Many studies of mature students within further and higher education portray them as a distinct social category with particular shared characteristics. Such representations are sometimes sub‐divided further along lines of social division. For instance, attempts to determine ‘types’ of mature learners have variously identified class, ethnicity, gender and age as being of key importance. This paper examines the utility of such attempts to categorise older learners by drawing upon data from a longitudinal study of students on a further education ‘Access to HE’, and subsequent university courses. It demonstrates that mature students are a diverse and heterogeneous group, with the ‘reality’ of their experience(s) being too complex, too individually situated, for meaningful representation otherwise. © 2006 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC. All rights reserved.