It’s never too late to start university: meet the Trinity Mature Student Society

Ruby Topalian speaks to the Trinity Mature Student Society about how they support mature students in college.

Society often conditions us to follow a set path. Normally, that path looks something like secondary school, college, marriage, kids, and retirement. However, the reality is that life is never this linear. Even if you are one of many who follow this route, you’ve no doubt had to take pauses, re-evaluate, and steer your plan in a different direction.

But in some cases, certain financial, personal, or familial challenges make getting to that second step at the normal time an impossibility for those who want to pursue third-level education. Thus the dream of attending college often fades away, or alternatively, becomes part of life later on. In College, those individuals who align with the latter are known as Mature Students or individuals who are 23 years old or above when they start their degree. 

“The support system that the ordinary student would get from their peers as a result of the shared experiences they endure, is simply not there.”

For any non-mature students, these older peers are often associated with a level of seriousness and eagerness to answer questions and participate in lectures and tutorials that we may not see in peers our own age. As such, mature students often find themselves in a peculiar position in which they are students from an academic perspective, but not so much in the social aspect of college the early morning complaints over 9am lectures, the bonding at nights out in Workman’s, the collective struggle of creating a meal with less than five euros in your account. Furthermore, as we’re all trying to figure out who we are and what we want to pursue after college, mature students have often experienced this stage of their life by the time they start in College. Thus the support system that the ordinary student would get from their peers as a result of the shared experiences they endure, is simply not there.

But in 1982 this changed when the Trinity Mature Student Society was founded to create a community in which all students, regardless of their age when beginning college, could socialise and be provided with a space to feel supported. Today, the society has 170 members. Through the Mature Student Office — another body of representation for Mature students on campus — and its involvement with the Trinity Access Programme (TAP), an increasing number of Mature students from lower-income backgrounds have been able to attend College and join the Trinity Mature Student Society as well. When asked about what makes the society so special, OCM James Parrott said: “It’s different from a lot of other societies in that we don’t get together out of a shared interest but out of shared experience.”

These shared experiences bring society members together every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday morning in Room 6 of the Atrium. Sitting around a table covered in sweet treats and coffee mugs, these coffee mornings have become somewhat of a lifeline for many society members, a chance to break away from the stress of academia and talk about kids, work, relationships, and so much more. Chair Ingrid Garacki told us: “The Mature Student Society was my saviour when I started College during Covid. I had no clue about the majority of things, even though I had read up on information and tried to inform myself, it still wasn’t easy to take it all in. With the Zoom coffee mornings, I started to get to know people more and it felt great, especially when we did eventually return to campus. I am now delighted to say “Hi!” to people on campus as each day I now see a familiar face. It did not take too long to build up my network of mature students and then gradually younger students from within my degree.”

If coffee isn’t your thing, the society runs monthly Thirsty Thursdays at local pubs around Dublin where members can grab a pint together. To wrap up this school year, the society will be holding a wine and cheese event on Thursday April 13 in the Elizabethan room and thanks to Mature Student officer Clodagh Byrne at the Mature Students Office society members can enjoy a final celebration with food and drink at the pav in May. 

But actually reaching the point of applying to College and evidently getting involved in the Mature Student Society is a massive leap of faith for most mature students. “When I graduated secondary school, I was in an abusive relationship and he wouldn’t let me pursue anything that would make me look smarter. I went to arts school for a few years but never finished it and when I got married and we had our first child I wanted to stay at home and raise my children[…] I was a housewife and mom for 20 years so it’s a bit of a culture shock for my husband,” society member Adele Kenna said. 

Once mature students do decide to attend College, however, a whole host of other challenges arise. “Being a mature student on campus can be very isolating. You can be the only mature student in a lecture brimming with young, fearless, confident young people. Our life experiences mean that mature students can feel imposter syndrome and second guess their abilities as well as their work. This increases the importance of the society as you get to meet and speak with other mature students who encounter the same challenges even if they are not in the same course,” Vice Chair Ailish Smith said.

Moreover, while balancing work and life is difficult for all college students, mature students often have out-of-school obligations that most young adults don’t. “Many mature students have families, work, and/or may have elderly parents to look after, run a family home and do the daily life routines. This can be very exhausting especially when trying to complete a degree, I guess time management is something we are good at,” OCM Maria McDonnell said. 

“But despite these challenges and with the help of the Mature Student Society, mature students in College manage to balance it all and can be an additive force within every lecture.”

But despite these challenges and with the help of the Mature Student Society, mature students in College manage to balance it all and can be an additive force within every lecture. “Many people may feel college and student life is only for young people, however, many of us are still young at heart and have a lot to offer throughout our degree. We have had life experiences which we can bring to the table. Many of us did not take up the challenge when we were younger to further improve our educational paths, therefore, having the second chance in life now as a mature student helps us to appreciate our education journey, even more, the second time around,” McDonnell said.

Plus, the good that can come from the cross-generational discourse is invaluable. “A common misconception is that […] we have no time for younger students or that we have no interest in their issues but as a sociology student it is the opposite and I rely on the younger students to stay abreast of what is important to Generation Z […] I have been impressed with engaging with many of the students who are far more aware of issues and responsible than I was at their age,” Parrott said. 

Despite the importance of learning and academia in university, friendship is arguably the most important part of the experience, and the Mature Student Society provides the opportunity to make friends for life. For anybody over the age of 23 who may be hesitant to take the leap and apply to university, this advice may be helpful: “Just go for it, don’t sit back and regret not at least trying it. You are well able to do this if you really want to and follow your dreams,” McDonnell said. Carey added: “and if you do make sure you join the mature society.” 

Ruby Topalian

Ruby Topalian is a Senior Freshman, Dual BA student of Middle Eastern and European Languages and Cultures. She is the current Features Editor of Trinity News, having previously worked as Deputy Societies Editor.