“I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.”
There is no end to our ability to learn or to the number of ever-expanding fields of human enquiry (and the depth of each field).
Perhaps you are considering:
- returning to academia after many years in the working world,
- looking to study for the first time after leaving high school, or
- taking up non-academic classes (such as photography, dance, art, and scrapbooking classes) to jazz up your time away from the office.
There are numerous benefits to studying later in life, whether you are just beginning tertiary education or continuing with your own programme of life-long learning.
As an adult older than the traditional student age, making the decision to return to “school” can be daunting and may leave us doubting our ability to learn and handle multiple responsibilities, as well as questioning what we have to offer fellow students in the classroom.
Here are five good reasons for mature students to feel both confident and able.
ONE. Motivated by knowing what you want
With a good break between school and tertiary education, we have thought long and hard about what it is that we would like to learn and the career path that we choose to pursue.
The operative word is we.
When we are younger – not only chronologically but emotionally – it is harder to know which thoughts, values, dreams and goals belong to us and which belong to our parents or communities.
Through life and the process of individuation (or self-realization) we discover what gives us meaning and purpose in our lives.
What better motivator for studying than knowing that our chosen field of interest is in alignment with what gives us meaning and purpose?
TWO. The benefits of life experience
Whether we first learn the theory and then gain practical experience or vice versa, these two ways of learning are merely different methods of arriving at fuller educational outcomes.
Neither method is inherently superior to the other.
However, there is a lot to be said about embarking on a degree with a store of general knowledge and experiential knowledge about how society and its institutions function.
Educator and academic, Andrew Westover reminds us that intergenerational classroom settings can enrich both young and old by offering a space for intellectual cross-pollination.
“Younger students also have many skills and life experiences that can enrich the mature student’s learning experience, and vice versa. It can be a win-win situation for both.”
THREE. You have more to lose
Something happens when you pay out of pocket for activities that further your personal development. This is true both for funding your studies or therapy.
Feeling the cost (financial and otherwise) adds an additional level of motivation to the work you put into your studies.
Hats off to the many mature students that decide to study part-time while keeping full-time jobs.
“This involves the careful balancing of educational, as well as family, professional and community responsibilities,” says Westover.
FOUR. The benefits of good timing
“Your best work involves timing. If someone wrote the best hip hop song of all time in the Middle Ages, he had bad timing.”
― Scott Adams
Telling someone that we are waiting for the “right timing” can so easily smack of procrastination (and sometimes this is procrastination at play).
However, there is something powerful about keeping an idea or potential new process in an incubation phase (or period of consideration).
During a so-called incubation phase we might be asking ourselves whether a field of study is right for us and start reading important articles in that field. Should we then choose to sign up for a related programme, the knowledge gained during our initial exploratory reading will stand us in good stead for future research and assignments.
Perhaps there are other concrete external changes that need to take place before you decide to enroll in a programme. Changes such as your children graduating from high school, making the difficult decision to resign from your job, or waiting for your partner to receive a promotion.
Again, timing is important but be alert to using “good timing” as an excuse for holding yourself back on account of fears and doubts.
FIVE. Belief in your ability to grow
Regardless of age, choosing to invest in one’s intellectual life, personal development, and career is highly commendable.
For someone to choose to study later in life they likely hold the valuable belief that personal and intellectual growth can take place at any stage in one’s life.
In a similar vein, Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, writes that a growth mindset is characterized by the belief that intelligence and talent are not fixed abilities but ones that may be enhanced with hard work and dedication.
Furthermore, students with a growth mindset tend to learn more, learn faster, and view poor results as opportunities to improve their knowledge and skills.
A growth mindset fosters a love of learning and a resilience essential to pursuing the successes we envision for ourselves.
Do you want to study further and don’t quite know whether a path of study is a good fit for you?
You might consider consulting with an educational psychologist or career guidance counselor at your local university or college.
They can assist you in identifying your strengths, confirming areas of interest, and exploring your study options through interviewing you and psychological testing.
Older, wiser, and with a heightened self-knowledge, there are good reasons to be confident in your ability to study later in life.
Wishing you well in all your endeavours. – F.W.
Hidden curriculum. (2013, August 29). Growth mindset. In S. Abbott (Ed.), The glossary of education reform. Available at: http://edglossary.org/growth-mindset/ . Last accessed: 22 February 2016.
Schmidt, M. (no date). Individuation. The Society of Analytical Psychology. Available at: http://www.thesap.org.uk/resources/articles-on-jungian-psychology-2/about-analysis-and-therapy/individuation/ . Last accessed: 22 February 2016.