• Ali Isaac

10 Things I Learned in my First Year as a Mature Student.

Updated: Jul 26, 2020

For those who may not know, this time last year I enrolled as a mature student at Maynooth University to study for a Bachelor of Arts in History and English. I sat my end of year exams in May, and since then have been contemplating my next steps.

There is no question that I will be continuing with my studies. I have decided on a Double Honours in Celtic and Irish Medieval Studies, and English. And now the work really begins, because in reality, first year was just a practice run for the real thing. To continue, I had to achieve a pass at 40%; I actually got 69.3%… that’s how pernickety they are. If I had got just 0.7% more, I would have achieved a First.

Going to uni at age forty nine was a mad and difficult decision which has turned out to be a wonderful thing. I never had a third level education when I was young, but I think I probably wouldn’t have appreciated it, if I had. Maynooth has a mature student population of 10%, and is looking to increase it, probably because on the whole, mature students tend to do better than their younger peers.

However, it’s not been easy. Here, in no particular order, are 10 things I have learned about being a mature student in my first year.

Maynooth University, Co. Kildare, Ireland.
Maynooth University, Co. Kildare, Ireland.

1. to the state, I am worthless

Although I’ve never had a third level education, the state refused to support me with so much as a cent of funding, even though I have two teens in full time education, and a disabled daughter who requires expensive equipment, treatments, medicines and specialized round-the-clock care. Yet if I had previously done a year’s Back to Learning course beforehand, I probably would have been fully funded. No one told me that. Financially, it’s been a struggle, but we’re managing, although there is guilt attached to that, too.

Now, I’m not complaining. At my age, I’m not worth investing in; I’m unlikely to be employed at the end of my studies… I’m too old, and I’ve been out of the workplace since my first son was born. So there’s little prospect of a return on their investment. It’s better suited to supporting a young person with their whole life and a potential career ahead of them. And I fully endorse that.

2. There’s mature, and then there’s mature

Did you know that a student is classed as ‘mature’ if they are aged twenty six or over. That makes me smile… I can look at an eighteen year old and a twenty six year old side by side, and I can’t tell the difference! They’re all slim, smooth-skinned and so care-free and responsibility-light they practically float!

I definitely fall into the second category, but believe it or not, I am not the oldest by any means. One of my peers is sixty. I’m sure those young students must look at us and can’t see the difference, either. Lol!

3. young people are age-ist

On my very first day, I was the subject of three age-ist comments. I wasn’t meant to hear them, but apparently, I’m not as deaf as younger people assume. One comment in particular made me laugh… I didn’t hear all of it, but my ears pricked up when I heard something about “the forty-year old in the class” because I knew that was me. Why did I laugh? Because they were actually paying me a compliment… they thought I was ten years younger than I actually am!

Young people are so accepting of other differences… sexual orientation, gender, colour, disablility, religion, race, but when they look at someone like me, all they seem to see is the face of their mother; someone who tells them what to do, approves or disapproves, someone who is controlling, who they see as wanting to spoil their fun.

I understand that. It’s just a shame they can’t see beyond that to what I actually am… a student, nothing more, nothing less. Like them, I’m there to learn.

4. I love writing academic essays

This really surprised me. Being a writer of fiction, I expected to hate it. I mean they’re dry, dusty, dull as dishwater, full of over-complicated language, long words and jargon, just to try and make the author look clever, right?

Well, not always, and if they are, it doesn’t mean everyone else has to write like that too. Basically, all you need to be able to do is assemble facts, back them up with references and citations, and form an argument with them. And if you can write well, and form an original argument with evidence to support it, you just might get a first. To me, an academic essay is a challenge, a puzzle, involving something I love doing – research – so perhaps it would have been obvious to anyone else who knows me.

5. I love my uni

My uni is a real juxtaposition of old and new. The North Campus is old and beautiful. The South Campus is modern and spacious and beautiful. My lecturers are knowledgeable and interesting and all writing books and working on their own research. On the North Campus, we have the oldest tree in Ireland, and a Norman castle. We have the most modern state of the art library in Ireland. We have ghosts and legends and famous historical ex-students.

I just love the atmosphere, just being there. Walking around the campus every day makes me feel happy, and more than just a mother/ housewife, no matter how important that role is. I suppose it gives me the freedom to just be me.

6. I like feedback

This is not new to me. I think it’s why I like blogging so much; people interact with me on my blog, respond to what I’ve written with comments, often but not always positive, or with questions. I like to know if I’ve got something wrong, because that’s how we learn and grow. It’s the same at uni, only we get graded, and those grades matter because they count towards our final result. I dread getting the grades for my essays, but yearn for them at the same time, and as long as I see forward momentum, I’m happy. I’m always hungry to know what I could do better, so I’m ready for the next one. Does that make me a competitive person? Only with myself, perhaps.

7. Girls just want to have fun

And so do boys. Not many knuckled down to hard work in first year. Not many bothered to turn up to lectures or tutorials. If they did, most of them chatted all the way through, or looked at Snapchat on their phones. Few did the required reading beforehand so they could participate in group work and class discussions.

