Returning to academia after a break

Going back to university to do a postgraduate degree as a mature student can induce nerves in the best of people. But there is lots of support available to you, and being organised can smooth your way into further study.

What is a 'mature student'?

Universities classify 'mature students' as applicants who are not entering higher education straight from school or college. Perhaps you have been working full time or in voluntary work or caring; or you may have taken a first degree then worked or raised a family for some time before returning to study.

Whatever the case, you will certainly not be alone. Although the percentage of mature postgraduate students varies from course to course and university to university, rest assured you will find plenty of other people following a similar route.

Nursing and teaching courses, for example, attract a number of mature students at both a pre-qualifying and post-qualifying level. There are plenty of courses specifically aimed at graduates and professionals to provide them with a qualification recognised by employers, from areas as diverse as health and social care to engineering and surveying.

Making the transition to a postgrad student

A new course or programme is exciting, but it also brings an element of change in your life. This change might cause you some stress, but this need not be a negative thing. It is only if pressure becomes intense that it becomes a problem, and universities do have support processes to help prevent this happening.

You have exactly the same rights to the support services as undergraduate students – counselling, study skill sessions etc – and many universities have support systems specifically in place for postgraduate students and actively try to develop a sense of community for its postgrads. It’s worth checking out the support systems of different universities before you apply to do a postgraduate degree.

Tips for making your postgraduate course easier

Have a timetable, set realistic goals, identify priorities, develop support networks, evaluate and reflect on your learning, and be prepared to seek and accept help and advice from other people. In your classes, you shouldn't expect to be spoon-fed but do actively seek feedback on your work and ask questions of your tutors; that’s what they’re there for. At the same time, take responsibility for yourself, your learning and the decisions you make. The important thing is to learn to be flexible and to develop your skills: be self-directed.

With thanks to Professor Sian Maslin-Prothero, dean of the Graduate School and Mairi MacLeod, head of the Graduate School, for their help with this article.

Find out more about studying postgraduate courses