When starting uni straight out of school isn't for you

Believe it or not, not everyone begins their time at university straight after finishing high school. Personally, my student career began no less than two whole years after leaving school, which technically made me a mature age student when I began. So what makes people decide to put off uni, and what do they do in the interim? And what’s it like to head back to studying later in life? Sam, a mature age Psychology student at Charles Sturt University, sheds some light on the case.

For a lot of people, being asked to pick a university degree while still in high school - a choice that they have to commit to for up to four years - can be very difficult. Often the choice requires enough foresight to pick appropriate subjects in year 11 and 12 that may be prerequisites. For me, this was definitely the reason why I didn't start uni straight after school: I just had no idea what I wanted to do, or what I was expected to do.

Sure, if you asked me then, I would have said that it was expected that you just go to uni after high school, but all the nondescript course names just never stood out as something that I wanted to do. More than anything my friends and I just wanted to get a job and begin to earn some money. At least in the short term, that’s what we thought we should do.

But after two years of an apprenticeship that I couldn't picture myself sticking with as a career, I finally came across Psychology as an exciting field that not only interested me, but offered a diverse range of career options. Ultimately, time was a factor in why I deferred university.

For Billy, 39, it was a matter of necessity. Moving to Australia from London in 2006 having already studied a fine arts degree, he decided to add Secondary Teaching to his qualifications to become an arts teacher. Thankfully, he says, his previous qualifications obtained in London were recognised here in Australia, meaning he only needed to complete a Bachelor of Education (Secondary Teaching) rather than having to regain a degree in fine arts.

It’s important to consider when the timing might be best for you as well. For Deborah, 41, the decision to come to university represented a desire for a career change. The Bachelor of Social Science (Psychology), in which she is currently in her final year of study, offered such a change. A career change for Deborah at this stage of her life, however, means balancing family and career as well as studies. “I work as a fitness instructor at the gym, doing a few classes each day, and it can get tricky finding time to fit study in,” she says. 

To get a sense of what it’s like for other students like myself, who have started uni in their mid-twenties, I spoke with Alex and Trent, aged 23 and 24 respectively, who also started university later. They don't feel as though they are mature age students in the classroom or outside of it. Rather, it's just a technical term designated by age. I would definitely agree with them. Alex and Trent told me that they go to the uni bar and various social events as much as any student, and that being an older student at uni is no hindrance to being involved in any of the uni’s social activities.

When the pressure’s on as a school leaver to make some big decisions about the next four or so years of your life, there is nothing wrong with delaying your decision. For me, it meant that I had some clarity about what I wanted to study. For Alex and Trent, it means coming to university with a mature approach: ready to study and enjoy at the same time. Whether you begin university following high school or later on in life, it seems as though the general consensus is that uni is a great experience no matter what age you are.