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University at any age: a non-school leaver's perspective

Study tips
Published 24 Nov, 2023  ·  3-minute read

Is there an age limit for university? How do you get in if you’ve been out of high school for years? And how do you know it’s the right decision for you?

These are just a handful of the questions that Bachelor of Arts student Darby Jones asked himself when he left a 10-year career to pursue an undergraduate degree at UQ. And he isn’t the only one.

Deciding to return to or commence study as a mature-aged student can feel like a bit of a risk. But it might also be one of the best life changes you ever make.

Find out what Darby has to say about his experience, and the advice he’d like to give other non-school leavers considering university study.

Taking the leap

In 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced Brisbane into its first lockdown, I decided to distract myself by learning something new. A few weeks before the lockdown, I had heard about a website called Coursera, which offered free access to short workshops designed by world-class universities. I had been working as a hair colourist for a decade, but had always wanted to study writing, so I decided to give it a try. I browsed the course lists and eventually found a poetry course from the California Institute of the Arts. Every afternoon, I would sit through a pre-recorded lecture before reading the resources and trying my hand at the assigned exercises.

I found myself back in the salon a fortnight after the lockdown began, but the workshop had lit a fire inside me. Every evening after work, I would go home to continue the workshop. By the time I had finished it, I knew that I wanted to take this pursuit further; I wanted to go to university. There was just one problem: I had no idea where to begin or how to enter university as a mature age student.

A student presents to a class, in front of a projector screen with a large map

Applying to university as a non-school leaver

A quick Google search led me to the UQ website, where I could browse courses and learn about campus culture. I also found the UQ admissions page, which was full of useful information about all kinds of alternative pathways into university. On the contact page, I found a phone number that led me to an extremely helpful student advisor, who was able to answer all my questions.

Fortunately, my high school OP was still valid at the time of my application, which meant I was able to apply through the QTAC website. I filled in the application form, listed UQ’s Bachelor of Arts as my first preference, and eagerly waited for a response. Four weeks later, I received my offer from UQ for a place in the Bachelor of Arts program.

Can you go to university at any age?

As my first day drew nearer and nearer, I began to grow anxious. I started having second thoughts. Would I be able to do this? Had I put it off for too long? Was I too old to pursue an undergraduate degree? How old is too old for university? I spoke about this to friends and clients, who assured me I had nothing to worry about—that there is no age limit for university, and that I would be okay.

Sure enough, they were right. I’ll never forget the relief I felt when I walked into my first lecture on my first day and was greeted by people of all ages, genders, and ethnicities. All the classes I have attended since have included a diverse spread of ages from school leavers all the way up to people in their seventies! This diversity ensured that class conversations were always interesting and thought provoking.

It also helped me to realise that you are never too old—and it is never too late—to follow your dreams by attending university.

Find out more about how UQ supports non-school leavers to achieve their study goals.

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