A mature student is someone who is coming to tertiary study for the first time without following the usual high school-to-university path.

Generally this term applies to people over the age of 25, though various places have all sorts of little clauses in the definition: tertiary study for the first time at 24 or older is the clear-cut example in New Zealand, because you can no longer be considered supported by your parents at 24 (and they don’t asset test your parent’s income when granting a student allowance). The key thing to remember is that mature students are in their mid-20’s or older, and they have not just left school.

Being a mature student can be a rather difficult experience. At the university I’ve attended, mature students apparently made up 60% of the enrolled students, yet we were all treated like shit by the 18-21 demographic. The older you are, the more they hate you (and if you are 25, usually no-one notices). Why? Well, mature students are commonly considered to be people in their 40’s, and I suspect that the words “mature student” make most of the little shits here suddenly experience a sudden fear that they will be told to sit up straight and tidy their rooms.

Another absolutely classic line I’ve been told about by someone doing sociology is that it’s unfair that mature students “Have all this life experience” – that’s right, it’s unfair to have experienced things beyond secondary school and drinking oneself into a stupor every weekend. The obvious answer to this is that if a twenty-two-year old feels academically disadvantaged because they have not gotten married at eighteen, had four children, been divorced, lost their home, and had to do menial jobs for fifteen years, then they can fuck right off into the real world and come back later when they have some life experiences.

There are some crappy mature students, to be sure. However, I have never had one threaten to kill me as I walked out of a lecture. I’ve never seen a group of them blocking a doorway out of a lecture theatre while having a conversation1. I have also never had a mature student scream at me across a large courtyard when I kiss my girlfriend goodbye. “Maturity” is not always simply referring to age, despite what some may think.

There are things about mature students that people forget: They take the same varied workloads as everyone else (full, part or whatever-time), and they have the same problems every other student does (money, accommodation, money). Some mature students also have to deal with family - children, partners (either making a relationship work, or doing all the work), and sometimes both. Sometimes family issues includes include caring for their parents as well. Many will be working while they study, and that’s also the same as for the younger students2.

What is part of the experience is that you’re in a minority (even if collectively mature students make up 60% of the student population). This means, as many in similar positions could tell you, that it’s minority representation. The University does not show mature students on its promotional material, nor does it mention it has significant numbers of them. The student union (this is the only university in the country where the student union has mandatory membership) acknowledges mature students, but doesn’t want them all showing up at student functions3. This is similar to the experience of many minority groups, but unfortunately so many of the mature students will not take this experience on board and reflect on it – as they move on they will simply replicate these attitudes on other groups (or, rather, continue behaving as they always have) and forget they experienced some degree of discrimination in their lifetime.

  1. Never block the swing side of double doors that only open one way. It’s probably the only thing those idiots learned at university.
  2. Though from what I see, it’s more likely that mature students will have jobs, since they have usually come to university from the workforce they sometimes find it easier to get work, or be able to scale back their hours when they start their studies.
  3. They are afraid we will dance like their parents, demand that Barry Manilow perform at the orientation week concert, and that there be Matlock viewings every week in the theatre.
It's funny, Professor, that you should propose this as the date movable type first appeared. It just reminded me of when I was on a trip to Egypt, oh maybe ten or fifteen years ago, with my wife. We went to the most fascinating museum in Cairo. I believe it is closed now, and there weren't any presses there exactly, but there were these very intricate rollers and I'm not sure if they were used to make papyrus documents or perhaps used on wet clay... - anonymous MS

I started university at 26. My younger sister's biggest warning to me was, "Don't act like an MS. MSes are the absolute worst." She was already in her third year and was helping me prepare. The typical MS, she explained, has a offensive and long winded keenerness which is rooted in a deep desire to share their life story. When this desire inevitably collides with hundreds of young people trying to jedi mind trick them into shutting up, an MS becomes aloof, sometimes even caustic. They want to prove they aren't deficient for being MSes, but they lack the proper audience.

In my sister's depiction of MSes, they sat in the front row of the lecture hall, and when they looked back over their shoulders at the younger students, they glared. How could these disgusting kids waste all this good education? The MS waited until the lecture was almost over to ask their tenth question and then it was less a question than some pontification or a summation of the extra curricular reading they had done. They engaged the professor after class, every class.

I was dismissive of her mockery and warnings, but one week in I was cringing whenever a wrinkly hand was raised. I would see it hanging there, mere feet from the professor's face, and hope that its owner would understand that if your hand has been up for that long it is probably time to lower it. Everyone was hoping that. Even more cringe worthy was that I would sometimes watch my own hand rise and hear a question coming from my mouth that, for some reason, involved myself and what I had been doing with my life before attending university as central points to whatever the professor was lecturing on. The MS can find corollaries between any topic and their lives. When my sister asked how university was and I told her about some of my questions, she would say, "There is no excuse for being an MS." I would defend myself by saying I was merely interested in the discussion and couldn't help but contribute. But she was adamant, there was no excuse and you are making those around you suffer.

Of course not all MSes are so bad and it's not totally their fault. After years in a cubicle or slinging drinks or changing diapers, university is riveting. You read interesting things and then hear bright professors break them down for you. MSes need to learn to keep it together inside the lecture hall though. Please future MS, if you are reading this, ask a TA in tutorial. Email the prof. Contemplate silently. Engage other keeners outside of class, a young keener will not shun you. They are equally riveted. And its not the normal student's fault that you are mature and know that, compared to real life, university is a blessing. They are teenagers, and have spent most of their life in school.

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