While the term ‘mature student’ can conjure up the image of a silver-haired retiree sitting in a classroom surrounded by twenty-year-olds, the reality could not be more different. The term actually refers to those entering further education over the age of 25. More people are opting to re-enter education to add to their qualifications and retain their competitiveness in the job market.
But education at this age is not free and the finances involved often prevent prospective students from embarking on a vocational course. If you find yourself in a similar scenario, there are many options available for financing yourself as a mature student.
Research the student loans and government funding available
There is a wide range of student loans and government funding available for those re-entering education later in life. This HM Government page covers just about all the government-backed options, including full-time and part-time undergraduate study and postgraduate Master’s and Doctoral study. If you’re thinking about how to finance a Master’s degree, you may also find UCAS’s Postgraduate Master’s Loan page helpful.
There are various specialised loans to read up on too:
Tuition Fee Loan – This is the most common student loan and is available to you at any age. It’s paid directly to your university or college and covers the cost of tuition fees. Tuition fee loans are usually available for the duration of your course plus an extra year in case you need to drop out and
return later. You must repay the loan, of course, but not until you’ve finished or left the course, and your income is over the repayment threshold level.
Maintenance Loan – This is a repayable loan, eligibility for which is based on your household income. It covers day to day expenses and is paid directly into your bank account. Again, it’s a loan and must be repaid, but not until your income is over the repayment threshold level.
Long Course Loan – This is a supplement to the maintenance loan, so you must qualify for that first. If you are eligible, a long course loan is available to you if your course lasts for more than 30 weeks and 3 days in a year.
Dependants’ Grant – There are three types of Dependants Grant (Childcare Grant, Parents’ Learning Allowance, or Adult Dependants’ Grant.) They are available if you have children or an adult dependant and you want to study a full-time undergraduate course or an Initial Teacher Training (ITT) programme.
Disabled Students’ Allowance – DSA is support to cover study-related costs you may have if you suffer from a mental health problem, long term illness or any other disability. A DSA can be awarded on its own or in addition to any other student finance. Importantly, DSA does not have to be repaid.
Apply for scholarships, bursaries or grants
Scholarships, bursaries and grants can also provide a way of mature students paying for themselves to study.
Scholarships are usually given by universities, colleges, employers or organisations, and contribute to living costs and tuition fees. They are generally awarded for existing excellence in some area, but if your circumstances are exceptional or unconventional, you may well find that some organisations provide scholarships for people exactly like you. Start by talking to the Student Affairs or Bursar’s Office at the institution you hope to study at, or at a local college if you’ve not decided on that yet.
Bursaries tend to provide a one-off payment to cover living costs. They’re usually available for people with low household income or challenging personal circumstances, such as disabilities. Again, these are mainly offered by universities and colleges themselves.
Grants are slightly different. These usually come from charities or trusts that support underrepresented groups and cover things like living costs. Again, they will usually favour students with low household income, or challenging backgrounds or personal circumstances.
Before you apply for any kind of funding, check the basic application details and consider:
- How much could you potentially be awarded, what can it be used for and how many awards does this organisation make each year?
- Do you meet the eligibility criteria to apply?
- What’s the application process and will you be able to complete it properly?
- When do you have to have your application in by?
- Are there any conditions attached to being given financial help?
Consider a second charge mortgage
If you are returning to study after some time and are in the fortunate position of owning your home, a second charge mortgage may provide another sensible way to finance your studies.
A second charge mortgage is a loan that uses the equity you hold in your home as security. It co-exists alongside your existing mortgage, without either affecting the other. Equity is how much of your home you own outright (the percentage of your home that you’ve already paid off with your mortgage).
Say you need £20,000 to finance your studies. If you have a home worth £100,000, and you own 20% of the property, you’ll be able to take out a loan of up to £40,000 with a second charge mortgage, comfortably covering your study costs.
Balance your studies with a part-time job
Depending on the level of the course you plan to follow and its demands, you may be able to strike a balance between studying and working.
If you currently have a part-time job, then you may be able to juggle working hours or shifts with the demands of your studies. Speak to your employer, explain what you are hoping to do and see whether you’d be able to adapt your working hours to accommodate the time you’ll need to study. If you can find a way to make this work, there should be no real impact on your income.
If you are in full-time employment but would like to switch to part-time to be able to study, talk to your employer to see if this might work for them, as well as being helpful for you. Naturally, you’ll be forfeiting some income if you work fewer hours, and you’ll need to allow for this in financing your studies.
If your employer sees no possibility of you switching to part-time work, then you may need to give notice and look elsewhere for an organisation whose employment needs offer the flexibility you’re looking for.
Many companies will support Masters level study for employees who already have an undergraduate degree. Not every company is set up or has the resources to support employees in this way, but it’s worth enquiring, particularly if you work for a sizable organisation with a proper Human Resources function and a positive attitude towards employee advancement.
Depending on what you plan to study, you may find your employer is prepared to sponsor your study in all or part. Employers are most likely to sponsor study where it relates to the work you and they are engaged in, and offers them the prospect of an employee whose value to the organisation has been enhanced.
It’s a good idea to put together a proper, written proposal, showing the company how you believe your study would enable you to contribute better in the organisation and how you would propose managing study with your responsibilities to the company.
If your employer does agree to discuss this further, be ready to negotiate imaginatively. Some employers, for example, may be unwilling to agree to meet study costs, but may be willing to agree to a pay increase, or to reduced hours without salary sacrifice in order to help you study.
It’s never too late to study, either for personal achievement or as a way to advance your career and income prospects. There are numerous options with regards to financial support, so do your research and find the way to finance your study that seems most sensible for your circumstances.