The upside of being a mature age student

Is there an upside of being a mature age student and going to uni? We spoke to Michelle Curry. She is studying a Bachelor of Education (K-12) with Charles Sturt University. We asked her the tough questions about futureproofing a career, being supported and juggling uni, being a mum and working part-time.  

Do I need to futureproof my career?

Michelle was chugging along quite nicely in a career within government. But after more than a decade, she was made redundant. At the age of 30, her career aspirations disappeared.

But only briefly. She took the opportunity to reset and take some time to determine her best career path. 

“I had a good, permanent government job for about 13 years. When the redundancy came, I was pregnant with my youngest child. So I gave myself five years to decide where my career could go. That gave me time for my youngest to go to school. And being 30ish, I realised I had plenty of time and opportunity to rebuild my career.”

Fast forward a few years and world events intervened to clarify Michelle’s thoughts on what type of career she wanted to pursue.

“COVID-19 made me really think about the need to futureproof my career.

In the next five or 10 years I need a career that can’t be displaced or phased out. Something that is pandemic-proof, AI-proof, futureproof!

Are you ever too old to learn?

“My original thought was to become a teacher’s aide. But my husband, who works in education, came home one day and said there’s a massive shortage of teachers in the area where we live. He suggested that instead of doing a teacher’s aide course, I go to uni and study to become a teacher. Because there’ll always be a need for teachers.”

Michelle’s first thought after her hubby’s suggestion? “Am I too old?”

“I was lucky enough to have really good, inspirational role models from my teachers that I had at school. And I also had friends who were teachers, who I always looked up to. So, I put the word out and asked whether, at 36, people thought I was too old to study to be a teacher. Everyone came back and said, ‘you’re never too old to learn’.

“Living in a regional area, I had always wanted to go to Charles Sturt, even though I wasn’t sure what I was going to study. Now, the time seemed right, and I thought ‘why not?’”

Why are university open days important for a mature age student?

With the encouragement of those around her, Michelle needed some guidance on how to get started with her uni journey as a mature age student. The best way to find out about what life’s like as a Charles Sturt student? Get along to an Open Day.

Going to Charles Sturt’s Open Day really helped me decide which direction I was going in. I was torn between the early childhood course and the kindergarten to Year 12 degree.

“Initially, my main focus was to teach in primary school, but I had a really good chat with the course director at Open Day. She was very encouraging, reinforcing that you’re never too old to study and begin a new career. She helped me determine that K-12 would give me more options, and I could choose what type of teacher suited me – primary or secondary – later down the track.

“Besides, with an education degree under my belt I could also do other things like tutoring or, who knows, even become a lecturer.”

As a mature age student, what’s the upside of going to uni?

As Michelle found, there’s a lot in your favour when you’re a mature-age student.

To be honest I don’t think I could have done this straight after I left school. Now I’m better prepared, more focused on achieving my goal and definitely more confident in myself. I’m happy to ask questions, to put my hand up and ask for more help or for something to be rephrased.

“Studying at uni as a mature-age student means I’ve got a lot of life experience behind me. Even with some of my assessments at the moment, I’m digging into things that have happened in my life and drawing upon those experiences. It’s a lot easier to do assessments than if I was straight out of high school and distracted by the world around me.

“I applied and heard back extremely quickly. I was shocked. After all, I didn’t think I’d get in. But it’s been a really amazing experience so far – though I still remember on orientation day people thought I was one of the teachers!”

What does student support mean?

A great support system boosts study success. Friends, family, work colleagues – and support from the uni!

“As long as you have a supportive team around you, you’ll do well. And definitely, Charles Sturt has been really helpful to me – from my teachers to the support services available.

Before I actually started to study, I did a lot of free Study Link courses to help prepare me for uni. Those courses got me up to speed, ready to start, they were a great help.

“They were easy to do and I completed four Study Link subjects during the Christmas break. Not only did I brush up on things like maths, but I learned about how Charles Sturt’s student systems worked as well.

“The other range of Charles Sturt support services are also amazing – there’s always someone available to help. And I soon found a really great group of mature-age students who have become my friends and supporters. It’s a nice network.”

How do you juggle work, study and family as a mature age student?

The short answer is by being super organised, Michelle says. And also making the most of Charles Sturt’s flexible learning options. Studying full-time, Michelle is doing a mix of online and on-campus study. That definitely helps with the juggling act!

My university study really has to fit in around my girls. That’s why I chose to do one of my subjects online on a weeknight. I was so happy when my timetable was released and it fitted in with school drop-off and pick-up, preschool days and my part-time work. That meant I didn’t have to rely on anyone else for anything

“I’m a mum with two young children. So I’m working, and running around doing school things. I don’t have all day just to do an assignment. So, I use the pockets of time I have.

“I study when I can and stay super organised. It’s about realising ‘I have an hour to spare – so I’m going to study or work on an assessment’. I watch lectures when my children go to bed or get up early and watch a lecture before they wake up. It’s just so flexible.

“My Welcome to Charles Sturt Uni pack contained a gigantic wall calendar. I filled in all my classes and assessments. It hangs behind my door. So I always know what’s due and what class I’m supposed to be in. It helps to be organised. As a mum, I just can’t leave things until the last minute.”

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