How to Apply to University as a Mature Student

Applying to study a university course is a great way to improve your skills and grow your knowledge at any stage in your life. An increasing number of mature students are applying to university. In fact, according to the UK government, more than a third of all undergraduate entrants and 50% of all postgraduate entrants are mature students.

However, the process of applying to university can feel particularly unfamiliar for mature students, who may have been out of education for a longer period of time and may not have the guidance of a school or college. We have created this guide, with the help of our admissions experts, to help you navigate the university application process as a mature student and get the support you need.

Who is classed as a ‘mature student’?

A ‘mature student’ usually refers to someone who is going to university after spending a period of time out of full-time education. Typically, mature students are classed as being over the age of 21 when beginning their undergraduate studies, or over the age of 25 when beginning their postgraduate studies.

Mature students are often more likely to balance their studies alongside other responsibilities such as work, however that’s not always the case and mature students can still study at university full-time. There’s also a huge variety in the previous education of mature students, with some starting with little or no educational background and others returning to education to further their professional or academic career.

What are the entry requirements for mature students?

The entry requirements for mature students to both undergraduate and postgraduate courses range greatly depending on your circumstances. Some mature students may only have been out of education for a few years and meet the traditional entry requirements (i.e. A levels or equivalent for undergraduate degrees or a Bachelor’s degree or equivalent for a Master’s) for their course.

However, some mature students may have been out of education for an extended period of time, faced extenuating circumstances, or missed out on achieving traditional qualifications. If this is the case, don’t let it put you off applying! It’s never too late to grow your skills and knowledge, and most universities have systems in place, such as adjusting their entry requirements or providing additional qualification routes, in order to cater for this. For example, LSE provides multiple qualification routes for mature students depending on a range of situations, so always check with your chosen university before applying.

Joe’s tip: Note that some universities are not able to waive some specific requirements for particularly competitive or demanding courses. For example, where A level Mathematics or Further Mathematics is a requirement for degree programmes, LSE is unable to waive it. All applicants must therefore have the equivalent of A level Mathematics (and Further Mathematics where necessary) from within the last three years in order to qualify for entry. Before putting in the hard work of applying, always check with your university to make sure your application will be considered and your time and effort will not go to waste!

How to apply for an undergraduate course

Full-time courses

In almost all cases, if you’re applying for a full-time undergraduate course, you will need to go through UCAS (the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service), the UK’s university admissions platform. The whole process is relatively simple and easy to navigate: you can learn more about how to complete a UCAS application here:

How to complete a UCAS application

There are a few small differences when going through UCAS as a mature student, the main one being how you obtain your reference and who your referees are. Students applying to university via UCAS while still at school usually put down a teacher or other senior member of academic staff as their referee, however this may not be possible for mature students.

Instead, mature students can obtain a reference from a professional colleague, such as an employer who knows you well (such as a line manager),volunteering leader, or a training supervisor. Ideally, it is best to get a reference from a business, charity or educational institution email account as some universities may not accept one from personal email addresses. Always check carefully before submitting your referee’s details and make sure you have their permission.

Joe’s tip: Many mature students haven’t been out of education for an extended period of time (no more than a few years). If this is the case for you, you may be able to speak to a previous teacher or member of staff at your old school and see if it’s possible to link your application back to your old school or college. This may make the UCAS process a little easier and may even allow you to obtain a reference through them.

If your referee is not a recent teacher or other educator then the process is slightly different. They will receive an email link to upload your reference and then you will pay your application fee. If you are not a mature student, this fee and the reference are normally arranged by your school.

Part-time courses

Before applying for a degree course, you should consider the way in which you want to work, whether that be remote learning or work-based learning. Not all degree courses will offer both or flexibility. Part-time courses are popular with mature students because they allow for other commitments such as work or caring responsibilities alongside them.

If you’re applying for a flexible or part-time course, you will most likely be required to apply directly to your chosen universities. Usually, you can apply to part-time courses online via the university website. You will be asked to fill out your personal information, education history, work experience, and any other relevant information. You may also be required to write a personal statement or answer some questions related to your course or experience. To learn more about writing an undergraduate personal statement, read our helpful blog post here:

How to write a UCAS personal statement

Joe’s tip: Some universities only offer undergraduate courses on a full-time basis. The University of Oxford, for example, does not offer part-time or distance learning options for any of its undergraduate degrees. Make sure you always check on the university website or get in touch with them directly before applying.

Undergraduate admissions tests and interviews

If you’re applying to study Medicine or any course at Oxford or Cambridge, you may still be required to sit an admissions test and attend an interview. These are common stages in the medical and Oxbridge application processes and require plenty of preparation – especially if you are a mature student who has been out of education for a long time or has limited experience of the university application process.

The admissions test you may be required to take will depend on the subject and university you’re applying for. To read more about medical admissions tests, read our guides to the UCAT and the BMAT. For more information on Oxbridge admissions tests, check out our helpful table.

Our experts regularly support students from a range of educational backgrounds in getting into top universities: our students are more than three times more likely to get into Oxbridge and 90% get into their first or second choice university. Reach out to our team for tailored advice and support with your undergraduate application.

Additional access courses

Some universities recommend or require mature applicants without traditional qualifications or who are returning to education after an extended period of time to take additional courses. These might include:

Access to Higher Education (HE) courses

Access to HE courses are designed to equip prospective students without traditional qualifications with the skills, knowledge and qualifications needed for university-level study. Courses are usually delivered by colleges in England and Wales and are available in a range of different subjects, such as Nursing, Social Studies, Law, and Art and Design.

