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How to rise to the challenge of university

University study can be a big challenge as a student who’s not straight out of high school. It might be ages since you last studied, and your memories of school work could be less than positive.

You might be anticipating the resilience you’ll need to tackle mountains of reading. Maybe your mind is out of practice – if you can’t remember your shopping list, how will you take in new information at university?

It’s normal to have concerns about the hard work involved in university study. But, the expert advice is that returning to learning after a big gap is doable. Using your maturity as an advantage, you can rise to the challenge of university.

How hard is university?

We won’t gloss over it. University study takes effort, but it’s very achievable and there’s plenty of support. Associate Professor of Deakin’s School of Psychology, Alexander Mussap, says university is, and should be, an intellectually challenging place. ‘The good news is that we provide a great deal of support to students in meeting the challenges of their workload,’ Assoc. Prof. Mussap says.

‘We’re not a passive provider of information. Rather, we work with students to help them develop into evidence-based pre-professionals.’

Don’t let your past study history rule you out of tertiary study, Assoc. Prof. Mussap advises. ‘All the evidence – and there’s quite a lot of it – suggests that there is not a very good correlation between high school performance and tertiary performance.’

‘To those of you who haven’t been in the education system for a while but have been working, raising families, that sort of thing, I would also add that your life experiences and the maturity that you have developed will serve you very well in the modern tertiary education system.’

Deakin student Adam Gaylard is a perfect example of someone who hasn’t let their past study experience hold them back. Gaylard vowed he’d never set foot in a school again after leaving in Year 10. But, now that the ‘gremlins of school life’ have faded, he’s plucked up the courage to return to study and is following his passion with a Bachelor of Education (Primary).

'To those of you who haven’t been in the education system for a while but have been working, raising families, that sort of thing, I would also add that your life experiences and the maturity that you have developed will serve you very well in the modern tertiary education system.'

Associate Professor Alex Mussap,
Faculty of Health, Deakin University

A joy rather than a slog

When you’re already juggling family and work, you may wonder where you’ll find the brainpower to study.  Assoc. Prof. Mussap says it’s the new normal of tertiary life for many students to have work and family commitments. ‘First, let me state that you are not alone. Second, be aware that we appreciate the external demands on our students.’

Dr Merrilyn Hooley, Senior Lecturer in Deakin’s School of Psychology, suggests undergraduate students with some life experience are well equipped to deal with the demands of university. ‘Most mature age students are juggling many roles and responsibilities that would exhaust younger students,’ Dr Hooley says.

Rather than study being an added tax on your time and headspace, it can be a source of energy. Dr Hooley says many mature age students don’t see their study as hard work. ‘The intellectual challenge they find at university satisfies a hunger that they have, so the “work” isn’t work at all – it is “learning” and “self-development” and that is the reason they are here,’ Dr Hooley says.

‘Many mature students tell us that they love settling down to their uni work as a reward at the end of the day – because this is a time that is purely for them, for their own self-development and for their own goals, so it becomes a very precious time.’

Deakin graduate Rebecca Scott certainly didn’t see her university study as a chore. After a ‘light bulb moment’ led her to switch careers, a degree at Deakin helped drive her to grow a charity idea into an established operation. Starting from scratch in a new field, Scott is now the founder of social enterprise STREAT.

Attitude makes it easier

University study may be easier than you think due to one big factor: your attitude. According to Assoc. Prof. Mussap, attitude is key to success at university and older students have it in spades.

‘Two of the things we seek to develop in students is maturity and self-motivation. And guess what? These are two of the key identifying features shared by so many mature age people returning to study,’ Assoc. Prof. Mussap says.

‘They come to us with a wealth of personal and professional experiences and the keenness that is not often matched by high school leavers. If you are motivated and serious about studying, you will do well at university.’

Dr Hooley echoes this sentiment. ‘We find that for many of our mature age students, the decision to finally come to university, or perhaps to return to university, is a difficult decision because it means making sacrifices,’ Dr Hooley says.

‘In many cases, personal time will be sacrificed, or perhaps a little family time or work time, and being prepared to make that sacrifice demonstrates the sort of motivation that underlies success at university.’

Looking to start studying in 2018? Check out our course options and how to apply for Trimester 2 to start in July at Deakin. 

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Assoc. Prof. Alexander Mussap
Assoc. Prof. Alexander Mussap

Faculty of Health, School of Psychology, Deakin University

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Dr Merrilyn Hooley
Dr Merrilyn Hooley

Senior Lecturer, School of Psychology, Deakin University

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