(November 4, 1999, Gazette)
I am not a mature student. While this statement might describe the devil-may-care university lifestyle that I lead, what I'm really referring to is my official status at MUN. Like most of the student body, I ticked the little box on my application form that classified me as a Level III student intent on registering for the upcoming fall semester.
That was back in 1995 and, as I prepare to convocate in April, I find myself thinking about how lucky I was to be able to jump right from high school into university, completing my education a quickly as possible.
But many have not been so fortunate. Some people aren't eligible for the available student loan programs, some have familial responsibilities and some simply aren't interested in attending a post-secondary institution right out of high school. The Category of Admission section in the undergrad admissions application attests to this, presenting a number of classifications for registering students, from previous high school graduates to senior citizens.
I realize that the definition of a mature student according to the university is very specific – failure to meet current high school admission requirements and a minimum age of 21 are both required criteria for someone applying under this category. For our purposes here, let's instead take a mature student to mean somebody who, regardless of their high school grades, has entered Memorial long after the completion of any secondary level schooling.
To be even more specific, let me again narrow that definition to encompass people in the over-30 age group who are attending Memorial to complete their first undergraduate degree. I know I may be excluding people who, as will be seen when you read on, share some of the characteristics that this group exhibit, people who may be equally worthy of recognition. I can, however, only speak about my own observations and they include mainly mature students of the above description.
I know that many of us have it pretty good; our biggest problem is deciding whether or not to go to that party on Saturday or be a sensible student and study for the mid-term that's on Monday. I often wonder, though, what it must be like to organize your schedule in order to include time for children and/or a spouse as well as blocking out periods for study.
A conversation I had with mature student in her early forties from the School of Social Work highlighted this problem: "My husband's work takes him away from home a month at a time and when he comes back, it's hard to make time to spend together when I'm in the middle of a semester." She went on to add: "I can't stop studying for a month when he's home, so we rarely get to spend as much time together as we'd like."
When asked about the time she spends with her children, she was equally as unsatisfied with her current situation.
"Funny thing is that my two kids joke about the fact that I'm always closed away in some room in the house for most of the night reading or doing assignments for school. It's meant lightly, but it makes me realize that they notice the difference in the amount of time we spend together since I've been here [at MUN]."
Attending a post-secondary institution means adopting a new lifestyle: study habits and time-management become essential, as does the ability to write and reference at a university level. And not to be forgotten is the individual responsibility of every student to make sure they stay on top of their work. (Wasn't it nice when Mrs. Crabtree would look over your shoulder to make sure you were keeping up?)
You might be asking, so what? We all had to make that transition; high school was a joke compared to university. I suggest, though, that it is more difficult to return to a learning environment after having been absent from it for years as compared to leaving one (high school) for another (university) immediately.
One student in the Faculty of Arts, a man in his mid-thirties, reinforced this idea. He said that returning to school after being in the workforce for over a decade was a difficult shift.
"You always learn something at work: new tasks are added to your job or you change jobs completely. But you're learning by repetition and pretty soon you can do the job on automatic. When I came to MUN, it was like my mind was working all the time. You listen and scribble notes in class then go home to study it and hope you've done enough to make it stick."
Not all mature students will encounter the same problems upon entering university. Some may have the benefit of previous employment that provides a solid base for a particular field of study. Some may receive more support from their families than others. Regardless of the situation of the individual, I believe that mature students as a group demonstrate an impressive amount of courage and determination in trying to balancing a university education with a successful family life.
The addition of mature students to the student body is no doubt beneficial to the university as a whole. They bring a type of insight into the classroom which most students coming to Memorial directly from high school don't have the opportunity to cultivate. And isn't attending university as much about learning from one another as it is about learning from a book? I think so.