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Returning to School as a Mature Student

Now that the calendar has flipped over to September, students are once again settling back into the routine of a new school year. But there are some students who will be hitting the books after a long absence from the classroom. As “mature” students, these individuals share the same combination of anticipation and anxiety as their younger classmates, but mature students often face additional hurdles and challenges.

The number of older students has increased in recent years and this has been driven by massive changes in the workplace. As technology continues to impact the way we work and the types of jobs we do, the need to adapt in the face of an evolving work environment is only likely to increase.

Of course, for some mature students, it’s not simply about enhancing job skills. Several mature students return to school each year for personal reasons and simply to study subjects they find interesting. But no matter your reason for considering a return to academia, you’ll still have to meet the eligibility requirements for your program of choice. As a mature student, however, there are some things to keep in mind when putting your application together.

Applying as a Mature Student

Firstly, most Canadian universities and colleges have programs and admission requirements specifically designed to accommodate mature students. While the requirements vary by province and post-secondary institution, mature students are usually evaluated a bit differently from those students entering directly from high school.

For instance, most institutions will consider your work experience when reviewing your application, but you will still be required to provide your transcripts as part of your submission. Also, if you’ve already completed any post-secondary courses, but for one reason or another did not obtain your degree, you’ll need to include this information as well.

If during the review process it’s determined that your grades are not where they need to be to qualify, or if you do not have the minimum subject familiarity to prepare you for the courses you’re considering, most academic institutions offer “bridging” courses. These courses are designed to supplement your subject knowledge and help provide you with the background knowledge you need to be successful in your studies.

Note also that most universities and colleges have a department within their admissions office that is dedicated to working with mature students. Be sure to take advantage of this as it will help you get everything together that you need to support your application and answer any questions you may have about returning to the classroom.

Unique Challenges for the Mature Student

In addition to the application process, mature students typically face other challenges. If you’re planning to attend classes while still working full-time, managing your time is critical. Keep in mind that for every hour of class time, you can expect to commit an additional two to three hours of extra study time to prepare for exams and to complete other required assignments.

For this reason, many mature students opt to study on a part-time basis. While this may make your overall workload more manageable, it will increase the time it takes to complete your program.

Also, don’t underestimate the social implications of returning to school as an older student. It may sound like a bit of a cliché, but it can be difficult to “fit in” with students considerably younger than you. As noted in this article published by Western University, mature students sometimes feel like outsiders as campus culture is most definitely geared towards younger students.

Paying your Tuition

If your workplace offers financial assistance to employees upgrading their skills, then your employer may pay at least part of your tuition. However, if you’re not employed or are covering the costs yourself, and if you’ve been out of the classroom for some time, you may be surprised how much tuition costs have increased in recent years.

As a mature student, you’re eligible for the same government student grants and loans available to all students. For more information on applying for this assistance as well as eligibility requirements, you can apply online through the National Student Loans Service Centre (NSLSC).

If you have a Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP), you can also take advantage of the Lifelong Learning Program to withdraw funds from your RRSP to use towards paying your tuition. This government program allows you to borrow up to $20,000 from your RRSP which can be used over a five year period. There is a catch, however; you must fully repay the money you take out under the program within ten years of withdrawing the funds. 

Before taking this route, be sure to also take into consideration the lost opportunity that comes with borrowing from your RRSP. The money you withdraw will not be earning returns and this potential loss could have a significant impact on your retirement savings.


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