Never too late to learn - The University of Sheffield

Date: Tuesday April 16, 2019 at 11:06am

The decision to take on the challenge of returning to education following years spent working, travelling or bringing up a family can be a difficult one. Anxieties about academic ability, how studying can fit with other commitments, and financial concerns are all very real for adults considering embarking on academic study.

For many years, the University of Sheffield’s Department for Lifelong Learning has been helping mature students from all backgrounds to make the transition back into education by offering degrees with a foundation year aimed at adults coming to University later in life. The foundation year is aimed at those whose earlier life has taken a different path to that of a ‘typical undergraduate’, and the foundation year is spent developing academic skills and extending subject knowledge, as well as building confidence and strategies for succeeding at degree level study.  Following the foundation year, students go on to study for a wide range of degrees in subjects across the Natural Science, Health Sciences, Arts and Humanities or Social Sciences.


The University welcomes mature students onto the foundation year on the basis of their work and life experience, and their passion and commitment to succeed on their chosen course. There is no one single path that bring students to the foundation year; they have been working, travelling, caring for children or other family members, and building valuable life experience.

Many mature students have working, caring and family commitments which all need to be managed alongside their studies. The University of Sheffield’s Department for Lifelong Learning has many years of working with such adult learners and offers comprehensive support for students coming back to education. Staff are also expert in helping mature students to overcome some of the issues that may have held them back during their earlier life. One such student is Emma, a BA History with Foundation Year student, whose earlier school life was made difficult as a result of undiagnosed dyslexia.  Emma says “The University supported me to get my dyslexia diagnosis and this has made things so much easier. I have been amazed about how much help and support there is for students”. Students find this support network of staff and fellow students an invaluable support as they integrate into university life.  

Adults return to education for a wide range of reasons, all of which are personal to their own circumstances. Many students are studying a subject they have held a lifelong passion for, many are studying for a degree to allow them to embark on new careers, and some simply wish to do something for themselves after supporting and caring for others for many years. The University’s aim is to support every student to achieve their best on their chosen path.


One such student is Gary who worked for many years in retail before making the decision to study for a degree in Archaeology with a Foundation Year. Gary says “When I left school I didn’t achieve what was expected of me, and I feel now that I’m finally reaching my potential. The achievements I’ve made and the interest that it’s created in me as a person has been fantastic”. Having completed his degree with foundation year Gary is now studying for a postgraduate Masters qualification and looking forward to what the future holds.

And being at University can be about so much more than academic study. Mature students can take advantage of all the other opportunities that being a student presents, whether that is joining a Students’ Union society or committee, taking advantage of work or study abroad placements, or simply meeting students of all ages and from all backgrounds.

What is common amongst all mature students is the realisation that their age is irrelevant as they integrate with others at the University, as every student brings their own unique experiences to share with fellow students.

As Sarah, a BMedSci Health and Human Sciences with Foundation Year student says: “My children have all grown up so I felt that now is the right time. I have loved meeting people from all walks of life. We all support each other. You won’t feel at all out of place”.

If you want to find out more about returning to education at the University of Sheffield please visit

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