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Older adult students in their first year at university: Challenges, resources and support

Topham, Phil


Phil Topham


This study surveyed the experiences of older adult students in their first year at university. It describes the personal and academic challenges they faced; the psychological resources they applied or acquired to meet those challenges; and the forms of support they drew on during the year. 22 students aged 30 to 61 years completed free-text questionnaires about challenges, resources and support at three points in the academic year.
Thematic analysis of participant responses indicated three main areas of challenge: the meaning of university, issues of ability and achievement, and concerns about balancing demands. Individual motivations for study were maintained through the initial emotional impact of becoming a student and despite doubts about being able to manage. Ambitions for academic achievement met with anxieties about ability, workload, study support and age differences. Participants were concerned about balancing demands from home and work with those from their programme of study. Thus the challenges were both organisational and indicative of competing emotional commitments.
Participants drew on a range of psychosocial resources to meet these challenges. Central to these were their life experience, their enthusiasm for learning, their ability to work with others and their mature self-awareness which enabled specific coping strategies. Robust support for personal and academic concerns was provided by family, friends and fellow students while participants reported a more varied experience of support and guidance from the university.
The findings were discussed in relation to the literature on responding to personal challenges, the life-stages of students, and the implications for the support of older adult students. The findings suggest that most - though not all - older adult students enter higher education with a significant psychosocial resource pool and/or the determination to acquire the resources and support they need to achieve their academic goals.


Topham, P. Older adult students in their first year at university: Challenges, resources and support

Report Type Project Report
Peer Reviewed Not Peer Reviewed
Keywords mature students, student development, psychological challenges, psychological resources, social support, student support


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