Student Tips

Starting University Later Than Others

6th May 2021

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Or, My Classmates Are Literal Babies and I Have No One To Talk To

One way we’re here for you during your time with us is by providing supportive Mentors who know what it’s like to be at BIMM. Like all our Mentors, Abigail Scaife is here to offer a friendly face and help you as you transition into BIMM life. Here, she tells us what she’s learnt by starting university as a mature student – and her tips for befriending others on your course. 

Today, university is treated as necessary – as a staple of life. As children, we get funnelled through primary education into secondary education and then university without as much as a breath in between. But sometimes that breath is necessary.

There are a million reasons why you might have waited to start university. Maybe higher education wasn’t part of your life plan until now, or you couldn’t afford to go, or your health meant you had to put it off. Maybe the course you’re studying didn’t even exist until recently.

Being over eighteen when starting university can leave you feeling very much like a fish out of water. Instead of everyone being in the same boat – as you were always promised – all the people around you have very different life experiences and priorities. Whether you travelled for a year, had to jump straight into the workforce, or, like me, you had to take a couple of years out of education to work on your mental health – you suddenly have a very different way of looking at life than others that are starting university.

“It can feel like you are so different from everyone on your course.”

Making friends is hard enough when you’re the same age. When you’re eighteen, everyone has something to prove; you’re all desperate to get away from whatever personality you had in secondary school, and there’s enough alcohol available to make it happen. But, one way or another, you’ve probably already had that experience. Sometimes, it can feel like you are so different from everyone on your course that there is no possible way you can befriend them, because what the hell would you even have to talk about?

It can be daunting, and confusing, and downright alienating. It feels like all the others, who are young, excited and have things in common have made friends and connections. And where do you fit in?

“Sometimes, you just have to nod and pretend you know what pop-culture reference is being made.”

You simply may not fit into that narrative right away – and that’s okay. Not everyone clicks with the people on their course right at the start. Sometimes, it takes a little while of awkward conversations and cringey icebreaker exercises suggested by a well-meaning but horribly misguided tutor. Sometimes, you just have to nod and pretend you know what pop-culture reference is being made – you know, the one that happened while you were off buying lunch from the short-dated food shelf in Iceland, or worrying about rent, or backpacking across Europe.

The good news is that the fact that you have completely different life experiences doesn’t have to get in the way of you befriending the youngsters on your course. Here are a few things that helped me to get closer with my coursemates who were younger than me – and even those who just had different experiences.

How to Get Closer to Your University Coursemates

1) Everybody likes to talk about themselves

Take it from the girl with social anxiety: this is the absolute best way to start a productive conversation when you feel you have nothing to contribute. And once you get them talking, you will find that you have way more in common than you first realised.

Maybe you were at the same concert back in 2012, or you both spent summer holidays in Cornwall, or you both really hate the word ‘moist’ (I know I do). At that point, it doesn’t really matter how old you are, or were when these things happened – there is something to bond over and that’s all you need.

2) Never underestimate the value of a cup of sugar

What do you have that other people need? If you’re starting university later than other people, what did you do before that? Did you spend three years working in customer service and now you’re great at telling people to ‘fuck off’ without actually saying it? Did you use to gig at that one venue in London and now you have connections there? Did you spend a month as a Christmas temp at Victoria’s Secrets and know where the staff hide the extra stock?

“Helping someone out is one sure-fire way to build a relationship.”

Even if you spent two years writing fanfiction and absolutely nothing else, there are life experiences you have, things you have learned that the eighteen-year-olds on your course haven’t had the chance to yet. I’m not suggesting you take on the role of older sibling or parent, but helping someone out is one sure-fire way to build a relationship; they’ll probably have something that can help you too.

3) Remember that there are just some experiences where you can’t get through them without bonding

And panic writing an assignment on a litre of Monster is one of them. Being an adult doesn’t make you exempt from making the usual dumb university mistakes, like not writing down deadlines and waiting to start your three thousand word essay until three days before it’s due because ‘I’ve got time’.

You’re all going to make those mistakes, no matter how mature you are – and as it turns out, stress is a great bonding activity! Share your failures and freak-outs with your course mates, and you’ll soon find you’re not that different after all.

” The one thing you really have in common is your university.”

If after that you’re still feeling at a loss, don’t forget that the one thing you really have in common is your university. You’re on the same course, studying the same things, living in the same city – all of this is completely valid common ground that you can work on.

Don’t panic – despite your different life experiences, it was those experiences that lead you here and brought you to the same course. So really, how different can you be?

BIMM Mentors are just one of our many support systems in place to help you get the most out of your time at BIMM, no matter who you are. Find out more about Student Support or our new Access and Participation initiatives


BIMM University

BIMM University provides an extensive range of courses in modern music, performing arts, filmmaking, and creative technology to over 8,000 students across 14 schools in the UK, Ireland, and Germany. We have a long-standing commitment to providing the highest quality in creative industries education, allowing students to maximise their career potential in an inclusive community built on a culture of shared passion, creativity, and collaboration. Berlin | Birmingham | Brighton | Bristol | Dublin | Essex | London | Manchester