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‘I’d like to return to university, but worry about fitting in’

Third-level institutions welcome people at all stages of life; they add to the richness and diversity of the college experience

I left school about 30 years ago without completing the Leaving Cert. I live in Dublin and have been successful in my career to date but always felt I had more in me academically. I’m thinking of going to university, but worry that my lack of qualifications are a problem and if I can do the work. Also, would I really fit in surrounded by people half my age?

I was privileged to co-ordinate and lecture on a postgraduate education programme in UCD over many years. Most of our students were young teachers in their mid to late 20s. Occasionally, we got an application from someone with your profile. Not only did such applicants survive in university, many thrived and became the centre of gravity of an entire year group, offering wisdom and insight to the younger students.

Thankfully, there is an awareness right throughout third-level institutions that people in all stages of life, with excellent Leaving Certs and none, only add to the richness and diversity of the life of the university.

There are now many ways to go to university, some of which are aimed at adults who have not been in the education system for some time and who may not meet the formal entry requirements for their desired degree programme.


Such routes include access programmes designed to equip students with the skills and confidence required for an undergraduate degree. These courses are run in a very supportive way, realising that some students may not feel fully confident about returning to their studies.

Not only do the courses help you with the academic skills, they also help equip you with computer expertise and you will also be with other students in a similar situation who will undoubtedly be feeling the same fears you are experiencing.

The courses are designed to help you progress to your degree and some faculties even guarantee places in certain degree programmes if you get a minimum grade in the exams.

UCD’s access programme, for example, offers these guarantees. One is access to arts, humanities, social sciences and law; the second is to science, engineering, computer science, agricultural science, medicine and veterinary medicine, depending on the degree programme you are interested in pursuing. These are year-long part-time programmes. Check out other mature student entry routes at other universities.

UCD also has an interesting option called open learning: you can choose one of hundreds of available modules. You can decide to take the exams or just take the module for the pleasure of studying it. If you do decide to take the assessments, this can lead to undergraduate degree entry in UCD.

The beauty of this option is there are no formal entry criteria; all you need to do is bring your curiosity to class.