Although the majority of students start UCC at roughly nineteen years old and graduate three or four years later at the age of 22 or 23, a considerable amount of students opt to complete their undergraduate degree at an older age for professional and personal reasons. A person is qualified as a mature student if they are least 23 year old on January 1st of the year they enter the course of their choice. However there are a limited number of places available and reserved for mature students for courses.
There are also several services in place at UCC to ensure that college life is a happy and productive experience for both prospective and current mature students. Established in 2004, the Mature Student Office has been supporting mature students throughout their time in UCC with workshops, advice and examination preparation. There is also the mature student common room located at the Windle Building was opened in 2012 for students to meet and socialise. The Mature Student Society organises events and socials as a chance for mature students to integrate into college life in the best way possible. According to the society constitution, they are “formed with the purpose of making both the social and academic aspects of the experience of returning to education for the Mature Students at UCC easier and more pleasurable.”
James McCleane-Fay is a 25 year old first year Applied Psychology student. His reason for attending UCC was because he “really wanted to do this course. I had worked in 9-5 office jobs for about 6 years and decided I wanted to return and do something more meaningful. I knew I wanted a career to be proud of, work hard in and enjoy. The job to me was just money and the promise of the weekend off.”
His favourite part about being a mature student is “already having some working knowledge of different concepts in the subjects we’ve chosen to study. Generally we study things we’re passionate about and this helps motivate us too, so that’s a plus. We tend to study what we’d like to, without pressures from peers or parents typically.”
James states the academic difficulties of being a mature student including “balancing a demanding work/home/study life, the assumption of knowledge that we should have from Leaving Cert and having to unlearn a particular way of thinking that you’ve held for a very long time.” He also believes that some people struggle to adapt socially in college life.
He believes there are some made-up stereotypes such as “the guy who never shuts up about Woodstock in the middle of a lecture.” Although he claims that there are no real stereotypes, James states several differences between school leavers and mature students. “We’re less concerned about fitting in than many of the school leavers.” James encourages mature students to integrate with the school leavers more. “Getting past your own bias towards them being younger is the best way for them to get past any trepidation they might have about being friends with someone older.”
Crystal Leiker is a 33 year old first year Masters student of Planning and Sustainable Development. She became a mature student for a combination of reasons. “I was working in a legal office in the middle of 2009 in America. My job was to call mortgage holders who were about to be foreclosed upon and inform them of the date they were to leave their home, and how much they must pay to remain in it… The work was soul destroying. I never felt the need to return to education as I had always managed to get decent employment without it. The “Great Recession” changed all that. But I remember coming home every day from that firm; depressed, sad from the stories I heard, scouring
the job listings and seeing none. I knew then that I wanted to do something better with my life, and to help others. It just so happened that I had this opportunity in front of me to come here. I didn’t think twice once it presented itself.”
She applied to her course throug the MSAP (Mature Students Admissions Pathway) to qualify for the marks needed. “I was admitted as an international student owing to my citizenship status. Despite this, I affiliate with the mature students far more than the international students.”
Crystal states best thing about being a mature student for her is “having a second chance to finish the education that I laughed off in my late teens and I am surrounded by people from all walks of life, with all manner of circumstances. I love the integration with everyone, being able to relate to my peers both older and younger than I am. Best of all, I love learning, and UCC has the facilities in place to let me do that.”
Crystal states personal issues as a mature student. “It is never easy to come back into education when you are older. In addition to loss of income and juggling my normal responsibilities with the new ones that come from University, I have the added pressure of studying in another country. I have a family. They recognise the sacrifice I made to come back, and while they may not always agree with me about doing it, I have their respect for doing so.”
As well as the personal sacrifices Crystal faces other challenges. “I have never been able to sit an exam comfortably and suffer from a great deal of exam anxiety. It’s a struggle to convince myself that I didn’t fail. Sometimes we just need someone we can talk to, who actually understands what it’s like to be older and in 3rd level education. It’s why the mature students here at UCC are a tightly-knit but welcoming community.”
Crystal believes prejudice towards mature students is prominent. “Over the last 4 years, I have heard some interesting stereotypes about how the old people are hogging the resources of the lecturers and tying up the lecture because we are asking questions. Maybe it’s just easier for those with a bit of life experience to ask questions. She even explains that mature students struggle more in university. “Retention rates of mature students are 15% lower than their younger peers. The first year summer exam fail rate is 25% for mature students. Much of this can be attributed to very little resources allocated for us, life pressures and discrimination. Ageism is a very real thing in UCC, though it is rarely overt.
She also believes there is a lack of communication between mature students and school leavers. “There is exclusion that happens in many courses because the perception is we don’t want to engage with our younger peers. That can’t be further from the truth – we love integrating. What some younger students don’t really consider is, we have children, significant others, ageing parents, bills and mortgages that is going on simultaneously. If we can come out for a class night out, we will- but if we can’t, we can’t. We as mature students have a load of life experiences that can add to the richness of this campus and we do.”