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The benefits of being an older student

If you’re considering studying after spending some time in the workforce, you’re probably feeling a little hesitant.

It might be because it’s your first time undertaking tertiary study, and you’re unsure what to expect. Or maybe you’ve been to uni before, but didn’t have the greatest experience the first time around. Perhaps you’re just worried about how you’ll fit in if you’re a bit older than most of the other students.

But while this apprehension is completely natural, you’ll be happy to hear that your time away from study will probably actually end up working in your favour.

Older university students often end up being the most motivated and dedicated to their studies, which is a sure-fire combination for success. There can be many reasons for this, whether it’s the extra skills you’ve picked up during your time in the workforce or the added perspective that studying at an older age gives you.

We spoke to Jason Prasad about what it was like returning to study to switch industries, years after finishing high school. Jason recently completed his Bachelor of Environmental Science at Deakin and is now working for an ecological and archaeological consultancy, putting his knowledge to use on a daily basis.


If you’ve spent time in a work environment and had experience navigating the challenges of day-to-day adult life, you’ve likely developed several skills that will come in handy when studying.

Time management, self-motivation and prioritisation of tasks will prove incredibly helpful when undertaking tertiary study, and from your professional experience, you’ll probably find you’re pretty good at these things already.

Jason had worked his way up into a management role in the workforce before deciding to return to study, and was able to utilise crucial skills such as self-motivation to help him succeed at university.

‘It was easy to stay motivated, because I knew that this is the direction I wanted my life to go in and I wanted to do it as well as I possibly could to open up as many opportunities as possible,’ he says.

This sort of commitment and utilisation of key skills is seen across the board with students who are, on average, older than their university cohort, explains Associate Professor Alexander Mussap of Deakin’s School of Psychology.

‘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,’ Assoc. Prof. Mussap says.

Maturity and motivation

For some students who have entered university straight out of high school, it can be easy to take opportunities for granted. This can be because they’re unsure where uni will lead them or they’re studying in part due to external pressures such as parents.

'[Older students] come to us with a wealth of personal and professional experiences and the keenness that is not often matched by high school leavers.'

Assoc. Prof. Alexander Mussap,
School of Psychology, Deakin University

By contrast, as an older student you’re more likely to have a very clear idea of the reason you’ve decided to study. This, in turn, means you’re also going to find it much easier to keep yourself motivated.

Jason had previously started two courses at other universities when he was younger, but left both after a semester. His recent time as a tertiary student, however, proved much more successful.

‘This time, right from the word go I knew that I was in the right place so I was able to stick to the course through all of its challenges,’ Jason says.

And while working your studies in around your existing life commitments may take a bit of time, the excitement you get from feeling genuinely motivated by your course content can make the hard work more enjoyable.

Stress relief

While university will obviously has stresses of its own, learning is actually very good for stress relief in everyday life. When your time is managed properly, you’ll likely find that study can easily form part of a healthy lifestyle and can provide you a lot of enjoyment.

‘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,’ says Dr Merrilyn Hooley, Senior Lecturer in Deakin’s School of Psychology.

And for anyone headed back to university soon who is hesitant about studying at an older age, Jason has one last parting tip:

‘Identify as early as possible in each trimester likeminded and motivated students, introduce yourself and make friends with them. This way you don’t have to study alone, you can both have a pathway to ask for help.’

Keen to organise your application and head back to uni? Check out our tips on how to nail your personal statement.

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Associate Professor Alexander Mussap
Associate Professor Alexander Mussap

Deputy Head of School, 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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