The traditional picture of a university student has changed in recent years as more people over the age of 25 make the decision to get back to the books. Gone are the days when being a mature student meant studying part time at night.
In fact, today one in five undergraduates at York is considered a mature student and a majority of them – about 60 per cent – are studying full time. Many of them are also parents who work or care for their family full time and have specific challenges that younger undergrads don’t.
Staff at York’s Atkinson Centre for Mature & Part-time Students (ACMAPS) have watched this changing dynamic and have made changes to the way they try to help mature students succeed. An important step in that process is the Mature Student Academic Orientation, which starts this Saturday.
“It’s a very challenging period in their lives and we want them to know that we can do things for them to provide assistance and support,” says Norma Sue Fisher-Stitt, York’s associate vice-president academic learning initiatives and ACMAPS director.
“We’re shifting gears,” says Brian Poser, associate director at ACMAPS. In the past, where orientation would focus on academic skills such as note-taking, study habits and research techniques, this year’s talks will focus on helping them find “the balance” between work, family and study through time management.
Both Fisher-Stitt and Poser were part of a panel discussion last winter on time management for mature students and it’s a question, they say, that comes up more often these days. One of the things this year’s ACMAPS orientation will stress is the importance of involving spouses, family members and employers in a time-management plan.
Another key message that mature students need to hear is this: “You are not alone.” The orientation program deliberately brings everyone together in Vari Hall A so they can see and meet their fellow mature students. The sessions later break out into groups led by mentors, second- and third-year mature students who can offer advice based on their own experiences. The group sessions also help encourage students to begin developing networks and support systems with their fellow students, another important theme in the ACMAPS plan for success.
One of the key fear factors seen in new students is doubt about their abilities and a feeling that they are somehow “behind” other, younger students. “We want to bolster their confidence,” says Fisher-Stitt. “We encourage them not to underestimate the value of their life experience, job skills and knowledge; that they are not necessarily behind and that they can do it.”
When students do need help in brushing up on study habits or developing new skills, ACMAPS advisers can point to a range of resources offered by York’s Faculties and support services to get them up to speed quickly.
The orientation schedule includes a panel discussion by former students who have had success in their studies and careers. “We’ve received nice feedback on that,” says Poser. Also included are essential items such as campus tours, a mini-lecture on time-management skills, and coffee-networking sessions where students can meet and begin sharing experiences and ideas.
The first orientation event takes place this Saturday, starting with registration at 9am, and continues until 1:30pm. An alternate session is held in the evening on Sept. 1 with registration starting at 4:30pm. The program runs until 8:15pm and is followed again by coffee and networking.