There are many reasons why you might want to return to education in later life. Perhaps you’d like to gain a qualification to advance or change your career. Or maybe you simply want to learn more about a subject you’re passionate about.

Whatever your reason, choosing to invest your time in acquiring new knowledge is rarely a bad idea. But even so, it’s common for older adults to have some reservations about taking the plunge.

With this in mind, we’ve put together a list of six common fears you might have about returning to study, as well as some tips and advice to help you move past them and set off on your educational journey.

1. Will I fit in with the other students?

Will I fit in with the other students

If you’re planning on returning to a classroom setting, then it’s perfectly understandable that you might be experiencing worries about fitting in with the other students on your course. As a mature student, you might be thinking that you’ll ‘stand out’ amongst the typically younger students.

However, it’s worth reminding yourself that you’re not alone and there are many more mature students taking GCSE’s, A-levels, degrees, and other courses than you might think. In fact, government data tells us that, in 2019, 37% of all university undergraduate students were mature students, as well as 50% of all postgraduate students.

If you’re returning to university, it’s also worth seeing if your student union runs a mature student society. These are groups run by students where mature learners can get together to socialise and support one another.

When going back to education in later life, it can also be easy to assume that younger students wouldn’t be interested in socialising with people older than them. But, by putting yourself out there, you might be pleasantly surprised.

Rest Less member Christine, who went back to university in her 50s, had this to say about the younger students on her course:

“I just got on so well with everyone and there was no age difference in their eyes. Well, if there was, it didn’t appear like that. I think they kept me going and kept me young.”

2. Will I find returning to education too difficult?

will i find returning to education difficult

Many people looking to return to education later in life might be concerned or even put off by worries that they might find the work too difficult – especially when it comes to further education like undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. But while you might have been out of the education game for a number of years, this shouldn’t put you off developing yourself and achieving your goals.

Try to remember that, as an older adult, the life and professional experience that you’ve gained over the years will be invaluable when it comes to your studies. You’ll be bringing a unique perspective to the classroom, which won’t only help you with your own work, but will contribute to the diverse classroom environment, particularly in things like seminars and discussions.

What’s more, many course providers, particularly universities, have plenty of support available when it comes to developing things like academic writing and research skills. So before you commit to a course, it’s worth checking out what kind of support is will be made available to you.

Our article, 9 tips to help you get back into learning after a long break, also has plenty of suggestions for ways to ease yourself back into the learning process – from making a plan to using focus apps.

3. Will I be able to afford to return to education?

will i be able to afford to return to education

If one of your concerns about returning to education is not knowing whether or not you can afford your course, then try not to worry, as there are a wide range of funding options that you can take advantage of.

Firstly, it’s worth checking if you’re entitled to take the course you’re interested in for free. For instance, if you don’t hold a full Level 3 qualification (which is equivalent to an advanced technical certificate or diploma, or two A-levels), then you’re entitled to take one of a range of other government-funded Level 3 courses at no cost. To browse these courses, and to check if you’re eligible, you can visit the government’s website.

Secondly, there are plenty of government schemes available to help you fund not only your education but to help towards your living expenses too – so it’s worth checking if you’re eligible for any of these.

Some schemes involve a loan that you’ll have to pay back at a later date, such as Student Finance Loan or an Advanced Learner Loan. However, you may also be eligible to apply for grants and bursaries to help pay for your course, which you don’t typically have to pay back.

To find out more about the different government funding options available, and to see if you’re eligible for any, head over to the education page of the government’s website. You might also want to check with your course provider, to see if they run any scholarships or bursaries that you might be able to take advantage of.

It’s also worth remembering that the price of courses will vary depending on where you study. Sometimes, these variations can be small, for example, the National Extension College offers their GCSE English Literature course for £495, while Open Study College offers their version of the same course for £449.

However, sometimes the differences in price can be huge. For instance, The Open University usually offers degree courses at a fraction of the price of traditional universities, which means you could save thousands of pounds on your education. So it’s worth shopping around before you decide on a course, to get the best value for your money.

