I've been working: is it time for change?

You can start in further education at any stage of life. Changed circumstances may make it easier – kids grow up, support networks change, money pressures can ease. But mature-age students often fit their studies in around work.

There are many reasons why you might decide to study later in life. Perhaps there's something you've become really interested in, maybe you’ve been working for years and want to change track or increase your earning potential. Or perhaps your current situation needs to change and feel you need to do something different.

The truth is that you may not have been ready for further education straight after school. Having time to experience the world of work and consolidate your interests gives you a great advantage and a more mature attitude to study.

Fact: In 2011, the average age of a university student was 26 years and 11 months.

— Australian Council for Education Research

Michelle's story

'I had to really think about what I wanted to do and what I was good at.'

— Michelle , 22 Nursing student

Full Story

You don't have to study full-time

There are many different options available for study, from certificates to diplomas, to masters degrees and PhDs. Within these options there are a variety of study loads: full-time or part-time – and you can study online or via distance learning. Deciding what to study, where to study and which study load will work for you is dependent on your personal circumstances. Take a look at the Levels of study page for more information on the differences.

Fact: The number of students taking courses online through university and publicly-funded VET providers is around 570,000. Students studying online through private providers probably bring the total close to a million.

— Career FAQs

The pros and cons

When deciding to pursue further study, there are both benefits and short-term disadvantages to consider. 

The benefits may include:

  • deeper knowledge and understanding of fields studied
  • a higher degree of job satisfaction
  • a potential increase in earnings
  • personal fulfilment and achievement
  • developing stronger industry networks
  • demonstrated skills
  • experience of working in a team.  

The disadvantages may include:

  • cost – in both time and money
  • limited available time to spend with family and/or friends for the period of study
  • blocks of time locked in and committed to exam periods and assessments. 

Financial challenges

Financial difficulties are some of the most obvious for mature-aged students.

The costs of study can add up: there are the course fees, a possible decrease in earnings if you work fewer hours, the expense of textbooks and other materials. However, financial support is available.

You may be entitled to tuition assistance in the form of HECS-HELP, Fee-HELP or VET-FEE-HELP. Contact Centrelink to enquire about your eligibility for financial assistance. You can find out more on the Help with costs page.

Fact: If you're over 21 and undertake a mature-age apprenticeship, you are generally entitled to extra benefits. Employers who hire mature-age apprentices also get extra financial bonuses from the government.

— Mature Age Apprenticeships

Juggling family commitments

It pays to be realistic about what you will be undertaking. Discuss your motivation to study with your family – and your support network of friends and colleagues. That way you are all ready to adjust.

Planning is the key and as you get into the routine of study you will find ways to use your time more effectively.  It can be helpful to set your routine before you start study and, most importantly, keep the lines of communication open with your family so they can anticipate the busy times – see A manageable study program.

Many institutions have a support service available for counselling, child care and study support if it is required. Check out the Student support services page for more information.

Fact: There is no age limit to study. The world's oldest graduate is 97 years old.

— Career FAQs

Managing study and work

It is important to discuss work-related commitments with your employer before commencing study. In fact, it's best to involve your employer in your decision – your new skills may make a big difference to your job and abilities. Try to give plenty of notice of exam and assessment times and check your study leave entitlements with your HR manager or the Fair Work Ombudsman.

Having doubts

Attend the open days and orientations that the institution offers.  Join groups around the campus, take a library tour and volunteer at social events. Use social media to find out what's happening on your campus.

Most study programs involve group work so it won't be long before you’re working with other students. Contribute to class discussions and share your stories. Many students have not worked in the ‘outside’ world and are keen to hear about real-life experiences. Building a rapport with your teacher/lecturer is also useful.