Too Old to be a Student?

How long ago is it since you left school or college? Have you been thinking of going back but you’re worried that you might be too old to be a student? Is it too late for you? My answer to this is, “no you are not too old”. I don’t believe there is any age that classifies you as being too old to go back to education. Don’t look at it as ‘going back’ but see it as a new path in your life, a new beginning and an exciting adventure.

You will never know where the path might lead you, unless you follow it!

The path

It’s natural to have worries and concerns about returning to the world of education and studying. Things may have changed since you were in school. You may not have even stayed in secondary school long enough to do your leaving cert. Were you encouraged to go to college? Or perhaps just like many teenagers you just didn’t have a clue at the time what you wanted to do with the rest of your life.

I have much admiration for mature students. And the older they are, the more I admire them. It is by no means an easy decision to make but it can be a very fulfilling and rewarding experience. A decision that may well change your life – for the better!

Did you know that many successful people are constantly updating their knowledge and skills? Sometimes right up until they retire. They studied hard to get where they are now but that doesn’t mean they haven’t had to look at a book since.

It is interesting that according to the Higher Education Authority, more than 10,000 students in full-time education in Ireland are over thirty years of age. For a lot of colleges, you are considered a mature student if you are twenty three or over on the first of January of the year of entry to the higher education institution. The criteria for entry is also different compared to school leaving age. They use a system known as the Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning (APEL) or Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL). This means that they would take into account your educational background, work experiences and other achievements and interests. So your acceptance won’t necessarily be based on your leaving cert results.

In April 2010 Ted Fleming, Andrew Loxley, Aidan Kenny & Fergal Finnegan carried out a study of work and life experiences of mature students (incl. disadvantaged) in three higher education institutions. Their study explored a wide range of issues, including financial matters, working while studying, grants and general experiences among mature students. They found that finance was a major factor with the vast majority having to work while studying. However, a very high percentage of mature students report positive experiences of their time in education. Having made huge sacrifices, they remained determined and focused throughout their studies and graduated with a stronger sense of confidence and improved communication and social skills.

Yes, there are many challenges to face but the rewards are plentiful.

What are your reasons for going back to education?

Everyone has their own reason for returning to education. Some people just missed the chance when they were younger. Opportunities weren’t as plentiful back in the seventies and eighties either. Many young people emigrated with little or no qualifications. Although many never came home and done extremely well for themselves, others weren’t so lucky.

People sometimes get bogged down in a dead end job and decide that they need a complete career change. I am by no means advising anyone to give up their job to return to college. Yes, people have done exactly just that, but it is possible to work and study at the same time. There are numerous part-time courses available to students.

Others are very happy with their choice of career and they just want to further educate themselves on a subject they’re already knowledgeable in.

There are times when someone has a personal goal, which may be to challenge themselves by studying a subject that they’ve always had a keen interest in.

Whatever your reason is for going back into the world of studying and learning, go ahead and do it!

Challenges as a Mature Student

No matter what we do in life, there will be obstacles to overcome. Have you ever HELLANDBACK
tackled an obstacle course? It’s a challenge! Think of life as being the same as an obstacle course. You need to start at the beginning no matter what. You will meet the obstacles head on and overcome them in order to move on and meet the next one. The first few may be small and easy to get past, but then there will be some difficult ones that you may need to work harder at. But the harder you work on these obstacles the smarter and more determined you become. You might learn a system and become wiser to the obstacles. When you reach the end of the obstacle course you will have learned new skills and you experience a wonderful sense of achievement. You’re likely to feel an inclination to take part in similar challenges in the future because you know that you are capable of overcoming whatever might get in your way. Create an obstacle free zone in your life!

Top of the mountain


Quite often, mature students fear that they won’t be able to academically compete with the younger generation. But as it happens, the younger and sometimes insecure school leavers, can feel incompetent among the older students. So you can be quite sure that you will not be alone when it comes to feelings of insecurity.

