A more mature approach: life as a mature student in Leeds
Most students only have to juggle a degree and a student loan. Justine Jefferies is a mature student with four children in the second year of her degree. She examines some of the challenges faced by mature students like herself juggling a family and a degree…
The University of Leeds currently has 20436 full time students enrolled, 8% of which are classed as mature – 21 or over. Many of these students have children and other commitments. While the younger students are starting to make their lifelong friends, mature students are leaving old ones behind; at home, it is likely that the mature student will no longer have as much time for their friends and family. It’s important for all students to make time to organise their work-load and home-life so they don’t leave anything out. It’s going to be a busy three or four years!
It’s certainly no lie that trying to juggle a home and a university workload is very hard – I know this because I am a mum of four young children and a second year English Language and Literature student. Three of my children are at full time school and one is at nursery. Juggling childcare between me, my husband, after-school clubs and other family commitments is an extra worry I would rather be without. Even before a mature student sets foot in a lecture theatre, they have the worries of childcare and budgeting to sort out. I know that I spent a long time worrying over the summer what my timetable would look like and emailing the School of English to get seminars changed because I would not get back in time for the school run. Stressful.
Of course, then there’s the dilemma of what to do when the kids are ill. You have an important seminar, and you’ve done some fantastic seminar prep that you really want to show off; or maybe you have a lecture that you really need to attend because it is focussed on a topic you’re struggling with. But there’s no childcare! Borrowing someone else’s lecture notes is a great way of getting the gist of a lecture, but it’s no great substitute for actually being there. But the kids come first, and until they build a crèche in Roger Stevens, when the children are ill, I’m staying home and checking the lecture slides on the VLE.
For some mature students, it can be a worry when thinking about coping with the workload and new ways of learning. When I was at school we had never heard of the internet (and mobile phones? As if! If you wanted to talk to a friend you had to ring their HOUSE and speak to their MUM. Nightmare!)
Some mature students have been out of education for a while, and can find it difficult to adjust to new learning styles; even the VLE can be hard to understand. However, the University of Leeds does provide a number of resources to support these students. The Lifelong Learning Centre, for example, provides academic skills support for those who need a recap of some things. The Academic Skills Provision offers refresher workshops, individual and small group tutorials for mature students and helps them to identify their study skills needs. The centre also operates a walk-in facility for mature students where they can find a relaxing learning space catered for them. It contains cluster PCs, reference books, group study rooms and a small children’s play area for those times when we have the little ones in tow. M.J Morgan, the Student Experience and Guidance Officer in the LLC says that she hopes to create a “friendly, supportive atmosphere” for mature students to come and eat lunch, meet friends or work.
When I started university just over a year ago, my main concern was how to integrate with younger students and make new friends. In the first week I had a meltdown when I realised that all the other students had already made tight cliques with their halls of residence neighbours , as they seemed to talk about nothing but Freshers’ Week craziness. It was very hard to force my way through this barrier and begin to talk to people as not just fellow students, but as friends.
Although mature students might not have to deal with the same issues of homesickness as younger ones, it can still be hard to settle in during the first few weeks at university. However, M.J. notes that most people have many of same stresses when beginning a new course: “everybody is in the same boat; they all have the same worries and are nervous about how they will cope or how they will find their seminar rooms.” This can make it easier to find common ground and get to know people. “You all have something that unites you – university - and hopefully that which unites you is stronger than that which divides.”
Another difficulty faced by older students who live outside Leeds and commute in is that there is so little spare time in which to make friends. It’s hard to stay for a ‘quick drink’ after lectures – as much as you might like to! – because you have the school run to do and there is no childcare available. Charlie Hopper, the Union’s Equality and Diversity Officer, says she understands how difficult it is for a mature student to integrate. “It’s important to have the LLC to support students but it’s equally important for departments to support them.” She says that while some departments do not think about the wide diversity among the students and the flexibility that is sometimes needed, the LLC is always available. When asked about what can done to help mature students make friends at university, Charlie suggests implementing a pre-semester get together for people on the same course. This, she emphasises, would enable people to mix outside of their ‘halls of residence gang’ and prevent some students feeling isolated. Personally, I would love to see this arranged for next year!
