In many ways, mature students have lots of advantages over younger 18-year-olds, but you're also going to 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, 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 (a mature student is somebody who is over 21) is that you have that extra bit of life 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. There is no separate system for mature students. You apply through UCAS, you write your personal statement, you get it in by the deadlines, you pick your university and your causes, and you all fill that in. However, the advantage for you, as a mature student, is that writing a personal statement should hopefully be a little bit easier because you have more to write about. You potentially have the work that you've been doing, the travels that you've been doing and 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 when we're talking about things in interviews and when you're trying to find examples to write in your personal statements.

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. This is like a year or a year added onto a degree, the start of a degree, which bumps you up, which does the transition between A-Level and the degree. It gets you ready for your degree. Lots of these are done at the same providers as provide actual degree courses, and some of them are just continuations. 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 are catered more towards mature students, for example, Birkbeck College in London isn't specifically for the mature student, 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, Oxford and Cambridge, that are specifically for mature student. And even though these provisions are in place, if you do go to any university as a mature student, you won't be the only one. 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. There will be societies, there will be networking events, there will be socializing events set up so you can meet other people. 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.

If you need a little bit more flexibility in things, then the Open University is also a brilliant place for you to go and look at. It has flexible online courses that you can fit in around the rest of your life, around your work, around your care and responsibilities, around having to live somewhere where you can't easily get to university. And if you don't want to do your whole degree through the Open University, then it can provide a short course which will get you to the place where you can actually apply to university.

The advantages that you have over those 18-year-olds is that, by now, you've got a bit more life experience, hopefully you've had some experience with budgeting, hopefully you've had some experience with managing your life, how much work you do in different things, and hopefully you've had some experience with prioritizing things, which means you should be better set up for going to university. You should also hopefully be a bit more motivated because you've had time to think about this and decide this is actually what you want to do. And, for some of you, this is actually taking a large risk.

It can seem quite indulgent to leave jobs, to step back from looking after your children to go back and focus on you and study for a degree. But, this is a massive investment in your future and hopefully it'll all pay off.

Applying as a part-time student

Different universities and different courses are set up better for students who wish to study part time than others. Not all courses and universities will allow part time students so it’s best to do your research before your get your heart set on a particular course.

The Open University has a wide range of flexible learning facilities and Birkbeck University has a large number of lectures in the evening, both allowing you to fit in study around work, family or other commitments.