Thinking of enrolling in a course? The experience of studying as a mature age student is a world away from being a teenager in high school or young adult at uni.
For many mature students it means trying to juggle study, family and work. It means tightening budgets to allow for extra costs. This can all seem daunting – especially if it’s been a while since you were a student. But these challenges can be overcome, making sure you not just survive but thrive as a mature age student.
For some expert study tips for mature students, we spoke to Glenn Cook, an English language trainer in Skills for Education and Employment (SEE), a government-funded program that provides English language, job search and computer skills training to eligible job seekers across Australia. Glenn has been teaching English to mature students since 2006 and has seen first-hand the challenges mature-age students face – and the best strategies to overcome them.
“One of the biggest challenges for mature students is balancing study with family commitments – often students are parents and even grandparents. There are school concerts, parent-teacher interviews, or maybe their child is sick and they can’t get to class,” explains Glenn. “There’s also the financial strain of being a student, as well as the smaller challenges, like having to move your car every few hours to avoid parking fines.”
There are advantages to being a mature-age student, too. You have a better understanding of your strengths and weaknesses. You’re less likely to worry if something goes wrong because you have other experiences to compare it with. And, in most cases, you’ve chosen to study, which means you’re more motivated to put in the hard work.
So, how do you overcome the challenges and get the most out of your studies?
Here are Glenn’s top 5 study tips for mature students:
1. Define your goal
Think about what you want to achieve from your studies, advises Glenn. “Don’t just say ‘I want to learn English’. Be specific. For example, my English students often want to be more confident managing face-to-face and telephone conversations in formal settings, for example, with government departments, parent-teacher interviews, doctors and hospitals, and job interviews.”
2. Plan ahead
Having a clear and realistic study plan can make a huge difference to your life as a student. Mark up a calendar with your study, work, personal and family commitments so you can plan when you will study (you can find a handy weekly planner on Template.net).
“Everyone is different – some students find it best to set aside an hour for study every night, while others work early in the morning. The important thing is to have a timetable you can work to,” advises Glenn.
Do a little bit every day. Make study part of your everyday routine, especially if you’re learning a new language. “If you are travelling to class by train or bus, use this as a chance to study and you will improve little by little,” he adds.
3. Be creative with study resources
Find resources that will help you achieve your goal. Join your local library and ask your librarian for help finding the right resources – both in the library collections and online.
Look beyond the obvious, too. Subscribe to podcasts and watch YouTube videos. “I once had a student who started recording the teacher with her iPhone as the teacher read a story aloud,” recalls Glenn. “The teacher consciously slowed down and articulated clearly. The student would then go home and play it back as she read. Any student who has a phone with a recording function can do this.”
Glenn says this works both ways – he’s always seeking new teaching resources to motivate his students. “I use Aussies Say G’day, a series of dialogues using colloquial Australian English. There is an audio recording, but sometimes I get my native English-speaking students from the computer class to read the script. My English class students love it because it helps them understand everyday Australian English, expressions and social conventions.”
4. Ask for help
Unsure about something in your course? Feeling confused or overwhelmed? Take a deep breath and ask for help. Don’t feel embarrassed – no question is a silly question.
Talk to your family and friends before you start studying and let them know why and how you will need support. Work with them to put measures in place to assist with tasks like school pick-ups, housework, shopping and so on. Also, explore the full range of external services and support offered to mature students. From StudyAssist to handy study apps, you might be surprised at what’s out there to make your life easier!
5. Face your fears
It’s normal for mature students (or any students for that matter) to feel out of their depth at times, especially when assignments are due, the kids need costumes for the school play and you’re behind on the shopping. But unless you face your fears, you won’t get results. “Be a risk taker! If you’re diving into the world of study, you cannot afford to be too inhibited. Be confident enough to take risks in your learning and be prepared to work independently at least some of the time,” Glenn recommends.
Our final tip? Be patient with yourself. It takes time to adjust to learning again, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself to get it right from day one. Give yourself a break! With the right planning and support, you’ll soon find balance between work, life and study, and gain the skills you need to embark on your future career.
Do you want to study?
At MTC we’re focused on providing people with the skills and confidence to find meaningful work.
We offer Skills for Education and Employment (SEE), a government-funded program that helps you improve your English language, literacy, numeracy, computer and job search skills. We also offer a range of Vocational Education and Training (VET) courses, providing you with new skills, a certification, and a clear career path.
For more advice and support, phone us on 1300 232 663.