Returning to Education – Mary Larkin on life as a mature student

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Returning to education as a mature student may seem daunting at first. Here Mary Larkin tells us about her experiences and offers advice to anyone considering going back to study.

My initial career choice was to become a music teacher. I found practising my music enjoyable and easy and I didn’t even consider going to university.

I undertook many short courses over the years but avoided any that had an end of year exam! That’s including interior design by distance learning; a 6 month course in Fine Art, an upholstery course and a series of lectures in child psychology.

From the Foundation Certificate to a BA (Hons)

In 2000, both of my parents passed away and my children were either in college or were working. In 2002 I opted for the Foundation Certificate for those returning to education at Tipperary Institute. This ran from 9am  until 2pm each day. Therefore, I could continue teaching music in the afternoons.

The course modules included computer applications, learning and study skills. I received a class prize for outstanding academic achievement. After that I was offered a place in the BA (Hons) Degree in Rural Development at Tipperary Institute through the CAO.

At first my only aspiration was to get to the end of that year. When I was awarded a first I thought I’d be happy forever. Now, as I approach the last quarter of my graduate placement, I find myself with loads of questions about development in general and my aspirations continue to evolve!

Marie’s advice for mature students

My return to education has reignited my curiosity and inquisitiveness. This was something I had in abundance as a child but ignored as a busy adult, sometimes even feeling embarrassed about it. I would advise anyone returning to education to contact student access officers in third-level institutions. I didn’t for years. This was a waste of time as they are such an important source of information.

Financing myself was tough. I also dreaded the thought of being in a class of students the same age as my children, but after the first week this was less threatening. Technology was a big obstacle at the start, I was a technophobe, and made many frantic phone calls to my offspring begging for help with PowerPoint! On my graduation day I was lucky enough to receive two awards. Seeing two of my daughters beaming at me as I walked out of the hall has to be the highlight of my career to date as it certainly was not in my life plan when they were young. The reversal of roles at that point still continues to resonate emotionally with me. I would like to continue my studies with a view to working with rural communities in terms of sustainable development; there’s no turning back now!

Since this article was published Mary completed an M. Soc Sc in UCC and started a PhD. We wish her the best of luck with her studies. is a national database of universities, colleges, institutes and providers of third level and PLC courses in Ireland. We operate a national search database of courses at certificate, diploma and degree level as well as providing information about career paths and directions.
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