Returning to further/higher education as a mature student

Hello. I’m thinking about returning to uni at undergraduate level. I went as a not very mature or motivated 18-year-old and picked a terrible courses at a not so great university and wasted my time before dropping out in my third year of being there (changed course from Product Design to Computing after first year)

I have recently been contemplating going back to study something I’d be more interested in, probably at undergrad level.

Has anyone else got experience of going back as a mature student having already been to uni earlier in life?

I’m looking at the UCAS website and the applications deadline is mid January for starting in September 2021 which is very soon :grimacing:


Hadn’t been before but I started a degree at 28.

I’d done quite badly at my a-levels and it put me off education. Eventually found something years later I wanted to study and I found I could apply myself to it really well, and I ended up graduating with a First.

I had a really good experience but I would caveat that was partly the university I was at (primarily an engineering / science one and not a RG/posho university, so a different… type of student), that I was on a small course (about 30 of us), and that it was a subject I really enjoyed.

Think the latter is probably the most important but the other two really helped me personally.

To be honest probably the hardest thing for me was giving up an income for years. Being a student without additional financial support is hard. I was lucky in that I found paid work that was already in my skill set and flexible enough to drop all my hours when university work got too much, but it was still difficult trying to balance all that. Especially in my third year which I spent living in a dump with awful housemates. The extent it reduces your choices in stuff like that, I found really difficult. Probably more bearable if you’re 18, but I was 30.

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This is interesting as this also applies to me, for a whole host of reasons. How did you find the application process, with regard to consideration of A-level results for conditional offers? I am unlikely to meet the criteria of most courses I want to study so presumably work experience/age/circumstances are taken into account?

Also I think you studied something similar to what I am looking to study - was it urban planning?

Yeah, I did urban planning (with a side order of chartered surveying as my original course was cancelled due to low interest and they moved me to that). What are you looking at?

In all honesty, not great - I got turned down by most of the places I applied to. Of the five, two turned me down outright, one offered me a foundation year with the potential to do the course if I passed that, and two offered me a place unconditionally. I took one of the two because it was (weirdly) one of the best of the five.

(The two that outright turned me down were both Russell Group. That might’ve been something to do with it.)

I’m a mature student. Started in September. I was originally going to do the course part-time but due to a COVID-induced lack of commute/social life/hobbies I opted to switch to full-time at the last second (meaning I completely bypassed the UCAS application process! wahey!).

I’ve loved it so far, although my budget is a bit tight. I didn’t want to take out a loan but I don’t qualify for any other funding (I also shat away my funding on a course I hated straight out of school), so I’m trying to live off 3/5th salary while also paying tuition fees. It’s still been worth it though - This is the first time in my life I’ve felt like I’m working towards something I actually want to do.

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Interesting, thanks. Yes - urban planning is one of a number of courses I’m looking at in vaguely the same area. Since unsuccessfully applying for a job I desperately wanted last year I’ve decided that it would be a good idea to study/train towards being able to put together a successful application for a similar role in future.

Good to have a dose of realism though, cheers. My friends are all pushing me towards applying straight to do a masters which I have no chance of being accepted on or even successfully passing at the moment.

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I went back to do an MA 3 years after finishing my undergrad. It was a bit of a struggle tbh. I found it hard to readjust to not having set working hours outside of which i could switch off.

My recommendation is to make sure you’re clear on why you want to do it. Like if you want to improve your employment prospects, have a concrete idea of which course you need to do to get which jobs, and whether you’ll need anything else to get those jobs, like internships or a postgrad. Because you might realise that it wouldn’t help your job prospects or future earnings or wouldn’t get you where you want to be, and you may or may not want to go ahead with it on that basis.

Re applying for a masters, they aren’t necessarily as stringent as you might think. I did an MA in english language and my BSc was in Physics so was not relevant at all, but I had done foreign language evening classes so could show that I understood parts of speech etc.

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I’m not sure if it’s the kind of reassurance you’re looking for, but I was worried I’d struggle getting back into a study mindset after 15+ years away from it. However, I’d say almost all the mature students on my course have taken to it with ease, whereas those just out of school have been the ones overwhelmed by it. Turns out “real world experience” does have its benefits!


Please do DM down the line if you have any Qs - always happy to help.

I should maybe add to my previous post that I really was applying with nothing - I’d done no qualifications or real training through my work history, all I was applying with was eight years working the same customer service/admin job and some of the DIY music stuff I used to do. Pretty sure my personal statement was just “I’d really like to do this because it looks interesting”, which maybe wasn’t the most convincing read for an admissions officer. If you’ve had better or more interesting work experience, or even been promoted beyond an entry level post, you’d probably have a different experience.

