What it's like to go to university as a mature student


Cheryl O'Donoghue, a former foster carer, talks about going to university in her fifties.

"I love adult learning. I put this down to the fact that I had to leave school at 16 and go straight to work.

I never thought that I would go to university. I supported my younger sister, son and husband through their university journeys, all the while wishing I could do it too.

When, at the age of 53, my work as a full time foster carer came to an end, I knew it was time.

My work as a foster carer had given me a real interest in childhood development and psychology, so I went to an Open Day at USW and spoke with the lecturers and student finance team. From that moment, I was excited – I felt that it actually might be possible.

It was that easy actually! I filled in the forms, wrote my personal statement and eventually had an unconditional offer letter. It was a very proud moment and I could not wait to start.

The first day

September came around all too quickly and Freshers’ Week was suddenly upon me. I was so nervous.

Sitting in a lecture theatre with the tutors telling us what to expect, I suddenly felt overwhelmed and isolated. In my mind I was thinking: I am the oldest person here, I will never make friends, why did I think I could do this - and edged towards the exit.

Then I thought to myself, with tears in my eyes, if you leave now you will never know.

I did not leave and three hours later I was glad I stayed and faced my foundless fears.

In the next session, I saw another mature student beckoning at me to join her. I felt immediately at home and from that moment on my experience has been pure joy.

Life as a student

The young people are more savvy than me, have A-Levels and have studied Psychology before, but what I lack in previous qualifications I make up for with enthusiasm and hard work.

I attend all my lectures and workshops and fully participate. I complete my assessments on time and set aside the time I need to research, study and complete all my tasks.

I feel thirty years younger! I feel such joy at learning and discovering a new me and what I’m capable of. I have made friends of all ages. It doesn’t matter here, you are not judged and I feel really at home and welcomed.

I have just passed my very first assessment which has given me the confidence boost I needed.

I now see that as a mature student, I have so much life experience to offer. My advice to anybody, young or old, is that University is a great experience, a once in a lifetime experience and a life changing experience.

No matter what, you should go for it."