Contrary to popular belief, postgraduate study, and Masters in particular, is not reserved for students below 25. In fact, pursuing a Masters later in life is eminently feasible and comes with many benefits.
Not everyone has their life all sorted out at 20. Some people realise later on that their current jobs are unsuitable and that they want something more from life. They shouldn’t be discouraged from gaining new skills, changing careers, or simply regaining belief in their abilities. Others just enjoy learning for learning’s sake.
There is a growing realisation that learning, for either personal or professional reasons, should never stop. Michael Hargreaves, who is now 73 and studied some Masters modules in Education Studies at Bangor University (UK) from 2015 to 2017, told the BBC: "I believe that the quest for knowledge and understanding is - or should be - a life-long process and formal education is one way to progress the quest."
A change is possible
It is perfectly normal for more mature students to be concerned about their ability to succeed in class after being away from school for many years. It can be especially difficult for women if their primary focus for several years has been their children, as revealed by Robyn Bateman in an article for Times Higher Education (THE): “I confess that I was hugely nervous about returning to study post-kids, confident that many of my brain cells had faded away after having children.” At 37, Robyn graduated from Birmingham City University (UK) with an MA in Online Journalism.
Others, like Jacki Hughes, just want to escape their dead-end jobs. Jacki was in her late thirties and, like many prospective students of her age, doubted if she was able to successfully complete a postgraduate course. However, she decided to take up the challenge and obtained a Masters degree in Social Science and even enrolled in a PhD as a Medical Sociologist. Obviously, she does not regret her decision. "I have super relationships with people I would never have met, lots of international student friends, greater self-confidence, a broader understanding of the world, and very motivated children. And I love studying – I am a bit of a nerd," she told The Independent.
An edge on younger students
Despite doubting their abilities, it often turns out that mature students are more successful in dealing with their studies than their younger counterparts. There are many reasons for this.
It is not rare for younger students to choose a Masters without a realistic idea of how it will turn out. Others, having completed their Bachelor’s, enrol in a Masters programme just to spend a year or two more in university. Older students typically make careful and well-reasoned choices when it comes to programme selection thanks to their experience and keen awareness of their goals.
Another reason why mature students often do better is their project management skills, which are essential during a Masters. If you are in your thirties or forties you most probably have experience in spinning multiple plates in the form of work, children and education etc.
In addition, older students are firmly focused on education and are unlikely to get distracted by the temptations of campus life. They take their education seriously because they know its value.
It’s worth noting that applicants with experience have an edge in the application process, too. Many of those who opt for a Masters later in life have actually worked in the field, which is highly valued by admissions’ officers.
A self-confidence booster
Along with the skills and knowledge they gain, mature students find that studying for a Masters also boosts their self-confidence and gives them a sense of fulfilment. Ms Bateman, the Birmingham City University graduate, says: “[...] I’m proud to have graduated at my age. I feel that I’m setting a good example for my children – that you can achieve things at different times of your life and you can combine work, family and education and survive. Or even thrive.”
Holding your own in an intense programme, contributing to class discussions, successfully completing projects and taking exams is certainly bound to strengthen your self-belief.
Some people find their vocation later in life. Sometimes it takes time to find your passion, but when you find it age should not be a barrier. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that you are going to fail because you are too old or that it’s too late for a change. If you are convinced that doing a Masters is the right thing to do, go ahead. You will reap the rewards later.