An A for Mature Student Effort

By Sandy Burgham

mature students

When I last sat tertiary exams at around 20 years of age, I remember thinking how much I was looking forward to be grown up so I wouldn’t have to sit exams again. I never would have predicted that some 30 years later I would opt to do precisely that of my own accord. My motivation to start afresh at the University of Auckland to do a bachelor’s degree has nothing to do with my career or income earning prospects. Nor is it to do with a campus social life. I have no exam angst. I am going to university because I am interested in what I am learning.


Amongst my friends, colleagues and clients, there is a host of people picking up the books again as “mature students” at university. But they are not necessarily driven by a need to retrain, or to remain competitive with the Gen Y conjoint degree brigade. One 45-year old friend has bitten the bullet to pursue her passion for art; another 51 year old is studying psychology. While the learning is huge, the biggest education sometimes sits outside of the course content. One client of mine, 47, who opted to do two papers this semester instead of using those hours to “make more money,” says “for the first time in my adult life I am interacting daily with people who aren’t that similar to me. Unlike my working life which had me mostly hanging out with people who had very similar lives, age, interests, friends….university presents diversity.”


For me, the steepest curve has been about the digital approach to study. While some mature students love it, call me a technolaggard but I come from an era of class handouts. I almost needed a degree or at least a good PA just to work out how to enroll online and electronically make notes in my essays. I have no stress about actually writing the essay, in fact I quite enjoy it. “It’s a great way of consolidating my learning,” I earnestly told my young tutor, who laughed at my nerdiness. “Spoken like a true mature student,” she responded.


So what do we make of this studying for the sake of studying? What else do you get out of it? From a coaching viewpoint there are two immediate benefits. One is that it can be considered a meditation in purposeful living. This may not necessarily manifest in bounding out of bed in the morning with fire in your belly, it can be as simple as having a curiosity that motivates. One woman I spoke to said, “The mental space to think, away from daily commitments has probably saved me from a breakdown of sorts…attending university gives permission to what I want to do, it forces everyone, myself included, to acknowledge I need uninterrupted time to write. It is a hard, time consuming and an ultimately selfish pursuit”.


Secondly, it requires courage to step outside your comfort zone. “My biggest revelation is that I am actually cognitively able to this,” says another mature student. “I had so many fears about signing up at uni so I guess that makes me realise a few personal traits in myself that I wasn’t fully aware of too.My perception was that you have to be ‘brainy’. The reality is you need to know the ‘rules’ and how to play the game at uni! I think mature students are not really noticed by younger students and they don’t care. A reality check rather than a revelation!”


— Sandy Burgham


This post first appeared in The Hobson November, 2013