The Ups and Downs of studying as an adult

Studying is really hard. I think it is even harder as an adult and speaking as someone who originally went to university at 18 but is now studying for a degree in my 20s, there are definitely some key differences that I want to discuss. There are some amazing positives but some really tough negatives that I often find myself pondering. Let me tell you what those are!

Let’s start with the good bits

Motivation and Ambition

I am significantly more motivated and ambitious compared to my 18 year old self. It is not that I didn’t value education, but I definitely see the value of it more as an 24 year old, now that all kinds of careers I would love require it and because of how much free time I have to sacrifice in order to make it happen.

At 18, I was more concerned with my social life than my studies. I wasn’t even studying something I particularly liked that much; I chose something to study that was influenced other people and I didn’t even know what my real interests were. It is hard to know what you want at 18, but now that I know I want to work in Science, I have a clearer picture of why education will help me and something to aim for. I chose my A-levels at 16 and my degree at 18, dropping out at 20. Now, at 24 years old, I am doing something that 16 year old me never dreamed I would be capable of. I am proud of how far I have come and I am very driven to continue. It is more work, but it is more work that I really want to do.

I am financially better off

I study part time via distance learning, which allows me to work full time, get money and also my degree. Financially, I am in a much better situation than I was as an 18 year old. I had very little money and a big student overdraft when I originally went to university. A big part of this was a lack of understanding on how to sensibility manage finances and a total lack of education on how to live within a budget.

Debt and living paycheck to paycheck was something that I expected was a part of life as that is what I grew up with, but until I moved out of home, I didn’t realise that a huge part of it was just bad, irresponsible choices and lack of education. People do what they have to do to survive, but living with very little taught me to be grateful for what I have and know what I need. It also taught me valuable life skills about responsibility.

I am now in a very good financial position and actually really enjoy learning about how to be financially literate. I rent a home with my boyfriend whilst we save for our own house to buy. Being able to save and rent is such a luxury that I just wouldn’t have if I had to study full time at a brick university. We are all in different circumstances but for me, distance learning gives me a lot of freedom to live a better quality life as a student.


Without a doubt, being a student as an adult whilst maintaining other commitments has made me more employable. Having a degree isn’t a very unique thing anymore and you will be fighting off jobs with other new graduates all the time. Unless you gained good work experience whilst at University, it can be really tough to compete with others for a job because your degree doesn’t do much to separate you from others with the same qualifications.

The things that will separate you from others are the skills you bring. Balancing a full time job with part time study is very hard and employers recognise the skills you gain from this, such as time management, dedication, managing multiple projects and deadlines. Also, it is a sacrifice to study whilst working which I will explain further, but employers recognise the lengths you are willing to go to learn and grow and it has definitely helped me get the jobs I have had since starting my degree with The Open University.

On to the negatives of studying as an adult…

Studying as an adult does require a lot of sacrifice

When you decide to study as an adult, you are going to give up a significant amount of your free time. This applies more to those of us who continue to work full time whilst studying or who have commitments such as children, caring responsibilities or any limiting disabilities.

If I have been working all week and it has been very stressful and tiring, I do not always have the luxury of relaxing at the weekend or evening, because I have to study. My time management skills are very good, but even the very best time management skills cannot compete with every day life.

The majority of my free time is spent studying. This is my choice, but that doesn’t mean it is always an easy one. I have had to turn down many outings in order to study and my social life has suffered. Luckily, my boyfriend also studies part time and I feel a lot of solidarity with him because we both have someone to talk to on the hard days, but for those who do not have the same commitments as us, it can be hard for them to understand why we do it or why we can’t just put studying off for a day. One day makes a big difference if your next day has to be spent at work.

It can be very isolating

Studying as an adult can be very isolating and lonely. When I went to a traditional university and was surrounded by and living with lots of students, I felt like I was able to share my experiences because we were all going through it at the same time, but as an adult it can feel like the opposite.

Of course I have my boyfriend, but we study entirely different subjects and if I am really struggling, I often have to struggle through it alone. On one hand, this has made me better at problem solving, but on the other hand, venting to someone studying the same thing as you is very therapeutic and makes you feel like you are not alone. It is why I created my Study Gene community, because I really missed the connection with other students. We are soon to hit 15,000 people and it has really changed my experience as studying as an adult!

It can sometimes feel like a battle between what is expected of you as an adult, compared to where you are actually at in life

At 24, many of my friends are settling down, getting engaged and married, making babies and living the stereotypical life that we are all expected to just hop on board with or are taught to want. I however, am still a student. I am renting and as much as I want to buy a house, I have to weigh up how that will restrict me financially in taking my studies further for my Masters and Medicine. It is either a house deposit or a med school deposit and it will be tough to do both. Not impossible, but very tough. I am very apprehensive to commit to anything, because when I finish my degree, I might want to move away to study.

Honestly? Having children is my worst nightmare. I don’t want them at all and I will never have a biological child. Sorry Mum, you will have to deal with some Grandcats instead of more grandchildren. I don’t really care about marriage because as a non-religious person, I don’t see the point and the idea of settling down in one job for the rest of my life actually depresses me a little bit. However, because of society, I still feel like I have fallen behind a bit because I haven’t done any of those things. Sometimes I even feel guilty because I don’t want those things?

I am getting better at understanding that our paths are allowed to look different, but that doesn’t stop people becoming judgmental when I decide that I don’t want to live in such a conventional way and it is tough to consistently have expectations shoved in my face from all angles about what I should and shouldn’t be doing.

Overall thoughts

Overall, I much prefer studying the way I do now compared to the traditional route I originally went down. For the most part, I do have a lot more freedom in the sense that I can gain work experience and earn more money and live more comfortably than I could have before. Whilst it does mean I am doing things later in life than average and this can sometimes feel frustrating, I remind myself that ultimately it is my life and my choice.

It is a very rigid way of thinking to think that we have to get things done by a certain age or that education even has age limits on it. It may require more sacrifice as an adult to study and delay other things like getting a mortgage or married, but it is a small sacrifice to pay for an overall better future.