Mature students

We welcome applicants who may not have come directly from school or college and who wish to return to education at different stages of their lives. The decision to enter higher education as a student can be a difficult one in terms of commitment and financial circumstances. We provide the support that you need to make the most of your time here, and with that support and your own determination, you’ll find the whole experience very rewarding.

Who is ‘mature’?

The term ‘mature student’ applies to anyone age 21 or over who didn’t go straight to university after leaving school or college. This means that the term applies to a very large number of students – approximately a third of undergraduates at university in the UK today – and they come from a wide variety of backgrounds.

Those backgrounds may themselves provide challenges and barriers to studying, including:

  • you may have children, and therefore require childcare services or family accommodation;
  • you may hold different qualifications than the ones typically listed as university entry requirements; or
  • you may need to continue working and so prefer to study part time.

If you are considering, or have just started, an Access to HE Diploma course you may feel that it’s very early to start thinking about applying to university. However, you will start applying to university from mid-September, very soon after commencing your course, so it’s worth spending some time finding out about universities and courses before then. We are aware that if you are undertaking an Access to HE Diploma course you will be applying very soon after this begins so your tutor may not have had the chance to get to know you very well at the time you apply. Nevertheless, we strongly encourage you to apply early and are happy for tutors to put a note on your reference stating that they will send a more detailed reference at a later date.

Offers to Access students will usually be conditional on passing the qualification with grades of merit and/or distinction in named units and may also include 6 L3 credits at pass grade in relevant unit[s] if GCSE English Language/Mathematics grade C or better has not been previously achieved. Typical offers will be updated on the UCAS website under individual programme requirements.

Students who wish to study full-time should apply through UCAS.

More information and advice about applying to Exeter can be found on our How to Apply pages.

Our decision

We recognise that mature students may offer different qualifications and experience, which will be taken into account when we assess your application, it is important that you have adequate experience and/or qualifications to allow you to cope with academic demands of your course. It is normally recommended that you should have undertaken some recognised systematic course of study (eg, Access, Open University credits, or GCE A levels) within the last three years.

Where an applicant has not undertaken any recognised form of systematic study within the last three years, the application may be referred to the Admissions Tutor for consideration. We advise that full details of any relevant work experience or other relevant information is provided within the application. We may also ask applicants who fall into this category to attend an interview to ensure that they are suitable for entry into a particular programme of study.

If you have any queries concerning entrance requirements, please contact the Admissions Office who will be happy to advise accordingly. Official notification of our decision will be made through UCAS.

Part-time study

Our Flexible Combined Honours scheme is available to those wishing to study part-time, and some of our other undergraduate degrees are also potentially available by part-time study. However, you should check with the relevant academic department to ensure that it is possible with respect to timetabling arrangements before you make a formal application. A three-year undergraduate degree would typically take six years to complete by part-time study. Applications for part-time study should be made direct to the University’s Admissions Office and not through UCAS.

Our Open Days allow you to find out more about studying at the University and the support available to you as a mature student. There will also be an opportunity for you to meet other mature students who recently returned to study.

We regularly run guided campus tours where you will be shown many of the facilities such as the library, Students’ Guild (students’ union) buildings and sports facilities. The tours are generally led by one of our current students. The tours don’t include visits to subject departments but you are welcome to contact departments direct to see if you can visit them whilst you are on campus. Many subject admissions staff welcome the opportunity to meet prospective mature students and discuss entry requirements and course content, but their availability will be dependant on teaching commitments.


Continuing mature students with children may be eligible for bursaries to help cover childcare costs. You can find out more and collect an application form from the Students’ Advice Unit, within the Students’ Guild.

Mature students taking part in the University’s Career Mentor scheme are also eligible for a bursary to help with travel costs associated with the programme. Please contact our Employability Liaison Officer Jo McCreedie for more information.

Peer support

We understand that sometimes the best advice can come from those around you, and those who have been there, which is why we’ve developed a comprehensive peer support network for all our students.

This includes a pre-entry scheme that can provide useful support from August, prior to September entry to the University. You’ll receive more information about this when you’ve accepted your offer and we’ve sent you confirmation.

You’ll also be able to join groups on Facebook for your chosen course of study and student accommodation, meaning you’ll be able to get to know people before you’ve even arrived!

