Many students who enter Higher Education do so at a later stage in their lives. There are many reasons why they didn’t enter HE study after they finished their education – they chose a different career path, they may not have had the financial means to study at the time, they may have had other commitments or raised a family or they may not have thought that studying at university was for them at the time. However, it’s never too late to take up an undergraduate course.
It can feel like a minefield when setting out on the path to applying for a course. Whilst prospective students who may be studying for A-levels tend to receive a lot of support for applying to university from their college, mature students don’t always have the same level of access to information and advice. Many universities, like Birmingham City University, have dedicated staff who can help with any questions mature students have about applying for their courses – our Choices department has a dedicated adviser who can help with queries made in person, by email or by phone.
We’ve put together a few key points for mature students to consider to help try and make sense of the process and what sort of things to consider if you’re a mature prospective student and are thinking about applying for a university course.
Think about outcomes
Deciding to undertake a degree course is a big commitment. Most degree courses can be completed on a 3 or 4 year basis full-time, or longer if studying part-time. There’s also the cost to think about. Because of the investment of time, money and effort, it’s very important to be as sure as possible that the course you choose is right for you. Think about:
- What do I want to do after I’ve completed a degree?
- Are there specific careers I am interested in?
- Are there particular courses I would need to complete to enter these careers?
There are useful websites that can help you start researching different careers and that provide more in-depth information, such as http://careersadvice.direct.gov.uk/. Also, it’s worth searching for professional bodies that may relate to particular careers to see if there’s more specific information to help you to make an informed choice. For more help you can also contact the advisers at http://careersadvice.direct.gov.uk/ – just see their ‘get in touch’ page on the site for more information.
Research course options
Once you have identified the outcomes you are looking for, the search for courses that will enable you to pursue your goals starts. The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) are the organisation who handle applications for full-time undergraduate courses made to Higher Education institutions in the UK. Their website has a whole host of useful information to help prospective students, and an excellent course search facility to help you determine which universities offer the subjects you are interested in. Visit http://www.ucas.ac.uk/students/coursesearch/ when you are ready to start looking. The easiest thing to do is search by subject as it allows you to enter keywords and then returns results based on your specifications.
For part-time or distance courses, you can search for subjects of interest using www.hotcourses.com.
Once you have looked at all the different courses available, it’s a good idea to undertake some further detailed research for the universities whose courses you are most interested in to find out more about their individual course offerings. You can usually link through to the universities’ websites from the UCAS site by clicking on the different university profiles. Try and find out about any open days which might be taking place as these can provide a great way of finding out more about the course and the different universities.
What sort of things should I consider when choosing a course?
- How many hours per week will I be expected to attend?
- What will be expected of me?
- What topics will I study?
- Are there work placements involved with the course?
- How is the course assessed?
- Where is the course studied?
- How will I travel to the University?
- How much does the course cost?
- What are the entry qualifications for the course?
How will I finance my course?
The main sources of funding for students who reside in England are:
- Student Loans
- Maintenance Grants
- Special Support Grants
- Additional Grants
You will need to apply online via Student Finance England or contact them for an application form. Any grants and loans for living costs will be paid directly into your bank or building society account, usually in three instalments. You can find out more on our website at http://www.bcu.ac.uk/student-info/finance-and-money-matters/undergraduate-fees-and-funding/full-time.
Financial help is available towards your tuition fees and other course costs. The value depends on your personal circumstances and your course.
The main sources of funding are:
- Fee Grant (to help with tuition fees) paid directly to your college or university
- Course Grant (to help with study costs, such as books, materials and travel) paid directly to you.
You will need to apply online via Student Finance England or contact them for an application form. Your Course Grant will be paid directly into your bank or building society account. You can find out more on our website at http://www.bcu.ac.uk/student-info/finance-and-money-matters/undergraduate-fees-and-funding/part-time.
What about childcare costs?
Additional grants available to students on full-time undergraduate courses who have children include a Childcare Grant and a Parent’s Learning Allowance. If you need child care during your studies, you may be eligible for a Childcare Grant. This grant is income assessed and could provide up to 85 per cent of your childcare costs. You may also be eligible to receive a Parents’ Learning Allowance. These are assessed when you apply for your student finance.