Ok. I do get it. They’re young. It’s their first year living away from home. They can have late nights, alcohol, drugs, sex, whenever they want. No one’s going to stop them, or make them get up early and go to class. Life’s a ball! And I don’t begrudge them their fun. But life’s a balance, guys.

We were all told during Induction to treat study like a job: work 9-5, and you’ll be able to have all your evenings and weekends free, and on top of that, you’ll pass. Maybe second year will be a bit different.

NB. After considering the lovely Bri’s comment (please see below) I would just like to point out that not every young student takes avoidance measures when it comes to studying; plenty work hard and get excellent results, too. I didn’t mean to stereotype. But there are students who do things like use their funding to pay for trips to Spain and miss weeks of classes… yes really, I know the person who did this; who fail and drop out but don’t tell their parents and continue taking their allowance so they can continue living the student life; who don't turn up for exams, and plenty who never go to a single lecture or tutorial etc… all this really does happen, I’ve seen it. So Mal and Cai, watch out! I’ve seen all the tricks, you won’t be able to pull the wool over my eyes! 😂

8. I’m crap at time management

It’s all very well studying 9-5, but when you have a daily two hour drive, three kids including a special needs child who is 100% dependent on you for everything, a dog who needs walking, a house to clean, a family to shop and cook for and ferry around from sporting activity to busy social calendar, where do you actually find the time to study? And when you’re studying six modules per semester, that’s six essays all requiring handing in at the same time, and it’s not as if lecturers think about staggering them so they’re not all due at once.

Then there’s blog posts to write, blog posts to read and comment on, social media to keep up to date on, books to write and edit and format and market, books to read, you know, for pleasure not for research, and reviews to write. I admit that in the middle of semester two, I burned out. I dropped everything except my family and my study. And here’s the sad thing: I hated myself for it.

Over the summer, I’ve thought about that a lot. Blogging friends will have noticed I’m a bit more distant than I used to be. I’m trying to do a bit less, keep it manageable so I don’t have to drop it all completely like I did last time. So I’m really, really REALLY sorry if I’m not visiting your blog as much as I used to, or tweeting or facebooking as much.

Some people are amazing and have no trouble doing it all… I am awed by you! But sadly, I’m not like you, though I wish I was. In the meantime, I’m prioritising my family and my study, and I’ll try and support you as much as I can, even if that’s not quite as much as you, or I, would like. This blogging community is the best, and I feel lucky to be a part of it. I’ve had a lot of support, and I still want to give some back.

9. which is a good time to make my announcement

While we’re on the subject of time management, I realised last year that I couldn’t fulfill my role on the Bloggers Bash Committee. Sacha, Geoff and Hugh were kind and very understanding, and allowed me to take a minor role, but I felt miserable knowing it put more pressure on them. So I have now stood down.

Sacha is intending to take the Bloggers Bash to a whole new level, and she has expanded the team with some very lovely bloggers I would just adore working with! I know they will all do a fabulous job, and I can’t wait to see everyone again next year. I am very proud that I was one of the founding members of the Bloggers Bash, and I know it will continue to grow and be hugely successful every year. Sacha, Geoffle, Hugh… I’m missing you already!

I have two more years of study, and as I am time-starved, I really have to commit myself to it, even though it has forced me to make some tough decisions like this, that I would rather not have had to make.

10. is it all worth it?

Hmmm… I don’t think I can answer that until I’m out the other side. My blog could die a death, I could lose all my friends, never write another book, and fail all my exams. Lol! Ever the optimist!

On the other hand, by some miracle, I might just keep it all ticking over, maintain my sanity, and come out with a degree. Will that make a difference to my life? Who knows… I’m only a third of the way through. But so far, it’s definitely been worth it, and I’m itching to get back to it.

Would I recommend it? Hell yeah! If I can do it, anyone can.

Moments I will NEVER forget:

  1. The first essay which earned me 75% (that’s a First).

  2. The first time I got a hug from a fellow student.

  3. The time a lecturer said to me he had never awarded such a high grade to a first year student.

  4. The time the student sitting beside me wrote down every word I said in a class debate, underlining the words I gave emphasis to.

  5. The time a comment I made in a class debate earned me a roomful of applause.

  6. The first presentation I made to the class (dismal failure).

  7. The time a student proudly admitted she wanted to be an English teacher but had no intention of reading any of the assigned books, but wrote her essays by googling everything… God help the children of the future.

  8. The lowest grade I got for an essay (47%; I vowed there and then that would never happen to me again, and so far it hasn’t).

  9. The moment I realised how much I loved Irish history (not just the mythology).

  10. The shock of discovering that one of my favourite tutors had been arrested for a particularly horrible crime.

  11. The panic of my first exam in semester one where I realised I had not revised ANY of the topics which came up on the paper, but ALL of the topics which didn’t.

  12. The number of nights I was up writing essays till 2am in the morning.

  13. The pleasure of getting my end of year results and realising that not only had I passed, but I had actually done well.

  14. Learning that some things don’t change, exams are still bloody hard, especially for a mature-almost-geriatric-student with a leaky memory.

  15. Best of all, looking around me on the last day of semester two and realising I had made some really, REALLY good friends.

year two… BRING IT ON!

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