Additionally, if you are a mature student and you are worried about making friends or fitting in, the LLC provides a programme where you can be introduced to a current mature student who can be a useful source of independent information, advice and support. This ‘buddy system’ is an optional but very beneficial scheme. New students are invited to give information about themselves so they can be paired with someone whose background and interests match their own. Maybe you’ll be lucky and get me as a mentor!
A day in the life…
Every morning I’m up at 7am for a 10am lecture – why three hours early? Well, I have four children to get ready for school and nursery (with help from the husband!). After checking that the kids have their homework and PE kits and that they’re not still in pyjamas, I can check that my own bag contains everything I need for a day at uni.
With a forty minute commute I have to make sure that the kids are all on time for school so I can leave without having to Richard Hammond my little Peugeot down the M62. It never really leaves me much time to get myself ready, so yes, mornings can be very hectic. Oh, and those times when I forget to email myself a copy of an assignment (because obviously Desktop Anywhere is, as usual, Desktop Nowhere because it refuses to load up on my PC) I can’t simply nip home to retrieve it. How I wish I lived in Leeds!
During lectures and seminars I have to keep an eye on my phone – perhaps school might ring because my 7-year-old son is ill or my 5-year-old daughter has had an accident. So if you see me on my phone I am not playing games or looking at Facebook. Not all the time, anyway.
Of course, after school I have to listen to the kids read and sort out homework; make sure ballet costumes are clean; and sew Cubs badges onto jumpers. Not to mention making tea, emptying the cat litter tray, and locating missing school shoes. After the 8pm bedtime when all the kids are snoozing I can finally curl up on the sofa and do some reading for my English degree. Occasionally I might even get chance to write an assignment – fingers crossed, eh?
Not to fear, though. With all this going on, I still did very well in first year and am very proud of myself for managing to juggle it all! Here’s to second year, and more stress – BRING IT ON!
- For students with other commitments, time management is crucial. If you have a partner, sit down with them and discuss when you can have some quiet study time. Get a wall planner and write down all your deadlines as soon as you know them.
- If you use the train to commute you can get the bus from the station to the Parkinson Steps. Alternatively, there is a City Bus which goes from right outside the station to the southern end of campus for just 50p.
- Are you driving to university? The university car park gets full after 10am but alternative car parks are on Woodhouse Lane (£8 a day) or the Rose Bowl near the Met (short stay only).
- Try not to be disheartened if you haven’t made a best friend – or even a friend at all – in the first two weeks. It takes time. Most of the young students know each other from halls of residence, but once seminars get underway, you will find yourself relaxing and talking to everyone about assignments and lectures.
- Don’t see age as a barrier. In fact, don’t look at age at all and you may well find yourself in the great position of having friends much younger and friends much older than you!
- You might find it hard to be disciplined but fear not. Get things done as soon as it is set, leaving you time to find the Old Bar at the union and have a celebratory drink.
- Take advantage of the LLC’s Academic Skills help to brush up on those essay writing skills you haven’t used for a while. The Lifelong Learning Centre is located on level 11 of the Marjorie and Arnold Ziff building
- Remember that although you are a mature student, you are still a student, and that means being able to get a Refresh Card (10% off certain foods in the Refresh outlets on campus), an NUS extra card (discount in stores and online) and being eligible for a Student Rail Card (get your application form signed and stamped at Student Services in the Ziff).
- For more information on the Mature Student Peer Mentor Scheme please contact the LLC on 0113 343 3212 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The information is also available on the LLC website.
- Don’t know the difference between the Portal and the VLE? Look on the website for more information here.
- If you require a copy of the carers’ policy please email email@example.com quoting ‘Policy on Support for Students who are Parents or Carers’.
- To make an appointment for an Academic Skills consultation, please email the Development Tutor at firstname.lastname@example.org
Image: Becki Bateman