Foundation year

Foundation years are an extra year of study at the start of a university course that allows students who don’t meet the necessary entry requirements to study a degree. Many universities offer foundation years in a range of their courses, including Goldsmiths, Surrey, Nottingham, and more. Top universities such as Oxford and Cambridge do not offer foundation courses for the vast majority of students.

Adult learning course

Adult learning courses provide you with an up to date foundation on your subject area and make you more suitable for degree programmes at traditional universities. The Open University is a popular choice among mature students as it offers a range of shorter diplomas and certificates in many subjects that can be studied remotely.

How to apply for a postgraduate course

It is extremely common for mature students to apply for postgraduate courses – in fact, around 50% of postgraduate entrants are mature students. The postgraduate application process is less tailored towards school-leavers and more towards experienced students and adults.

The most notable difference compared to the undergraduate process is that you won’t have to go through UCAS; almost all Master’s courses require applicants to apply directly to the university via an online application form or portal. This will ask you to fill out your personal details, education history, work experience, as well as a personal statement.

Your personal statement should demonstrate your motivations for studying your chosen course, showcase how passionate you are about the subject, and ultimately convince the admissions committee that you are the best-suited applicant for a place on the course. For more tips on writing a Master’s personal statement, click the button below.

How to write a Master’s personal statement

Postgraduate admissions tests

Some universities and specific courses require applicants to sit admissions tests and/or attend interviews as part of the application process. Some of the most common postgraduate admissions tests among UK universities include:

GMAT (Graduate Management Admissions Test)

The GMAT is used by business schools to assess important analytical, writing, quantitative, verbal and reading skills. A few UK universities require applicants to take the GMAT for certain courses, including London Business School, LSE, Cambridge University, and Imperial College London.

GRE (Graduate Record Examination)

The GRE assesses your analytical writing, verbal reasoning and quantitative reasoning abilities. It is only required by a very small number of UK universities for some courses, such as LSE’s postgraduate Economics and Econometrics courses.

GAMSAT (Graduate Medical School Admissions Test)

The GAMSAT is required by many graduate-entry medical schools in the UK, including Swansea, Liverpool, Keele and St George’s University of London. The test is designed to assess your intellectual ability and capacity to study Medicine and other related programmes.

The Profs specialises in postgraduate admissions and has helped thousands of students get into top universities to study some of the most competitive courses in the UK. If you’re looking to apply for a Master’s or other postgraduate course, get expert support and advice from our team to help maximise your chances of success.

Postgraduate interviews

Interviews are more common at postgraduate level and are used to determine whether you are prepared and well-suited to the course you’re applying for. Whether you have previous interview experience or not, the structure of a postgraduate interview is unique and will probably be unfamiliar to you. It’s important to know which type of interview you will be facing and how to best prepare for it. Read our guide to preparing for a postgraduate interview below for more information.

How to prepare for a postgraduate interview

3 tips for applying to university as a mature student

Applying to university as a mature student often comes with an extra set of factors to consider. Here are three of our top tips to consider before applying.

1. Do your research in advance

Committing to a full-time or even part-time degree course often has more challenges for mature students than school leavers. You may have additional financial or personal responsibilities that you have to work around in order to make further study viable for you. That’s why it’s all the more important to do your research in advance. This includes considering:

  • Which course is the best fit for you and why?
  • Which university is the best fit for you and why?
  • Will your chosen course advance your academic or professional career?
  • Are you able to study full-time or part-time?
  • How will you fund your studies?
  • Will you require accommodation or will you study remotely?
  • Do you qualify for any scholarships or grants?
  • Do they offer childcare support?

Joe’s tip: Attending open days is a great way to get a feel for a university and, more importantly, gives you the chance to ask all of the questions you might have. Make sure you visit your prospective university’s website to find out when open days are taking place. If you can’t visit in person, you might be able to attend a virtual open day, so always get in touch with the university directly to make sure.

2. Fill in any gaps

If you have gaps in your education or your career, make sure you explain these in your personal statement or, if appropriate, ask your referee to explain them in their reference. Universities want to know that you are committed to your chosen course and explaining any gaps in your CV will help to put any admissions officer’s mind at ease.

As an example, you may have left school for a few years to go travelling before returning to education, taken a break from your career to have children, or perhaps had health challenges which you needed time to recover from. All of these are completely sound reasons for a gap in your CV, so don’t hesitate to include them.

Joe’s tip: If you do have gaps in your education, make sure you show universities that you have remained interested and engaged with your subject area. For example, you may have continued to volunteer at a relevant organisation, done wider reading in your free time to enhance your knowledge, or simply kept up to date with the latest news and developments in your field. Demonstrating that you are a passionate and committed student is extremely important in your personal statement*.

Note that all students applying to university for 2023, 2024 or 2025 will still be required to submit a UCAS personal statement as normal. However, from January 2025 onwards (October 2024, for Oxbridge applicants), there will be changes to the UCAS application process and students will no longer be required to write a personal statement. Instead, all applicants will answer a series of shorter, more tailored questions provided by UCAS.

3. Seek additional support if you need it

Research shows that mature students are more likely than younger students to discontinue their university studies. This could be for a range of reasons, from having more personal or professional commitments to facing additional challenges such as adjusting to returning to education. That’s why it is especially important to reach out for additional support if you need it.

Additional support could range from receiving help in understanding your course content, getting guidance in writing your coursework or dissertation, or reaching out for more general support from a mentor who can help you stay on track and engaged throughout your degree. The Profs can provide support on all of the above, so if you’re in need of that extra boost, get in touch with our team today.

Speak to an expert today

Our admissions experts can help you through the entire application process as a mature student, including researching which course is right for you, meeting the entry requirements, developing your personal statement, and completing any admissions tests for interviews. More than 90% of our students get into their first or second choice university, so you can rest assured you’ll be working with the best of the best.

Get in touch with our team