Financial difficulties

If you can’t afford to give up full-time work you could opt for a part-time course. This option is almost always available. It won’t be easy – but how much do you want this? It can and has been done.

If you’re unemployed and on social welfare you can apply for Back to Education Allowance (BETA).


Been a parent and a student at the same time is one of the biggest challenges. This is where your organisational skills need to be in tip top shape. For example, leaving assignments to the last minute is not a good idea especially when you can’t predict when a small child might become sick and in need of your full time attention. The pressure is on! This challenge is even greater if you’re a single parent. You will depend on help and support from your family and friends. So although it’s not easy parenting and studying at the same time, there are ways of overcoming this obstacle.


Life as an adult brings with it many pressures and taking up studying can undeniably add to your stress. However, this can be managed. Again, you will benefit greatly from the support of your friends and family. Unfortunately, there are times when family and friends are not very supportive and offer only unhelpful advice. Other students on your course may be more valuable and supportive to you. You may even discover that they too are in need of extra help and encouragement. Never be afraid to ask for help and remember, you are not in competition with anybody. Sometimes students put themselves under unnecessary pressure because they feel the need to come out on top of everyone else. There’s no need for this when life is complicated enough already. Set your own realistic goals and don’t worry about anybody else’s. 

The advantages of being a mature student

Because you weren’t brought up in the age of the internet and social media, there is a good chance that you possess quite effective communication and listening skills. You learned how to communicate by talking to people face to face or speaking to them on the phone. You learned these skills because you had to.

You have life experiences that cannot be taught in any institution. Because of your experiences you will have gained so much invaluable wisdom – more than you probably realise. And this is a wisdom a younger person will rarely possess. You may have developed a compassionate nature, possibly because you have experienced family trauma, illnesses or maybe death.

Older people sometimes have a preferred work ethic than their younger peers, which may also come from the trials and tribulations of life. This can also lead to the older student being an excellent role model for the younger learners.

As a mature student, you are pretty much certain about your reasons for being back in education and this means your focus and determination will be persistent. Dedication equals good quality results.

You are a responsible adult and it is highly likely that you will take full responsibility for your own learning. Mature responsible students in my experience, rarely blame life and other people for their blunders. Instead they pick themselves up, look at what’s not working effectively for them and soldier on as best they can.

So what have you got to lose? What have you got to gain? Look at the pros and the cons and weigh it all up. Are you up for the challenge? The help is there and you’ve just got to go and get it!

Don’t waste any more time thinking about it – just do it! The clock is ticking.

The clock is ticking

Meet Tommy

Tommy is forty six and out of personal interest decided to return to education. After giving it a lot of thought, he weaned himself back into it gently by first enrolling in night classes. With a lot of changes over the last thirty years in regards to school and college, Tommy was quite nervous and anxious about becoming a student again. And not having much success the first time round, this only added to his concerns. He was a little bit afraid of failing and having to compete with the younger students, but he was also afraid that he would not enjoy it. However, he settled in after a week or two and any fears that he had gradually faded away.

A challenge faced by many mature students is lack of computer or internet skills and this was something Tommy found most challenging. He overcame this by simply taking his time and studying his class notes before commencing with his research.

Tommy enjoyed every aspect of college, in particular meeting new friends. Because he was enjoying his time there it meant he was easily motivated. His attendance in class was consistent, which meant he had an advantage over many of the younger students, who were absent quite often. He realised early on that in order to learn and progress he needed to attend regularly. 

When Tommy graduated with eight distinctions and two merits, he felt elated. It was a relief to have completed the course for many reasons but mainly because it was tough going. Studying full-time and keeping down an evening job left him mentally shattered at times. But his motivation and determination kept him going. His advice to anyone who is thinking of going back to learning and studying is, “Give it a go, nothing to lose but everything to gain. College is so much fun – make the most of it.”

Graduation teddy

Tommy was too shy to share with us a photo of himself but this cute cuddly little chap is a fine resemblance! 

Thank you very much Tommy for sharing your learning experience with us and best wishes for the future!

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