So I am technically classed as a 'mature' student. Mature students make up about a third of all students in the UK, so I'm certainly not alone in this. Sometimes, though, being a mature student can feel like the loneliest role in the world. Someone wiser, and definitely more mature than me once said that with age comes responsibility. And doesn't it just. I'm not going to bang on about life experience "I've graduated from the university of life, love..." - I just wanted to give you a little insight into life as a mature student.
My history degree will ultimately take me six years - I am now in my fifth year, which means that I have broken the back of this degree already. Technically it is a part time degree, with the recommended reading hours of sixteen a week. This doesn't sound like very much - just over two hours day, but when you chuck in three young children, a part time job and a blog, those sixteen hours become a mammoth task - even with Jonny Number 5 speed-reading. (OK, if you are a 'normal aged' student reading this you may not know who Jonny Number 5 is, but that's OK, there's always Google, which wasn't around in my day. Just kidding, I'm thirty-one.)
As a mature student I wasn't going to finish my degree in six years, and put off marriage and children, so the two have ran alongside each other for the past five years - like a match made in heaven.
I regularly read for my modules whilst feeding the youngest her baby milk, winding up a mechanical toy for my toddler, only stopping to organise my eldest daughter's homework. I am sure that this is the case for a lot of mature students - I tend to cram everything in until I can take no more.
Probably. I hold an NUS card, I pay for my degree so have to budget like any 'normal' student and my kind of house-sharing may not be the typical student house-share, but it's just as hectic, and I am the head of it - alongside my long-suffering husband who very well may rejoice once I have graduated - overwhelmed by a new feeling, that probably feels something like 'relief.'
"Do you do a student discount?" I ask hopefully in most places. "Er... yes" the assistant mumbles to me as I fish around in my bag for my NUS card, hoping not to get my hand stuck in a sticky boiled sweet or used tissue plonked in my bag by one of the children. The assistant scrutinizes my card until she realises that yes, this woman stood in front of her with the double buggy, slight baby vomit-stain on her top is a real-life actual student. And lo and behold the discount is applied.
I am always banging on about wearing different hats. The wife hat, the mum hat, the student hat. I bore myself to death talking about all the different things I do - I want a real-life medal for getting up at 5.30am - it is a literal YAWN. But it is a juggling act and it is hard. In my heart I am a student. But I have to be a mother first and foremost, and a wife. Then there are all the sub-categories within that - the cleaner, the cook, the referee, the rock, the nurse...etc. Then there must be a job to sustain myself - I work part time three full days a week. Am I a student then? No. I work at a university as a PA. Can I be a student then? No.
University of Life
So then, ultimately, yes I am studying at the university of life. I hate the cliché. I would never say it. I enjoy being a mature student but I wish that I could be just one person at one time, play one role at a time. Be a student and that's it. But these are my decisions, the path I have chosen is a complex one and I imagine that most students with children will say the same. At least I will graduate from my university. The university of life? Well...none of us ever really graduate from there do we?