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Freshers' Week: Returning To Uni As A Mature Student

19/09/2017 17:22

Parents up and down the country are waving goodbye to their offspring as they set off for university this week, beginning a new life of study and independence.

Freshers' week is buzzing with bright, young things all eager to learn and experience new things.

But what about mature students, those people returning to education after many years, often juggling a job and family as well?

At the age of 49 I became one of these when I started a MSc in psychology at the university where I also work as a journalism lecturer.

Suddenly the boot was on the other foot. I was the one sitting and listening in seminars, taking notes and resisting the temptation to check my phone for social media updates, rather than being the person at the front talking.

I was the one suffering mild panic to get my assignments in on time, the one sitting in the library trying to concentrate and not procrastinate by web surfing. I was the one moaning about lecturers and the workload.

I chose psychology because it's a world away from journalism (although not as far as I thought, but more on that later).

It put me out of my comfort zone and got me thinking in a different way. And after years of writing in journalese, I had to re-master the art of academic writing.

Next week I will begin my second year, and the butterflies are already there whenever I think about the workload ahead of me.

Studying as a mature student is a completely different experience to studying as a young, single person with few responsibilities.

If my own students find it hard enough to cope at their age, I have to resist the urge to tell them how much harder it is when you're working full time and looking after a family too.

I have to attend half a day a week, but of course there are hours of independent reading I'm expected to do too. Like thousands of other students, I found myself reading mainly what I needed for my assignments - and that was time consuming enough.

I would arrive at class with my head still full of work and what I needed to do for my own students, and then have to switch to learner mode and concentrate on lectures, some of which were better than others in terms of keeping me focused (and awake).

Then I would dash home, put the washer on, listen to any problems my children were having, make the tea, try to unwind in front of the TV for an hour, before collapsing into bed, my mind a whirlwind of things I had to do.

When my students moan about deadlines and how tough they are finding their studies, I can say yes, me too! And being a student has reinforced my own teaching - I know how dull it is to be talked at for hours on end.

Psychology fascinates me and I'm enjoying the subject very much. If only I wasn't being assessed on it I would love it.

Is it worth all the stress? Yes. I've made new friends who are all in a similar time-poor position to me. We have a Facebook group and keep each other motivated when the going gets tough.

This year I have the added challenge of writing a dissertation, along with completing the module assignments. The scariest of these is an exam on statistics, which I'm dreading. Journalists and maths are like oil and water.

My dissertation will be about the psychology of fake news, why it is produced and why people are taken in by it - maybe journalism and psychology are not so far apart after all.

What keeps me going is the thought of graduating, the chance to say I've completed something meaningful at this stage of my life. The chance to say hey, I can still take on a new challenge.

So next week, after wishing my eldest son good luck as he returns to his final year of uni, I'll be packing my own bag of textbooks and pens.

I'm just glad I won't be sleeping in a shared student house. There are some things you really don't want to go back to.

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