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What it's Really Like to be a Mature Age Student at University

Lesley Johnson, a well known Canberra makeup artist, has returned to study a Bachelor of Marketing and Communication as a mature age student. We asked Lesley what it was really like to be a mature age student.

Image by Tina Nikolovski, Makeup by Lesley Johnston

Have you studied previously?
Yes, I have a Cert 2, Cert 4 and two Diplomas.
Why did you decide to study again now?
The decision to go to uni was based on mostly a need to change my career to something more stable as the career I’m currently in has no further advancement opportunities to me in the city. Also, I have young children and thought it would be best to go back while they were young so that when they are older, I’ll hopefully be established in my new career and be more available to them.
How can you compare it to previous study experience?
Previously my training has been more hands on with technical skills whereas I find uni work to be more mentally challenging. I do enjoy that I can work at my own pace in a way and I feel like everything is really well laid out for you to succeed. The rubric is well designed and I have so far agreed with all of the grades I have been given. The flexibility of uni is a huge bonus for me as well, I can choose to take classes when it suits and the lectures are available online so, if for any reason I can’t make it, I’m not missing out. Other training I have been apart of has not been this flexible.
How do you think you are responding to the environment now, compared to how you would have if you went to university straight out of school?
I don’t think I would have been as successful at uni straight out of year 12. I think there is a level of life skills required to succeed, like being able to manage your own schedule and understanding that you don’t necessarily have to like everything you are being taught to be successful in it.
What is the main demographic within your classes?
Mostly 18–22-year-old students. They are right out of school in various stages of their degrees. I’m the only mature age student in all of my classes.
What’s the biggest change you have noticed being a mature aged student?
The biggest change has been having no down time. I work part-time and run my makeup business on a weekend, I also need to run a household and keep my family happy.  This means that uni fills in the gaps of what would otherwise be ‘leisure’ time. I will be dropping a unit next semester to try and alleviate this a little.
How do you find being the only mature age student in your classes?
I don’t mind that I am the only mature age student. The only time it bothers me is when students who live on campus and don’t have jobs, complain about how much work they have to do. Of course I understand that in their perspective it is a lot of work, but I also do think when they enter the real world, they will really know what busy is.
Do you think there are stereotypes surrounding mature age students, if so what do you think these are?
Yes, I think mature age students are thought of as annoying, ask too many questions or are too eager to continue a discussion that perhaps the younger students aren’t interested in because they want to leave sooner. Because of this I am more careful with my interaction in class. I’d like to be more involved but then I worry that I’m participating too much. There have been times when I’ve done the homework and not admitted to it in a tutorial because I had been the only one to do the homework in the last two weeks’ tutorials. I do find that restricting and while I know it’s silly to feel that way, it is still present in changing how I conduct myself in a tutorial session.

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