Academic skills development

Once at the University, you may find yourself struggling in one or more of a range of areas, including:

  • keeping up with your course material;
  • using the internet for research;
  • accessing eLearning materials and online journals;
  • citations and referencing;
  • effectively taking notes in lectures; or
  • managing your time properly.

It’s important not to panic, and to make sure you speak to your tutors and peers for advice.

In addition, we provide academic skills training days at both the Exeter and Penryn Campuses. Please contact Academic Skills Advisor Amanda Pocklington for more information.

Mature students also qualify for one-to-one academic skills training. One-to-one training is currently only offered on a referral basis, so if you would prefer to receive training in private, or feel that your skills need to be more closely developed, please speak to your tutors or academic supervisor. For further information, you can also contact Academic Skills Advisor Rosey Davies.

We also have a range of resources to help you in the mature students section of the Exeter Learning Environment (ELE).

At Exeter our Student Skills Service offers a range of workshops and tutorials to help develop study skills. Many students who have been out of formal education for some time find these particularly useful.

In Cornwall ASK Academic Skills advisers can provide one-to-one guidance and information on all aspects of learning and academic study.


There are two mature students’ societies: one for our Exeter campuses and the other based in Penryn. Both place huge emphasis on mature students in their first term of study (whether at undergraduate or postgraduate level) – perhaps the most challenging time for mature students, particularly those who have been away from education for several years.

Both societies aim to provide social opportunities, helping mature students to meet each other and make connections, as well as to provide informal peer support.

Childcare facilities

The University of Exeter provides a purpose-built Family Centre on the Streatham Campus. The Penryn Campus is served by the Woodlane Nursery. You may also be entitled to the Childcare Grant. The amount you receive will be dependent upon your household income and is based on 85% of your actual childcare costs. For more information visit the Student Finance England website.

Sophy grew up in care living in multiple homes and attending several schools and was one of the first children in care in Devon to go on to Higher Education.

“From when I was very young, I had always aspired to go to University, I was the first person in my whole family to do so,” she said.

She is now on her second degree as a mature student and mother but has the additional challenge of suffering from both a physical and learning disability.

Sophy was medically retired from her previous career as a graphic artist and has returned to education to help her recover and move on to a new career.

 “I have faced many challenges getting into higher education, but it is important to note that I have always been supported along the way. As a mature student, with a child and disabilities, there are many obstacles to get to the position to actually get in to University. I did a night class then was accepted onto an ‘Access to HE’ course, which is vital in connecting the dots and helping people in my situation reach their goal,” Sophy said.

Sophy said her experience in the main at Exeter has been very positive with her able to overcome challenges with support around her.

 “The University itself and all staff I have encountered have been really positive, nurturing and most importantly for me adaptable. This last academic year I became seriously unwell and have had to take extended medical leave, fully supported by all departments,” she said.

Sophy has been able to access support from staff including additional help with her complex health needs including physical and learning disabilities.

“There are many support avenues at Exeter and I have been lucky enough to avail of many. I receive Disabled Student Allowance which pays for me to have a specialist 1-2-1 who helps me manage my work and my writing skills. When my mental health was floundering, I received 8 weeks of cognitive behavioural therapy at the university for free,” she said.

As a mature student she initially felt on the periphery of University life but has volunteered and become a student ambassador which has helped her connect and enjoy the social aspect of being a student.

“I think it is a University that really values a holistic and inclusive attitude towards education. I love that courses such as mine are research- led and helps students to gain vital practical skills that are transferable in the real- world,’’ she said.

Sophy recommends Exeter as a place to study saying it champions people accessing higher education from all walks of life.

Sophy, Sport and Health Sciences

I went back to education by taking an Access course after my first child started school. Having been out of the system for ten years I felt apprehensive about taking on the commitment of a degree, especially with a family to look after. I actually found the whole experience amazing. There is so much support and understanding for mature students in terms of practical issues like finance and general, pastoral care. I graduated this year with First Class Honours and feel such a huge sense of pride in my achievement. As a result of my studies I have more than a degree; I have more confidence and the sense that I know I can do anything I set my mind to. My youngest child starts school soon and I can’t wait to begin my career! 

Sanchia Hylton-Smith, BA English graduate