For students on part-time undergraduate courses, if your fee grant does not meet the full cost of your fees, or if you receive no statutory funding because you have previously studied, you may be eligible for the additional funding through HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England). This may also extend to additional help towards your course-related costs, including childcare costs.
How do I apply?
Applications for full-time undergraduate courses are made through UCAS (www.ucas.com). Applications should be made between 1st September and 15th January in the year before the course you wish to start. So, for example, if you wish to apply for a course commencing in September 2011, you would make your application through UCAS between 1st September 2010 and 15th January 2011. Applications received after the 15th January deadline are classed as late applications and may only be considered by the universities you have applied to if they have places left on the course.
Applications are made online through the UCAS website. You will need to register with UCAS to receive a username and password. Once you have received these, you can log into your account and fill out the application form on the UCAS website. You can apply for up to 5 courses on the one application form. Once the form has been fully completed, you can submit it (along with payment) to UCAS who will then distribute the form to the universities you have applied to.
Applications for many part-time courses are made directly to the individual university offering the course. Contact the university to acquire an application pack if applying for a part-time undergraduate course.
What does the admissions process involve?
The first stage of the process is making your application through one of the methods mentioned above.
Consideration by universities
Once your form has been received by the universities, they will then process it in accordance with their recruitment and selection procedures. You may be called for an interview, or asked to provide a portfolio or submit a piece of work. You may be offered a place purely on the basis of the contents of your application. Or the university may decide that it is unable to offer you a place on the course you have chosen. The universities you have applied to will usually communicate this through UCAS track (your online account with UCAS) or by contacting you directly.
Receiving decisions from the universities
Once you have received responses from all of the universities you selected on your application form, the next step will be dependent on the outcomes of these responses.
Making a decision about offers that have been made to you
If you have received offers from any of your choices, UCAS will require you to decide whether you want to accept any of them. If you accept an offer, you can accept one offer as your first choice (or ‘firm’ choice) and one offer as a back-up choice (your ‘insurance’ choice). You cannot accept more than this and then have to decline the rest of any offers that have been made to you.
Next steps you can take if you have not been offered a place by any of your choices
If you have used up all of your choices on the UCAS application form and have not secured an offer of a place with these choices, you can used UCAS Extra for an additional chance to be considered for another course or university before Clearing starts. It allows eligible applicants to approach individual universities to see if they can be accepted onto a course there.
To be eligible to use Extra you need to have:
- already made five choices;
- received decisions from all these choices; and
- either had no offers or declined all the offers you have received.
Once you have received decisions back from all five of your choices, if you’ve not been offered a place or have declined any offers you’ve been made, Extra takes place between February and late June.
Once you have your UCAS Extra reference number, you can then contact the universities with these details and ask them to consider your application. The university you’re interested in will need your UCAS Extra reference number if they decide they wish to consider your application form – this allows them to prove to UCAS that you’ve expressed an interest in that university and given permission for them to see your application. Once the university has had the opportunity to review your application, a decision will then be relayed to you.
If the university decides to offer you a place, you must decide whether or not you wish to accept the offer. If you accept the offer, you are not then permitted to be considered for any other courses or universities through UCAS Extra. If you decline the offer, you can still see if you can be accepted onto other courses. If you’ve not secured a place by the end of June when the Extra period finishes, you may then need to consider using Clearing if you still wish to find a place for a course commencing that September.
You do not need to wait until you receive an offer of a place before you apply for financial support. You should apply for this well in advance of the course start date so that there has been sufficient time to process your application for financial support
How do universities feel about mature students?
Universities welcome mature applicants who often bring additional skills, knowledge and experience with them to the table and who provide an added dynamic to a course cohort. Being able to reflect on life experience can also be something that can enhance the learning experience for both the students themselves and their colleagues.
Over recent years, the notion of widening participation has meant that universities have become much more proactive in making their courses more accessible to mature students, and government support through the introduction of special financial support for things like childcare have also helped to make the transition to HE a more realistic option for many mature students.
Whilst it can seem like a daunting journey at first, if you make good use of the resources available to you the journey into Higher Education can be much easier to negotiate.