The average undergraduate student enters university in or before their early 20s, but some don’t find themselves at UBC until much later. Either deterred by the cost or through spending time pursuing other opportunities, some come to university through a more unconventional process as “mature students.”
“My life has totally, absolutely changed after I came here [as a mature student],” said Dave Brown, a fourth-year arts student. “I was going to just retire and wanted to do things myself, you know, learn to play the piano, shoot a video. And then I got accepted into university … I can now conduct an orchestra and not just play the piano. I can edit a video myself and not just shoot one.”
What is a mature student?
Being a mature student doesn’t have much to do with age. As long as an applicant is above the legal age (19 in British Columbia), you need only to be out of school for four years and to have not obtained a degree prior to enrolment to be considered a mature student. Interestingly, this means a 22-year-old student would be considered the same way an 85-year-old would in this category.
“Mature students are those who can demonstrate high academic potential through a range of exceptional achievements and life experiences beyond academics,” reads the website.
But many older students coming to UBC don’t enter through the university having given them this designation. Twenty-six year-old sociology major David Tolentino doesn’t technically qualify because of time he spent at Langara. But he still experiences some of the surety that comes with taking more time to consider what one might want out of a university degree.
“When you jump into studies a little bit later, you get better at continuous learning — not just academically, but also as a person,” said Tolentino. “As an older student, I get to learn from professors who are obviously older than me, but I also get to learn from students who are younger, and that’s it. I’m subjected to a wide variety of people and ages.”
The many that do enter UBC as designated mature students, however, seem to have had similarly positive experiences. Robert Eaton, a creative writing enthusiast who is taking classes as a mature student, has been out of school for decades. “I was out of school a long, long time,” he said. Having never pursued a degree before, Eaton worked several jobs, from contracting to landscaping.
“It was curiosity for me personally,” said Eaton. “It’s been okay. I haven’t had any problems or complaints or anything like that. Using better resources such as the library and computers has helped me [personally].”
For mature students who want to attend UBC and are over the age of 65, the government has added an extra incentive — free education. BC residents who are Canadian citizens or permanent residents over the age of 65 do not pay application, tuition or student fees.
This mechanism has acted not only as an important pathway — making affordable what otherwise might not be — but also a prominent source of motivation. “One of the reasons I came to UBC is because when you’re above 65, you don’t pay anything,” said Brown.
Brown graduated from high school in the 1960s, and was then unable to attend university due to financial restrictions. He subsequently drove taxis in order to earn a regular income.
However, this fee exemption doesn’t apply to a great number of mature students. According to the Planning and Institutional Research Office of UBC (PAIR), the average age out of a total of 225 registered mature students at the university is currently 32.
Studying “nothing,” learning everything
Interestingly, the most popular faculty choice for mature students at UBC is “nothing.” According to PAIR, 78 of the 225 registered mature students belong to no true faculty, electing instead to direct their studies as they wish. This is a distinctive feature of being a mature student because it is impossible for regular, full time-undergraduates to direct their studies outside of a faculty. In terms of the faculties into which mature students are registered, arts came out on top with a total of 44 registered students as of November 2016, followed by forestry with four, the faculty of education and the faculty of land and food systems with three each, and business with one.
Brown, who is currently registered in arts, is pursuing a major in film production and hopes to later enter the film industry. “It’s good because you have access to specific resources,” he said. “Professors, who are leaders in their fields, and the books ... I get to learn from the very best … you know, I took directing classes, writing classes, cinematography classes. It’s great.”
Despite it's supposed divergence from the typical university experience, Brown, Eaton and Tolentino are happy with their undergraduate degree.
University has been a life-changing experience for Brown.
“Communication with people, professors, and experts in their fields … it keeps you going down the path of knowledge. I mean, whenever I talk to people my age, they’re always talking about the past. But I want to know about the future,” said Brown.
But when he came to discussing how he felt about being a mature student, Brown found it amusing.
“The semantics of this thing get real complicated here,” he said. “I initially thought ‘mature’ meant being above the age of 65. But then that’s a senior student, in my view. But then again, a fourth year is also a senior student. When I think of mature, I think about the level of maturity [of a person]. None of those definitions match the UBC definition.
“I have to say that when I came here, everyone treated me like just another student. There was no difference [in experience],” said Brown.
Brown has certainly embraced campus life. Last year, he ran for AMS President (losing out to current president Ava Nasiri) and has since been seen in AMS Council campaigning for UBC TV.
Eaton too doesn’t have any major complaints about his experience being a university student. He is especially quick to speak in support of UBC’s provision of resources as a means to quench curiosity and spread knowledge in the future. “Having resources like the library, books and computers available to people … it should be made more accessible for everyone,” he said. “But it does not behoove UBC to do that now because the number of mature students is still small. But in the future, it could do that if there was a growth in the aging population, and that would be great.”
All in all, Tolentino called being an “older” student at UBC an “eye-opening” experience. “It’s very easy to register and just become another statistic, pay your fees, go to classes and go home, right? But are you benefiting from that whole experience later on [in life]? I would wish for all people to learn as much as I have at UBC as an older student.”