Being a 30 something at uni

This is in no way going to be a 'how to guide' - people's circumstances and situations can vary and there is no one size fits all guide to survival.

I'm now at the end of my second year at university and so begins the gap before I start the final year of my degree. The final year. I won't lie, I'm scared and sad that it's coming to an end and amazed that (touch wood) it looks like I'm going to make it. 

It's been a very tough few years, tough but in a life changing sort of amazing way.  So here's my thoughts about going to uni from my own perspective as a 30 something on an arts course. 

If you're not sure about applying get in touch with a uni for a chat

I have to credit my husband for making me believe that going to university was something I could even consider doing. His belief in my work helped me take those first baby steps in to even thinking this was something I could do. We attended an open day to have a look round. Most potential  students had parents with them and I'd taken my husband! But it was good to have that support. 

University's will have open days where you can have a tour around the facilities, talk to students and listen to talks by tutors. It's an excellent way to get a taste of what university could offer you. 

I will probably remember this day for the rest of my life because as I sat in the lecture hall listening to a talk I got that achingly heavy feeling behind my eyes and I had to try not cry. I just felt so overwhelmed at the thought that I might be able to do it but also the realisation that I might not. It was such a beautiful day in Norwich and afterwards we sat on some steps eating huge slices of pizza whilst pondering what I'd just experienced. 

I contacted the university and arranged an informal chat with them. This was before I'd even begun the application process. This gave me an opportunity to see if it was even worth me applying.

Don't be put off if you don't have A levels 

I haven't. I have three City and Guilds qualifications in Photography which I've achieved through adult education courses but that's a bonus not an essential. My interview was about the potential my portfolio showed.

Applying is no-ones business but yours...

If you go public with the fact you are applying it's up to you. In the social media driven world of 'share your dinner, share your soul and whilst your at it share today's choice of knickers' it can feel like you have to share your every waking moment, every life choice, every success and every fail. 

New flash you don't.

If you're scared to apply in case you don't make it (this time) and you're worried about telling people you're going to have another run at it then just don't go public with it until you feel you have something you want to to announce.

By the time I started uni I'd still only told about 6 people. 

Prepare for envy

Envy towards what you're doing won't always be to sent your way to make you feel bad. The education system as it stands at the moment means that if you already have a degree (which you probably decided to do at 18, because at that age you know EXACTLY where the rest of your life is going, right?) cost implications means people often can't do another degree. 

I've had people say to me they are so envious because they'd love to go to uni and do a different degree from the one they did (or barely did) when they had the opportunity. This makes me sad. 
It also make me want to make the most of every minute. At 18 I probably wouldn't have done so. That's NOT saying that it's only mature students who realise there's potentially only one bite of this cherry. I'm just saying that older students might sometimes have a higher 'tick, tick, tick' perspective on life. 

I'm almost twice the age of the younger students who are in uni straight from A levels. That alone is a very scary reminder in how fast time goes. 

Not everyone may be supportive

Envy is sometimes just envy. It's highly likely that you haven't gone to uni to piss someone else off. The fact that they appear pissed off, threatened or dismissive says more about them than you. Had they have taken another approach, it's likely you'd share learnings and experiences with them. But if they act like an arse, then my advice is to move on and move past it.

Yes the debt is a bit scary but...

I try and think of it more as a tax which I will slowly repay through my earnings. In an ideal world education would be free like it was for the many who have passed through the education system before us. But it isn't and realistically now we're on this tuition fee machine I can't see fees ever being abolished. I do think the system needs to change, I don't know what the answer is. I will begin paying my £30K plus debt back once I begin earning over £21K (under the current rules...)  

The best person to explain this is Money Saving Expert Guru Martin Lewis. If you click this link he'll explain it all in full. 

It's Hard

It's REALLY hard. It's also bloody stressful. Some people think an arts degree is wishy washy, not as important as maths, law, medicine etc. An easy choice and a way to bum a few years away. 

I no longer even bother to argue with these people. If that's what they think then so be it. ANY degree is consuming. If you want to get great things out of it you have to put a lot of yourself in to it. As part of my degree I have to record my work, the research, the theory, the successes, the failures, my hopes and my fears. Making images has been just one part of my degree so far. My work in all it's formats helps me build up a bigger picture and a better understanding of what kind of artist I am and what kind of artist I hope to become. 

You question everything, you question yourself which also means you doubt yourself and worry if you're good enough and even capable. I've realised this is normal. Whatever your age. 

 I once sobbed in the bath until the water went cold, I was full of doubts and frustrations about an essay I was finding it hard to write and I've had nights where I can't switch my brain off to go to sleep because I'm so excited about the results of a shoot, or a piece or research that's sparked an idea. I guess you have to experience the lows to allow yourself the wonderful feeling of the highs. 

So, uni life isn't about sitting around in PJ's drinking cheap cider. Who knew? 


Oh my god. It's REALLY amazing. In many ways I'm so glad I didn't do it sooner, now feels the right time. And yes learning as much as I can is bloody hard going at times but mainly it's exciting, challenging and excellent. It's joyous and I feel very very lucky. 

 As I type this post I am 39. I am pushing myself to be the best me I can be. I'm not going to university because there's any pressure to do it because it's the next step in education or because of family pressures and expectations. I'm doing for me. 

This all for me and deciding to do this is one of the best decisions I have ever made. (Remind me I said this when I'm crying about the stress of writing my dissertation!)  

Edited to highlight an interesting comment left by Pixieanna on this post. Obviously I'm chatting about an arts degree but Pixieanna is studying nursing and says

"I am the same age as you are and I'm on course to finish my 1st year at uni (nursing, if you're interested). I agree with this post but I would like to add that it is always worth asking about finances. I did a degree (Creative Arts) at 18 and I wondered about getting finance but I had no problem getting a student loan. Even though I declared it they didn't seem bothered. The NHS pay my fees and provide a miniscule bursary but I get a loan to top it up"

In case it helps, student finance info can be found here (UK) https://www.gov.uk/student-finance/who-qualifies



  1. What an amazing and honest post and totally inspiring too good on you and your work is fabulous.

  2. I am the same age as you are and I'm on course to finish my 1st year at uni (nursing, if you're interested). I agree with this post but I would like to add that it is always worth asking about finances. I did a degree (Creative Arts) at 18 and I wondered about getting finance but I had no problem getting a student loan. Even though I declared it they didn't seem bothered. The NHS pay my fees and provide a miniscule bursary but I get a loan to top it up.

    1. Hope you're enjoying your degree Pixieanna. I think it depends what you want to go back and study, everyone I know of has not been given a loan as an option but none of them hoped to study nursing. Will edit my post to include your comment in case it's helpful for someone - hope you don't mind :)


Fancy leaving a comment?

© Missy Vintage. All rights reserved.
Blogger Template Made By pipdig