4. How can I balance my studies and my other responsibilities?

How can I balance my studies and my other responsibilities

Between your career, family, and any other responsibilities in your life, you might have a few balls in the air right now, and the thought of adding another might seem a little daunting. But thanks to the wide range of flexible learning opportunities out there, there’s no reason why (with the right planning) you can’t get the education you want without dropping the ball in any other areas of your life.

For instance, if you’re looking to study for GCSEs, A-levels, or equivalent qualifications, and you can’t commit to set class times or you don’t have time for the commute, then there are plenty of distance learning courses that you can take to prepare for your exams in your own time and from the comfort of your own home. So why not check out what distance learning opportunities are out there?

And if you’re looking to attend university, there are also lots of options out there to help you fit your education around your busy life. Ever since the pandemic struck, more and more universities are offering degree courses online that involve watching pre-recorded lectures and/or participating in seminars via video conference. This allows you to study at universities from all over the country, without having to relocate.

You’ll also find that many degree courses can be taken part-time, and if you’re looking to gain your qualification as quickly as possible, you might even have the option to take an accelerated course that condenses a three or four-year degree into two years. You can explore different university course options on the UCAS website below.

5. Will I be able to keep up with the technological side of learning?

Will I be able to keep up with the technological side of learning
One of the main fears that we hear from our members looking to return to learning is that they’re worried about the technological side of things. And it’s true that whether you’re studying for GCSE’s, A-Levels, a degree, or another kind of qualification, there’ll most likely be a digital aspect – especially if you’re taking a distance learning course. However, the majority of courses from GCSEs through to undergraduate level (provided you aren’t taking a technology degree, that is) only require a basic digital skillset. Anything more advanced – for example, if your degree involves using subject-specific software – will typically be taught as part of the course. Although, it’s worth bearing in mind that this isn’t always the case, so even if you have a solid basic digital skillset, check with your course provider before you begin your studies to see if there are any more advanced digital skills that you need to familiarise yourself with beforehand. If you’re not too confident in your basic digital skills, then try not to worry, there are lots of ways that you can become study-ready. One of the best ways to do this is to take an Essential Digital Skills Qualification (EDSQ). EDSQs are government-funded courses that are run by educational providers all over the country. They aim to help people over the age of 16 to learn all of the fundamental digital skills that are frequently needed in modern life. For instance, an EDSQ will familiarise you with:
  • Using devices and handling information
  • Creating and editing – for instance, using documents and editing images, videos, and audio files
  • Communicating – for example, using email, video conferencing, and social media
  • Transacting – including submitting online forms and making purchases
  • Being safe and responsible online – including privacy and data protection
There are also plenty of courses available on our website that can help you to become more versed in a digital skill of your choosing, for instance, social media or Microsoft Office.

It’s also worth remembering that you might be able to access support from your course provider if you find yourself struggling. For instance, many universities will run things like digital skills workshops. Or, failing that, they’ll be able to point you in the right direction so you can learn the skills that you need.

6. Is returning to education worth it?

Is returning to education worth it
The question of ‘Is returning to education worth it?’ is, of course, a subjective one – especially if you’re not looking to study for a qualification to advance your career, but to simply learn more about a subject that you love. However, if you find yourself doubting whether or not you’re making the right decision, it can be helpful to remember these points…
  • Firstly, learning is great for our health. Our mind is like a muscle, and without exercise, it can grow weak. But research suggests that by continuing to learn throughout our lives, we can improve our memory, and perhaps even reduce the likelihood of developing mental conditions like Alzheimer’s.
  • Experts also agree that learning can also increase our self-confidence, as well as reduce our chances of developing mental conditions like depression. It also encourages us to meet new people and think about things from different perspectives.
  • And finally, what you learn and the memories you’ll make if you decide to return to education are things that no one can take away from you. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”

Final thoughts…

Making the decision to return to education later in life can be the start of an adventure, but it’s worth bearing in mind that having doubts and worries is perfectly normal. So take your time to decide what’s best for you and try not to be too hard on yourself. This important thing is that you don’t let your fears get in the way of you achieving your goals.

If you’d like to find out more about different ways to learn later in life and search online courses, why not visit the learning section of our website? Or, if you’re looking to study for a degree, you might want to check out our guide to becoming a university student in your 50s, 60s, and beyond.