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March 7, 2005 | by  | in Features |
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Silly Questions

How would you describe a typical student?

A standard line to reassure those too shy to speak up in lectures is “there’s no such thing as a silly question”; however, the one I asked you just might qualify. Your first reaction might have been to describe features tending to be indicative of your own social group at uni, but a glance around the Quad is enough to remind us that our universities are becoming diverse places – where once the image of a parka-wearing, beer drinking, slightly malnourished socialist liberal might have captured a significant proportion of student population, there is no longer (if ever there was) a way to describe a “typical” student. Today a student is as likely to come from Taipei as Taihape, to drink lattes as frequently as Lion Red, and to be as right wing as any suit on the business roundtable.

I know this guy who in some ways could once have been described as a “typical” student. He’s from a white middle class family, and is a liberal, his politics leaning from the centre to the left. He has a part-time job in a call centre. He listens to a range of popular and alternative music, examples ranging from Eminem to Darude, Basement Jaxx to Delerium. He procrastinates with essays, even taking a perverse pleasure in getting work done with only minutes to spare. He thinks The Simpsons and South Park are comic genius, but that Reality TV is crap. He thinks marijuana should be legalised. He occasionally spends too much on alcohol on a night out, resulting in a diet of macaroni cheese or baked beans until his next payday. He worries about the environment and thinks Roger Kerr from the business roundtable is a bastard. He also happens to be 35, and a mature student.

It would be trite at this point to say that the mature student population is just another aspect of the rapidly diversifying student population, yadda yadda yadda. But if you are a mature student reading this, you’ll know that you’re part of a demographic that is itself so diverse, so broad, that it is difficult to try to define in useful terms (the most common working definition is the unhelpfully general “a student who is over 25”). The mature student population encompasses membership in just about all other groups, crossing lines of gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and politics.

If you are a mature student just starting out this year, the issues you’ll face will differ only slightly from those of most other students. If you’re studying full-time, you’ll probably have money hassles (even with the student allowance), you’ll still have to juggle assignment deadlines, and you’ll need to balance your university commitments with the rest of your life, especially if you have a family. Particularly for those of you from out of town, you will probably want to build a social network. University life can be an isolating experience, and though this is potentially an issue for everyone, it tends to be more so for “minority” groups – even where the sole differentiator is something as trivial as age. Fortunately there are groups that provide representation and networking opportunities for mature students (see the VUWSA handbook for a list of all representative groups on campus).

Uni life is an exciting and rewarding time in most students’ lives, but it is the interaction with other people sharing the experience that really provides the highlight. And as a mature student, chances are you’ll be able to participate in academia with some advantages. You’ll probably have full-time experience in the workforce or even prior experience at uni, and this should prepare you well in terms of time management and work planning (this is according to folk wisdom about mature students at least, an obvious exception being the guy I mentioned before). Some of you will also be lucky enough to own your own home, saving a bundle on accommodation costs, particularly if you are able to get flatmates in to share them.

As a student (mature or otherwise), you’ll discover that your time at university will be one in which you are more or less free to express yourself in ways not possible in any other environment. And that is quite possibly one of the reasons motivating your decision to go back to school. If you’re anything like the guy I know however, before heading out to indulge in some student night-life, just remember to stock up on the macaroni and baked beans.

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About the Author ()

Salient is a magazine. Salient is a website. Salient is an institution founded in 1938 to cater to the whim and fancy of students of Victoria University. We are partly funded by VUWSA and partly by gold bullion that was discovered under a pile of old Salients from the 40's. Salient welcomes your participation in debate on all the issues that we present to you, and if you're a student of Victoria University then you're more than welcome to drop in and have tea and scones with the contributors of this little rag in our little hideaway that overlooks Wellington.

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