I had two aborted attempts at uni, for a vague social sciences degree, at the age of 18 and 20, made a lot of good friends but had no work ethic and was just getting drunk or stoned the whole time both times.

Eventually went back to a different uni to study finance at the age of 25 after 5 years of working in call centres, buckled down and didn’t really speak to the other students at all, just went in and studied, kept working part-time at the call centre, came out with a strong degree and it got me into a graduate scheme at a good employer where I’m now in my ninth year working having made steady progress up the corporate ladder. It was weird being the oldest in the graduate intake (I was 30, other grads were between 20 and 23) but I’ve progressed faster than most of them partly because I already had experience of a (kind of) professional environment and it didn’t take long for the extra experience to stand out in a positive manner.

Would definitely recommend doing it if you can be sure of sticking at it - if you come out with a first then you’re setting yourself above the vast majority of candidates at graduate level and many employers will look positively at somebody who has made the later life decision to study, as a potential employee you then present as determined and decisive. I had no particular love for the subject, but was willing to graft and it’s really set me up well in my career.


You’d be surprised. If you have some relevant experience in the area you wish to study, and you pick the right university, you have a decent chance of being accepted. They may ask you to write a short essay so they can assess your academic ability.

However, if you feel that might be too intense and studying undergraduate would be your preference that is sensible and the above still applies.

If you wish to study something that has strict entry criteria (usually programmes that have professional body accreditation) then you may not be accepted but for most others you stand a decent chance if you write a good personal statement.

You don’t have to apply via UCAS, most universities accept direct applicants too.

Also, a lot of degrees have the option of doing a foundation year if you aren’t successful with application to first year.

I failed almost all my GCSEs and dropped out of my GNVQ amd didn’t do an undergrad, but I was accepted on to an MA in place writing and recently an MA in place management with no problems.

The place management course (sort of along the lines of urban planning) is intense, would definitely be better if I was doing it full time instead of alongside work, and I’ll probably have to pause it and return in the next cohort which is really disappointing as I’m so close to the end, that said most of the issues around this are related to childcare in lockdown so not unreasonable to achieve it without those additional pressures.

Usually find going for a chat with the course leader before applying really helpful, once they get thre measure of you I get the feeling they just push your application through regardless of qualifications.

Oh and career wise that course has led to a role being created for me doing what I want to do (placemaking) so has been worth all the stress so far.


There was a grad in his 40s in my intake, lovely guy. When we had to do interesting facts about ourselves at an icebreaker thing most people’s were that they were head of some society or other or that they backpacked around South East Asia; his was that he won a car on The Price is Right in 1994.


I’m the 2nd youngest on my course and I’m 40 in 2 years :laughing:

This sounds great! Are you studying full time as well as having dropped down to 3 days from your existing full time job? I need to look at funding/loan eligibility as I did take out the full loan for my previous failed attempt back in the day, annoyingly. I have money saved for a house deposit but still so far away from house buying that I think I’d rather (reluctantly, admittedly) spend it on my education. What is it you are studying?

How did this happen?

This is all good advice, thank you. I am desperate to get out of my current full time job as it’s boring and making me miserable. I know what I want to at least be aiming for in terms of career but way off being qualified, so I feel like I might as well do something to get there. If it ultimately ends up not helping it will at least have enabled me to leave my job which I can’t just quit for obvious reasons.

This is good to know, but I really don’t want to make the same mistakes as last time and end up out of my depth. My university experience last time around was dreadful so I think a fresh start is probably better? Idk though

Okay, ta. I might just do that!

I have (on paper) what might amount to some interesting/relevant experience with a vague path of progression so that might work in my favour. I’m not sure how much to delve into past failings on any application though - is it better to be honest about why it didn’t work out last time or just gloss over it? Idk.

Wish I had an extra month or so to think things through :frowning:

This is interesting, thank you. To be honest my main reservations about me not being ready for it. I imagine I could get on to some form of masters somewhere but I think it would be counterproductive in the long run. I can’t over exaggerate just how bad my undergrad experience was in the past with regard to attendance, assignments, exams, tutorials etc. A bit annoying as it will be another 3 years of study and I’m not getting any younger!

Do you know if it’s worth contacting admissions people to enquire about my suitability and be frank about previous experiences/results? I don’t want to waste my/their time by writing a massive personal statement that they won’t even look at due to m A-level results.

This is good to know too, thank you. I checked my number 1 choice and they insist on UCAS entry but they’re also Russell Group (and the course is accredited) so maybe out of my league anyway :slight_smile:

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This is a big worry. Can you imagine if I tried again and failed? Distastrous :frowning: