Starting university can be daunting. Starting university as a mature student (anyone over the age of 21) adds an extra layer of nervousness.
I get it. This was me.
I didn’t do well at Sixth Form so I moved halfway round the world to try and forget about education. When I came back I jumped into work for a few years so by the time I considered going to university my study skills felt pretty damn rusty.
I was worried that I would repeat my failures at Sixth Form. I felt like I’d forgotten how to learn and that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the workload. I was terrified that I would start and then quickly realise I wasn’t good enough.
I’m writing this blog post for anyone starting university as a mature student who might be feeling the same. I want to share with you the strategies I wish I had so you can avoid my mistakes and see success faster than I did.
Before I dive into the good stuff, sign up to my free resource library where you can download my bloomin’ awesome study session planner. You’ll also get access to TONS of other printables and worksheets to help you become a happier, more confident and more successful student.
If you’re about to start, or have recently started, your first university module, maybe you’re feeling a little overwhelmed. There’s a lot to take in and you feel like your whole life has shifted to make way for this challenge.
There’s always a learning curve involved when we start something new, and studying is no different. I can guarantee there will be times when you doubt yourself and your abilities and you may wonder why you’re putting yourself through it.
So I want to tell you straight off – you CAN do this. You have already taken the big leap to enrol so you 100% have the power to get through this and achieve the grades you want.
10 Steps to Starting University as a Mature Student
1. Digest the course information
No doubt you have A LOT of course material available – printed or online. You might have a handbook for the course or module, or information on learning aims or outcomes. Take some time to dive in and digest your course and module guidance so you can find out what you’re going to be learning, how your module or year will play out, and how you’re going to be assessed.
Also, investigate the services your university offers. Look out for forums, meet ups or social activities and study resources…etc. so you can make the most of what’s there to help you.
2. Check out the syllabus and workload
First, discover the hours per week required for your course. Most universities will give you an idea of the hours for tutorials and independent study so you can determine how much time to set aside for studying. (Note that this is only an idea and you may need more or less time).
Next, use your syllabus to work out what you need to achieve each week. Having a clear picture of your workload will help you focus and stay on track.
Then I want you to identify all the important dates you’ve been told so far. This means dates of tutorials, essays, group projects, presentations, practice tests, revision sessions, exams…etc. If you’re not given exact exam dates yet you’ll normally be given a date range for now.
Record these dates prominently e.g. in your physical planner or diary, or in a digital calendar, or on a big wall planner.
3. Integrate studying into your life
Once you know how many hours a week you should study, you need to find those hours.
Starting university as a mature student often means combining education with a job.
I see students make the mistake of not scheduling in their study sessions, or just hoping that 10/15/20 hours a week will miraculously find itself (I wish!)
Ask yourself, what am I willing to change about my life so I can make my studying a priority and a success?
Will you wake up earlier?
Will you squeeze studying in before work/kids wake up?
Will you study on the commute or on your lunch breaks?
Will you give up part of your weekend every week?
Studying will feel a lot less like trudging through poop if you accept that your free time is going to take a hit and you give your degree the time it deserves.
4. Create a simple organisation system
I know, I know, organisation is a dirty word for some people. It seems like too much effort and only for those kind of people who always look groomed and like they have their shit together.
I am NOT one of those people – but I DO value organisation.
If you use a simple organisation system you will save a lot of time and stress otherwise spent on hunting for lost notes or crying over accidentally-deleted assignments (yep, I’ve been there!)
5. Investigate different note taking methods
First off I want to say that there is NOT one best note taking method that all students should use. Instead it’s about finding the best method for your current situation. The way you take notes (and the way you organise yourself, write essays and revise) will change multiple times throughout your studies as your module requirements change.
But for now, have a read of my note taking mistakes blog post to learn what successful students DON’T do. And then dive into my blog post where I outline the four main note taking methods. And, finally, have a read of my blog post to help you decide between handwritten and typed note taking.
Commit to trying out one method for the next 30 days. Then reflect, tweak or change techniques if necessary.
6. Buy *some* stationery
I still remember the sheer delight of going to WHSmith with my mum during the summer holidays from school. I loved running my hand over the different pencil cases, testing out all the pens and flicking through the notebooks.
Now you can 100% replicate this experience for university. If you want to go out and buy the whole of Paperchase you can. But you don’t have to and I would normally recommend waiting until you know more about the course and the study methods you’re going to try.
If you’re going to handwrite your notes you could buy a notebook, some pens, highlighters, sticky notes, dividers and paperclips. But if you’re going to type your notes you may not need so much. If your modules have exams then I would suggest buying some index cards so you can create flashcards for your revision.
7. Identify your motivations
You’ve decided to study and you’re eager to get started, but that doesn’t mean your motivation is going to last you until graduation day. The good thing about starting university as a mature student is that your very decision to enrol took some motivation.
But motivation comes and goes and one of the key lessons I want to share with you is that, whether you feel motivated or not, the studying has to happen.
One way to make it happen is to identify exactly what motivates you and display it prominently.
So have a think about your reasons for studying.
Why did you start?
What goal are you aiming for?
Are you studying for someone or because of someone?
What do you love about your chosen subject?
What do you love about learning?
Turn your answers into a snazzy note or poster and stick it loud and proud above your desk or inside your notebook. I would LOVE to see your reasons so take a snap and tag me on Instagram @chloe.burroughs
8. Create a study space you want to be in
I recently polled my Instagram audience on where they like to study.
- 60% of them said they normally study in the same place
- 35% said they are the most productive studying at their desk
- 20% at the kitchen table
- 20% at a café
- 15% at a library
- 10% in bed or on their sofa.
Wherever you like to study, try and turn this space into a place you want to be by adding decorations and items that make you happy.
At your desk – add pictures, lights, candles, cushions…etc. to make it super cosy.
At your kitchen table – favourite snacks, flowers, candles…etc.
At a café or library – headphone, motivational music, good snacks…etc.
On the sofa or in bed – cosy blanket, snacks, fun stationery…etc.
9. Practice an intentional study routine
Productivity is a key ingredient if you want achieve great university grades. And productivity starts in the routines and habits we build. Intentional studying means employing absolute focus to your study time. Rather than trying to study while chatting to your partner or while catching up on Netflix – intentional study means JUST studying. That way you can achieve more in less study time, freeing up space in your schedule for run and relaxation.
An intentional study routine involves:
- clearing your study area before you sit down to work
- gathering all your materials and stationery
- grabbing study snacks for later
- making yourself comfortable (e.g. layers, comfort, bathroom break…etc.)
- removing distractions before you start (move your phone, close down non-studying tabs, turn off the TV…etc).
Ultimately, if you don’t study with intention you are just throwing time away. Time you could use to achieve higher grades or to hang out with your friends and family.
10. Commit to continuous study skills improvement
Education is a journey with many twists and turns. To graduate with the best degree possible, you must commit to improving your study skills regularly and with every assessment. With each tweak, pivot and new strategy your abilities will increase, your confidence will grow, and this will be reflected in your marks and grades.
4 ways to improve your study skills
- Learn from your tutor feedback and implement their advice
- When faced with something new, such as exam revision, look for study skills resources to help you
- If you want better results, faster – get in touch and see how I can help
- Sign up for my free study success resource library below.
I hope this blog post has shown you some strategies for starting university as a mature student – and for succeeding as one.
If you know someone else who’s starting studying I would love it if you could share this blog post with them.
And don't forget to sign up to my resource library and grab alllll my best resources to help you save time each week, improve your study skills and achieve the grades you've always wanted.