Experiences of Mature Age Female Students studying Psychology: Implications for the University Learning Environment

Document Type

Conference Proceeding


Faculty of Computing, Health and Science


School of Psychology and Social Science




Ayres, R., & Guilfoyle, A. (2009). Experiences of mature age female students studying psychology: Implications for the university learning environment. In the proceedings of the teaching and learning forum: teaching and learning for global graduates. Curtin University of Technology: Perth, Western Australia.


Universities encourage diverse student populations, within this diversity high attrition rates, amongst mature age female students, have been noted. Previous research indicated that these students experienced a complex relationship around expectations driven by their motivations, their ability to cope with the academic work load and manage family roles (Scott, Burns & Cooney, 1998). This study used a phenomenological approach (Moustakas, 1994) to understand experiences of university for 10 women aged between 40-49 years studying Psychology. Participants took part in a semi-structured interview and discussed: reasons for commencing study, formation of expectations about university learning; and whether discrepancies between expectations and reality affected adjustment to university. Life-stage and identity underpinned motivation to return to study and influenced social and academic expectations, together with expectations of ability to cope with study and other roles. Discrepancies between expectations and lived experience caused some problems in adjustment, and the findings suggested that mature age women were anxious about their abilities compared with younger students but experienced deeper engagement with academic content. These differences had the potential to cause problems between the groups. Mature age women also reported a need to feel acknowledged by the university. Recommendations for design of learning environments and transitions programs were made to assist this cohort of students adjust to university and successfully complete their degree courses.