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Transitioning to university as a mature student…

Seth is from Belgium and has recently completed his first year of studying History and Scottish History.

Starting university is always daunting but doing so as a ‘Mature Student’ can be even more so. Of course, even in this case one size does not fit all, as the term ‘Mature Student’ covers anyone starting university that is 22 or older and that covers a lot of ground and experiences. For this blog post, I’ll mention that I am nearer to 40 than to 22 and that I just finished my 1st year of undergraduate study. 

Before Starting 

There are some things that you need to keep in mind when starting university, as a mature student, that you might not have thought about. More specifically, you need to pay attention to how your finances will change. 

Something I learned on the fly, is that, as a student, you may not be eligible for most benefits – unless you also have a disability. This can be a nightmare if, like me, your situation changes, and you find yourself with a safety net missing as you are no longer eligible… So be aware of this caveat and plan accordingly. 

On a lighter note, stop worrying about being older than your classmates or not ‘deserving’ of your place at the University of Edinburgh. There is quite a big and friendly community of mature students at Edinburgh, so you won’t stand out like a sore thumb and the University wouldn’t have given you a space if you didn’t deserve it. So, take a deep breath and enjoy the free time you have before you must worry about essay deadlines and tutorial readings. 

Welcome Week 

Welcome Week is a great time to familiarise yourself with the University, meet people, discover societies and meet with your Personal Tutor  (or Student Advisor). 

You should meet with your PT at some point during that week and that is when they will register you for your chosen courses. Make sure you have your list ready, with backups as some courses are popular and fill up fast, before you meet with them! 

This is the time to have fun and explore university life. Welcome Week is when societies and clubs offer taster sessions and city walks without having to commit to a membership, so it’s the time to test anything that tickles your fancy. 

Bear in mind that your School will also organise introduction sessions that are often mandatory, so make yourself a schedule around those. 

Lastly, don’t let FOMO get to you. Let yourself breathe, take your time, have fun but don’t make yourself sick with trying to do too much. Don’t forget that classes start the following week and you want to start on the right foot! 

First Semester 

The first semester is always stressful. I don’t think there’s really any way around it. But in hindsight, it’d give myself this piece of advice: 

As soon as you have your assessment due dates, mark them down then schedule in advance when you are going to do the reading, the planning, the writing and the editing for your essays, etc. This is especially useful if you end up with assessments that have close by due dates. I did this too late and ended up more stressed that what was necessary and that always tends to impact the quality of your work. 

Finally, use this semester as your ‘test’ semester. Try different things out for how to study or take notes, see how full you can make your schedule without it being too much. Keep what works and drop what doesn’t. That way when next semester starts, you’ve got a solid foundation and your work can only improve. 

 

Update from Student Stories: The University has created a new student support model to deliver more consistent support for students, to read more go to:

https://www.ed.ac.uk/students/academic-life/personal-tutor-and-student-support

This blog was originally published on the ‘Student Stories’ blog site. To read more blogs from our students you can visit the site here: https://blogs.ed.ac.uk/studentstories/




Navigating undergraduate academia as a mature student

Much of university recruitment is aimed at school-leavers, but what if you are older or have been out of education for some time? Tristan – MA (Hons) Ancient and Medieval History – told us his story. 

In 2018, the University of Edinburgh launched its Access Programme as part of its Widening Participating Initiative. As a 26-year-old who had been out of education for four consecutive years, having previously studied Acting and Performance, and later Art and Design, I was eligible to apply. My previous study had ignited a fervent interest in History of Art, and it was with the intention of undertaking undergraduate study in this discipline that I enrolled on the Access course. What it revealed to me, through exploring a wide range of subjects within Humanities and the Social Sciences, was that it was history – particularly of the ancient world – that really engaged me and so, the following year, I began my MA (Hons) in Ancient and Medieval History.

By now a 27-year-old student, it would be fair to say that I was incredibly anxious as to what my experience would be like. Would I find my place in an institution filled primarily with students ten years younger than myself? Would I get as much out of the ‘university experience’ than I would have done had I enrolled immediately after high school? Now, coming to the end of the second year of my degree, I’m confident to answer with a resounding yes to both questions, and I feel that my experience has been testament to the need to engage adult learners.

I write all of this as a 29-year-old, well aware of the fact that there are students in my cohort who have been outside of institutional education for far longer, but I think any significant gap in study can fill one with a great deal of self-doubt. There’s an expectation upon young learners that those who are capable go on to higher education immediately after education, and the six years I spent at high school felt as though I was expected to follow that trajectory. I chose a different path and whilst I have absolutely no regrets for studying the performing and visual arts, I realised that neither really engaged in the way that study ought to. Had I not followed those routes, however, I don’t think I would be where I am today (cliché notwithstanding).

Classical Assocation logoOn 6 April 2021, I was invited to participate in the Classical Association Annual Conference on a panel entitled, ‘Inclusive Classics and pedagogy: teachers, academics and students in conversation’. What the discussion revealed is the dichotomy between ‘the institution’ and the individuals within it. Classics has been thrown into the spotlight recently, both in academic terms for the ‘dead white men’ narrative that pervades it, as well as in news stories surrounding the appropriation of ancient iconography by alt-right groups. Much discussion has been had as to how Classics as a discipline can survive when it seemingly perpetrates elitist ideology, owing to the fact that very few high school students have the opportunity to study it. In fact, I had no idea what ‘Classics’ even meant until enrolling on the Access Programme in 2018. But I don’t feel that has disadvantaged me in any way, nor has my status as a ‘mature student’; rather, I feel that it has allowed me to approach the discipline with eyes that seek interdisciplinary study, that see the Graeco-Roman world as one aspect of a rich and diverse ancient world, and that appreciate the diversity of the student experience.

Recently, I launched an article series, ‘Classics in Conversation’, through my work with Retrospect Journal (for those of you who don’t know, Retrospect is the School of History, Classics and Archaeology’s student-led journal). This series poses questions to students both to encourage critical thinking and to provide a space to consider some of the most pertinent issues in the discipline today. I’m delighted with the response we’ve had thus far, and I feel as though it has highlighted the need to engage students in wider issues through a platform that elevates their voices. Ultimately, it’s my hope that Classics continues to thrive as a discipline, and it is also my hope that more students like myself will feel confident to pursue their ambition.

 

Read ‘Classics in Conversation’ on the Retrospect website

Find out more about the University of Edinburgh’s Access Programme

The website of the Classical Association