While many students flock to university straight or soon after high school, there is also a large cohort of students who start their university journey later and many more who have undertaken some higher education, but who return for further study as a way to advance or change their careers. Among the many challenges when starting a period of higher education, is the question of how to fund it. Higher education is always likely to be a costly endeavor, but is it easier for a mature student than their younger counterparts?
Greater financial stability
It may be true that a mature student enjoys greater financial stability. They have had years to save money in preparation for their university tuition and may also already have a well-paid job that will continue to pay for their day-to-day living expenses. Assuming the study has been chosen to advance a career, they may also have a job lined up for when they complete their studies or at the very least already have relevant experience that will enhance their prospects. That will give them the edge over younger students with the same qualification.
However, being an older student does not necessarily mean having stable finances. Financial stress can affect people at any time in their lives and as often the study is being undertaken to improve employment prospects, this suggests that their current work is not as lucrative as they would like. Mature students are also more likely to have more financial commitments than those fresh out of high school. They may be raising a family, meaning additional childcare costs while the parent studies or having a mortgage to repay, leaving them less money for further study.
Maintaining an existing income
Unless a mature student has a supportive partner with an income sufficient to meet all family and financial commitments, it is likely that an individual will be unable to leave or even reduce their current employment. This can often leave them with a catch 22 situation: they cannot afford higher education without their job, but without leaving or at least reducing their employment hours, they do not have sufficient time for the commitments of higher education.
Happily, there is a solution to this that can allow higher education to fit well with employment and other commitments. Online learning is a growing education sector with many establishments delivering further education that is as challenging, relevant and accepted as in-person learning. Online courses can often be studied at any time of the day or night making it easier to fit around physical commitments.
Nursing, for example, is a particularly demanding profession that may reduce the time a student can commit for study and yet further study is often vital for a nurse to advance in their profession. Wilkes University is one place that offers online nursing degrees, allowing its students to progress from RN to DNP with a program that offers flexibility in study. With the option of starting modules at different times of the year when it is most convenient, the program also provides expert-led online study and clinical placements, making it a course that combines convenience with the high standards necessary to advance a nursing career.
Online study also removes another problem that can affect mature students. Younger students without commitments can easily move to the university where they want to study, but this can be harder for older people who do not want to uproot their families. But online study can be done from the comfort of your home, meaning no move or expensive commutes are required.
Grants and loans
Finding additional streams of income to help finance higher education is almost always essential. Loans are an effective way of raising the money, but they will eventually have to be paid back and, depending on who has loaned the money, the interest rates can be high. The prospect of repayment may not be as daunting for a mature student as it is for a younger one, as the mature student is more likely to already be on a career trajectory and may even have employment secured for after graduation. On the other hand, the repayments are another financial commitment the mature student will have to factor into their family finances.
Grants are a form of funding that will not need to be repaid, although they are not always easy to get. However, some are available to mature students and are well worth applying for. Universities may have funding available to help students start their courses, with some earmarked for mature students. Another possibility for mature students is to talk to your current employer. It is in their interest to have a well-trained workforce and they may be willing to provide some financial help to enable their employees to rise higher in the company.
Starting higher education as a mature student does have some financial advantages over those coming straight from school, although often these are offset by greater financial commitments. However, with the chance to add further qualifications to their experience, this should not deter mature students from taking the next steps on their educational journey.