New friends, hard work and a lot of essay writing: a day in the life of a mature student.
George Eliot once said “It is never too late to be what you might have been”; this is exactly why I decided to study English Language and Communication at the age of sixty three. But out of the 552,240 undergraduates who applied to study last year, only 0.35% was over the age of sixty. That’s not too impressive if you think that just forty years ago, only six percent of people went to university. But back then we didn’t care. We got jobs, choked on joints, listened to sensational music (and never said groovy). Having now completed two thirds of my degree, I’ve decided to share some of my experiences and insights into what it means to be an (im)mature student.
If you like to be congratulated, go to university. If you like to be congratulated constantly, go as a mature student. ‘What do you do?’; ‘I am a Mature Student’. ‘Wow!’, ‘Amazing’. Some ask why, some think you’re barking mad and others whisper dreamily about the luxury of time to read books. Who are they kidding? Luxury? I am working harder than I ever imagined possible.
Getting used to classmates
For me, university means being in a room for hours with kids younger than your own. While you are atoning for the wasted years, they are auditioning new best friends for forever. And that’s not you. Nobody shows you the line between congeniality and creepy. You are the first adult they‘ve met who is neither family nor in charge. They don’t know what to make of you, and nor do you know what to make of them. One drink at the KCLSU bar, then home. Youth has definitely been wasted on the old.
Getting used to lecturers
To learn, the old must understand, and the young need only listen. My hand is always up, questioning this and querying that. I am older than my lecturers. Most don’t seem to mind – some even welcome a rumpled fellow among the bright faces. The younger ones are edgier and unsure. Their politics are never mine. I bite my tongue. How different these teachers are from the aisle-Hitlers of my youth. They say nothing, no matter how disrespectful of their scholarship the class can get. With futures yoked to debt, students are consumers now.
Getting used to essay writing
Academic writing is something the mature student has to live with. Like a chesty cough, it’s irksome, not fatal. Write three words where one will do and you’ve caught Tricola. That’s fine for rhetoric (‘blood sweat and tears’), great in humour (‘an Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman’) – but such triads infect academic writing. Most students get over it, their word counts start to fall and their literary fluids soon begin to flow clear. Time management also really helps. My trick is an F number. To find your F number you divide the time the essay ought to take into the time the essay actually takes, with the F standing for f-ing about. When snacking is involved you should use a P number which stands for procrastineating. The trick is to keep the F number low and never pull an all-nighter in the library.
The things I’ve learnt
Catholics were excused assembly, Jesus being C of E at my school. It was very different then. Even now I rarely encounter a Muslim or a Hindu to chat to. But here, there are many faiths. Young women clothed head to toe sit alongside the crop tops and flip flops. Seeing your own culture through other eyes can really startle you. You go to university. You learn new things.
And lastly, if seniors are permitted one love, mine would have to be my study group. There’s Emma, Miriam, Georgia, Claudia, Win, Daniela, Steve, Lisa and Lauren, who chide me when I’m being dim and cheer me when I am feeling old. If university really is about making ‘BFFs’, then these are mine. I won’t be so much ‘forever’, but I’d like to watch them fly.