen subject area.

Research what funding is available to mature students

Next, it’s time to look into your finances and decide how you will afford your time at university — your course fees, plus extra outgoings (textbooks, for example), transport, and general living expenses all need to be considered.

You’re probably thinking, ‘but what financial help can I get as a mature student?’ You’ll be surprised.

The majority of mature students work part-time or full-time and apply for student finance from the government to support themselves (and their family/household, if relevant).

Some universities offer scholarships for mature students, so that’s worth looking into, too.

In addition, there are other government offerings such as the Parents’ Learning Allowance and the Childcare Grant, which could top up your household income while you are studying.

Alongside the above, it’s worthwhile considering that full-time students don’t have to pay council tax, they receive a discount on public transport, and also receive a discount in many shops and restaurants.

Apply to university as a mature student

A female mature student wearing a yellow shirt, sat studying at a desk with a notepad and pen

Once you are happy with how you will fund your studies, it’s time to apply for your place at university.

You apply in the same way as younger students, via UCAS; you can choose up to five courses, and you upload a personal statement to support the application.

For help with writing your personal statement, read our blog post entitled, ‘How to write a personal statement that will get you noticed’.

For Oxford and Cambridge and most medical, dentistry, and veterinary courses, you will need to submit your application before mid-October.

For all other undergraduate courses, the deadline is usually late January.

Please double-check the exact dates on the UCAS website well in advance of October or January, giving yourself plenty of time to perfect your application and personal statement.

Apply for student finance

Once you’ve applied for a place at university, you can go ahead and apply for the financial support you have chosen; you don’t need a confirmed place to apply for student finance, so get it done early, and then you won’t be worried about it closer to the time of your course start date.

Arrange university accommodation

If you are studying away from home, you’ll need to commute or arrange accommodation in your university town or city.

Being older, you may not wish to stay in halls of residence in your first year — in which case, you might like to look into a student house share.

If you’re an extrovert and love spending time with others, you’ll get a lot from living in a large student house share; if you’re more introverted, opt for a smaller house share with similar-minded people. Also, take a look at our guide to surviving university as an introvert!

We offer a wide range of quality student housing in Leeds and there is something to suit everyone.

Information from the Leeds universities for mature students

The building that houses the Faculty of Arts, Environment and Technology at Leeds Beckett University in the UK, with a blue sky and clouds as the backdrop.

If you are planning to apply to one of the Leeds universities as a mature student, you can find further information on the below webpages:

If Leeds is your chosen university city, you can learn more about our student accommodation on our website and browse our student properties, too.

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