How can I succeed as a mature student returning to learning?

Think about the benefits of returning to study and consider how you might adapt to being a student. 

Why are you returning to learning? 

Your own reasons for returning to study or starting at university for the first time will be unique and personal. Focus on the benefits you will get from completing your chosen course. This will keep you going through the times when studying gets tough. Benefits to you might include: 

  • Getting better qualifications 
  • Starting a new career 
  • Becoming better at your job 
  • Getting promotion at work 
  • Improving your earning potential 
  • Catching up on missed learning opportunities
  • Fulfilling your personal potential 

What are your expectations? 


This is not just about ‘contact hours’ (time spent in lectures and other sessions). Think about what types of things you will be doing for your course, and where you will do them. For timetabled teaching, or using specialised facilities such as science labs, you will have to be on campus. When you are doing independent reading, or assignments, you can probably work at home, but you still need to find the time, and a suitable space to work.  

Time management 

Work out how studying will fit in with your daily and weekly routines. It can help to map out what these are across a typical week. Decide if any of your existing commitments can be rearranged or given up to make more time for studying. These are not easy decisions and you may need the support of family, friends, or your employer to clear some blocks of time for studying.  

The other students 

Depending on your course, the other students may be younger than you, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t get on well with them, or collaborate with them on group projects. You may have valuable work experience, or just more experience of dealing with people. This could make you a very useful source of information and advice. You will also have the common ground of being interested in the same subject area.

Working with your tutors

You might be pleasantly surprised by the style of interaction with academic staff. It is far from the ‘teacher/pupil’ relationship which might remind you of school. You are all adults and it is a more equal and respectful relationship on both sides. However, you are expected to take responsibility for your own learning. If you do not understand some aspects of your course, ask for help when you need it, and in good time to allow you to improve. 

Other useful staff 

Your Academic Advisor is part of your course team. They will meet with you on a regular basis and advise about your academic progress. Other University staff such as librarians, learning officers and careers consultants are immensely supportive of students who return to study and they want to help you succeed. Find out which staff are supporting your course.  

Managing change

Be mindful about change

Change can be a positive thing – after all, you have returned to study so that you can change your career prospects or your personal attributes. For the people close to you, these changes might be less welcome, perhaps if you have less time for them, or develop new interests and outlooks. Anticipate how studying might affect your life, then it should be easier to adapt.

Motivation and stress 

We all get stressed from time to time, but sometimes we need help to cope. The University has specialised staff such as counsellors and financial advisers to support you. Ask your Course Administrator about what help is available in the University, or contact our Student Experience team. 

Top tips for returning to study 

  • Learn how to manage your time 
  • Find out where to get help before you need it 
  • Focus on the positive benefits for you. 

Further information 

For more resources to help with developing your academic skills, please visit the Skills for Learning website.