In many ways, mature students have lots of advantages over younger 18-year-olds, but they also face some extra challenges.
When you are 18, you don't have a lot of life experience. You may not know what you want to do, and you may not know what your future path holds. Some 18-year-olds just end up applying for university because that's what they think they should do. However, the advantage of being a mature student (anyone who is over 21) is that you have that extra bit of experience. Hopefully, you're applying to university because you're certain about what you want to do, about why you want to do it, and where it's going to lead you in the future.
The application process is exactly the same for mature students. There is no separate system, and you apply through UCAS just as you would straight out of school. You write your personal statement, you get it in by the deadlines, you pick your university, and your courses. However, the advantage for a mature student is that writing a personal statement should hopefully be a little bit easier, simply because you have more to write about. You likely have already been working, or you have some travel experience. If you have children, then you have the extra skills that come along with being a student parent. You should have a lot more experience to draw upon in your personal statements and in your interviews.
If your A-Levels were a while ago, then there are lots of other paths into university. You can consider doing an Access course or a Foundation course. These year-long courses help provide a transition between A-Levels and the degree coursework. Many of these Access and Foundation courses are offered at the same universities as the actual degree courses, and some of them will continue on into your degree coursework.
If your offer is based on UCAS points, then there are lots of different ways you can get UCAS points. I'm not going to talk about them all here, because the UCAS Guide to this runs to 130 pages long. But even things like life experience can count towards UCAS points. There are some universities that catered more towards mature students; for example, Birkbeck College in London isn't specifically for mature students, but the majority of its lectures are in the evening, which could make it easier if you want to combine working and doing your degree at the same time. There are also some colleges, such as at Oxford and Cambridge, that are specifically intended for mature student. And even though these provisions are in place, you will not be the only mature student no matter which university you attend. There are lots and lots of them out there! Maybe they won't be going as crazy as the 18-year-olds, but you will find a large number of mature students at any university across the U.K. There will be societies, there will be networking events, and there will be socializing events set up so you can meet other people your age.
If this is your first degree, then you can still apply for a student loan. There's no age restriction applying for a student loan, it's just it has to be your first degree.
The advantage that you have over those 18-year-olds is that, by now, you've hopefully had some experience with budgeting and managing your life. You experience with setting priorities means that you should be better equipped for handling the stresses of university. You will likely be more motivated because you've had time to think about your career path and your decision to attend university.
If you need a little bit more flexibility, then the Open University is also a brilliant place for you to consider. It has flexible online courses that you can fit in around the rest of your life. This is especially valuable for individuals with care responsibilities or those who don’t live close to any universities. The best part is if you don't want to do your whole degree through the Open University, then it can provide a short course which will put you in a position to actually apply to university.
It can seem quite indulgent to leave jobs or to step back from looking after your children to go back and study for a degree. But this is a massive investment in your future, and hopefully, it will all pay off!