Mature students: five things to include in your personal statement

Applying to university if you're 21 or over isn't unusual, but that extra life experience can make it tricky to keep your personal statement focused. Our expert has some tailored advice just for you.

Writing with enthusiasm, showing understanding of the subject, reflecting on your relevant experience... we'd recommend any applicant to include these universal ingredients in their personal statement.

But as a 'mature' student – anyone commencing their degree from the age of 21 or over – returning to education, we've identified five extra tactics to help you create a personal statement that packs a punch.

'I think the main difference for more mature applicants is the challenge of fitting into a relatively small space a lot more life history than your average school leaver. However, what we are looking for is basically the same: evidence of your interest in, understanding of and enthusiasm for the chosen discipline.' Rob Evans – Head Of Admissions, University Of Sussex.

Mature student personal statement pointers

1. Answer the question ‘why now…?’

A question mature students should address is why you've decided to change direction and apply to university at this particular point in your life.

Perhaps it was always the plan – but building on the context of your decision-making in your statement will help an admissions tutor get a picture of your commitment to and suitability for the course.

This may require some reflection as to why you didn't choose to go to university immediately after school or college, and perhaps how you have changed since then.

'As with school leavers, we’re trying to build a picture of where the applicant is coming from - and the difference for someone applying some years after leaving school is the question of "why now?"' Rob Evans – Head Of Admissions, University Of Sussex.

Browse our subject guides to sign up for subject-specific statement tips, and more.

2. Show evidence of recent study

Even if it's in a non-relevant field, any evidence of formal study helps to show the admissions tutor that you enjoy studying, that you're capable of studying, and that you're ready to rejoin academia.

Whether it's night school, an Access to HE course, on-the-job courses, or anything else, make sure to reflect on it in your statement.

3. Demonstrate your personal progression

For a college leaver, it's easy to show that the next step is a degree in a subject that’s relevant to what they have already been learning. But it's just as important for mature applicants to show a sense of progression from their varied work, study, or personal experiences to show admissions tutors that their next natural step is into a relevant degree.

This could be done, for example, by mentioning your work experience, training courses, interests and hobbies, or your general reading.

The primary goal for many mature applicants is to train for a new career. If so, whatever career area you have in mind, show awareness of its specific challenges, and that you’ve researched this before you apply.

4. Understand the time commitments of degree study

Mature students can drop out of uni for a variety of reasons, but it's often centred around the difficulty of juggling other commitments (such as family, childcare, part-time work, or travel).

Show your understanding of what studying a full- or part-time degree would entail. This can be done by knowing what goal you are hoping the degree will lead to, and writing spiritedly about your desire to achieve this goal, despite the sacrifices you know it will require.

It can also be addressed head on, simply by demonstrating your awareness of the pressures and commitment needed, and your readiness and ability to see the degree through.

5. Keep your statement story honest – and personal

There might be less tangible reasons for applying to university as a mature applicant than simply training for a new career. We discussed this with 65 year old Peter White, who was successful in applying for a fine art degree.

After retiring from a programming career in the engineering industry, he wanted to fulfil his passion and maximise his own potential as an artist.

What was really striking about Pete's statement is how personal it was. He wrote a condensed version of his journey in his own words – his career, personal interests, the development of his painting and drawing, the constraints of his family circumstances, and his reasons for applying.

For him, the bottom line was simply this: 'I told them the truth.'