The lowdown on returning to study

The lowdown on returning to study

Returning to study as a mature age student can be daunting, but with the right support and mindset, it can be a potential game changer for all the right reasons.

It takes a certain sort of courage to decide to change your life. Sometimes we get so caught up in the simple realities of money, work and personal commitments, we forget our dreams and just settle for what we’ve got.

But for some people, it’s not enough. We met with two La Trobe students who decided to come to university as mature age students.

Jake Kohler left high school after VCE and found a job as a cinema usher. Ten years on, he was still there, managing a cinema in Melbourne. But it didn’t feel right. ‘It just wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life.’

Like many people who decide to follow their dreams, Jake decided he needed to study. ‘I’ve always wanted to do film-making and editing and production work,’ he explains. Jake is now studying a Bachelor of Media and Communication.

For Mabel Chinogara, who worked in HR in Zimbabwe before migrating to Australia with her family, the decision to enrol in a Bachelor of Nursing as a mature age student was something she felt destined to do. ‘My family is all in nursing. My dad was a theatre nurse, my mother was a personal carer’.

Plan and prioritise

Returning to study is a big decision, and it’s life changing. Mature-aged students often start their university degrees in the middle of busy lives.

By the time Mabel started her degree she had three small children, and a busy job as a personal carer. ‘It was really tough, so stressful,’ she says.

So how does she juggle all those competing demands? Mabel says the most important thing is to prioritise. ‘You plan,’ she says. ‘Your work days. Your uni days. Your assignment time. At home. Your social life. It’s all to do with planning.’

‘To be honest,’ she says laughing, ‘you don’t sleep the hours you used to,’ but, she says shrugging, ‘sometimes you have to do what you have to do.’

For Jake, the transition to full-time study has ups and downs. ‘It is tough,’ he admits, but ultimately it’s a joy. ‘You get to go to university and do things that you care about,’ he says.

How to fit in

One of the biggest concerns for people returning to study as mature age students is fitting in with a younger crowd. For Jake, returning to study was less about getting a degree than meeting like-minded people who were passionate about the same things. This mindset has helped him fit in.

‘Some of the friendships I’ve made are the best I’ve ever made,’ he says. ‘A lot of these younger kids are really good at what they’re doing. It’s inspiring.’

For Mabel, being the oldest student in the classroom doesn’t worry her. ‘We’re all here to achieve the same goal, with the same purpose’, she says.

Getting help

La Trobe offers a wide range of support services that mature age students can access.

Before he started uni, Jake made sure he understood the system. ‘I used ASK La Trobe a few times when I first started,’ he says. ‘I had somebody sit down with me and explain everything until it made sense!’

Another thing that surprised Jake was the level of support he’d receive from his teachers.

‘As I went through 2nd and 3rd year, the tutors became less your teacher and more your peer. I never felt like I was a student,’ he explains. ‘I felt like they were a peer in a workplace, giving you a hand, or pushing you to do better.

Their support helped him get a role as Digital Student Ambassador at La Trobe, in recognition of his passion and commitment to his studies. The role offers valuable leadership opportunities and helps develops his skills as a communicator.

From counselling to childcare, it’s about helping students make the most of their opportunities.

Opportunity knocks

Returning to study as a mature student is incredibly demanding, especially for those, like Mabel, who have a young family and need to work to pay the bills. But there are lifelong benefits that make the hardships worthwhile.

‘It opens up your mind,’ says Mabel. Despite the workload, she knows that she’s on the right path to her dream career. She feels she’s changing her life, and the life of her kids, for the better. ‘I’m often excited. I like challenging things.’ And her advice to people thinking about going back to university?

‘Go for it. Go for what you like to do in life. There is nothing stopping you from doing what you want to do.’

Meanwhile, Jake says studying at La Trobe has given him ‘the confidence to be outside my comfort zone.’ He says being a mature aged student will ‘completely change your life’.

Before he considered enrolling, Jake says he felt stuck and had no real options.

‘Now I’m able to see all the pathways I can take’ he says. ‘From where I came from there weren’t many opportunities. Now every time one pops up, I’m like “yeah I’m going to do that” and I don’t care if I’m too busy.’

Thinking about returning to study after a detour? Find a course that suits your life.