The Mature Student Survival Guide

Tania MacWilliam

Oct. 19, 2011

*PDF to magazine here (page 23)

The first day of college is exciting. Full of new adventures and burgeoning opportunities. The halls are filled with students clamouring to find their classrooms, relying on other lost souls for directions. They are filled with carefree wonderment and a sense of new-found freedom. They are no longer confined by the rules of high school. And they generally aren’t worrying if they forgot to turn the stove off or if they remembered to pack their child’s lunch.

Or are they?

There has been a 14 per cent increase in non-direct entrants, or mature students, in the last six years according to the 2005 and 2011 Colleges Ontario Environmental Scans. The latest environmental scan shows that 24 per cent of college students are over the age of 25. This means that there are approximately seven mature students in every 30 student class room.

A mature student is someone who returns to the classroom after taking a break from their studies. They often return from being in the workforce or after raising a family. Sometimes they have been laid off, other times they want a career change. No matter the reason for reentering school, adult learners bring life experience and face a whole new set of struggles compared to their direct-from-high-school counterparts.

The idea of returning to school can be intimidating to a mature student. Potentiallysharing a classroom filled with recent high school graduates, whose brains are still fresh and whose spirit is not yet jaded by life’s hardships, might seem like more than you can handle. Rest assured, many before you have slayed that dragon and lived to tell about it.

One of the struggles many mature students face is keeping up with advancing technology. And with Sheridan being an “Institute of Technology” you better be prepared to encounter plenty of unfamiliar technology.

Nancy Harris of Sheridan’s counselling services knows first hand the intimidation a person feels when learning new technology. When the hourglass spun on the screen of her Macintosh computer she had no clue what it meant. “I was so embarrassed I shut down the computer and didn’t go back to it for two days.” Says Harris.

But have no fear, the ITSC, or Instructional Technology Support Centre, is available to help when your disk gets stuck, when your computer won’t turn on or when you need help installing the latest software. You can obtain their services by visiting their desk in the learning commons of Trafalgar campus located in the C-Wing or room B195 at Davis campus.

So maybe you are technologically savvy but are otherwise rusty. Perhaps anything you learned in school years ago was replaced with more practical knowledge, like how long to leave a lasagne in the oven and which band-aids are the least ouchy. Sheridan offers assistance to help mature students transition back into learning. The first service Sheridan provides is a mature student orientation which addresses common struggles and offers tools to help keep you on top of school work. Think of it as a mature student bootcamp.

Once you begin your academic year you can also find support in Mature Student Connections. You will be kept apprised of workshops and meetings specific to mature students. Developing friendships is important, and here you can meet other students who face the same challenges as you. Friends will help you move the contents of your cluttered apartment in the pouring rain, but befriending a classmate can be doubly beneficial. Not only can you exchange notes and quiz each other for tests, only college friends can understand the stress academia can put on your already stressful life. To be added to the Mature Student Connections mailing list contact counselling services at

Another service that mature students can benefit from is a peer mentor. A First Year Connections peer mentor is a senior student who can give you tried and true advice on navigating your first year of college. They will keep you informed about events, important dates and help you connect with other students. Stop by the student advisement centre located in room B104 at Trafalgar and room B231 at Davis campus to learn more.

Among the challenges a mature student faces, is maintaing a balance between home life and school. According to the 2007 Colleges Ontario Environmental Scan, 11 per cent of college students have at least one dependant, which works out to approximately three students per 30 student classroom.

A parent can be riddled with guilt when they return to school. This stress can interfere with their ability to focus on assignment deadlines. A good way to combat this is to stay organized. Pick up a free student planner from the Student Union located above the campus bar – The Marquee at Trafalgar and The Den at Davis Campus. It already has all the important dates laid out and lots of room to pencil in your assignment due dates. Write a reminder at the halfway point so you aren’t scrambling the night before an assignment is due.

Another tip to help keep the home/school life balance is to keep a whiteboard at home for the whole family to see. Share your class schedule, designated study times, chore expectations, your children’s extracurricular activities and most importantly, schedule quiet time for yourself. This is key to college survival. If you don’t, you will burn out.

Finally, if you are having a rough go at balancing your life and scholastics, it might be a good time to reach out to Sheridan’s counselling services. Regular drop-in hours are Monday to Friday from 11 a.m to 2 p.m. Just sign the sheet posted outside of room B103 at Trafalgar or room B230 at Davis campus.

Remember why you are returning to school. Focus on your goal and embrace the journey. Hopefully this investment will bring you success and it will be the last time you need to do this. Welcome back, and good luck!


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