Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts Honours


School of Psychology and Social Sciences


Faculty of Computing, Health and Science

First Advisor

Dr Andrew Guilfoyle


The trend towards increasing diversity in university student populations has not come without its problems and one area of concern has been the high attrition rate amongst mature age female students aged between 40 and 49 years. This literature review seeks to summarise and integrate findings on the adjustment of mature age female students into university; on the relationship between expectations and experience of university and how these might impact on attrition for this group. The review indicates a complex relationship around expectations driven by motivations and perceived benefits from return to study, expectations of academic support, ability to cope with the academic work load and to manage other significant roles such as spousal relationships, work and childcare (Scott, Burns, & Cooney, 1998). These complexities between factors are highlighted particularly in literature based on research methodologies describing the lived experiences of mature age women students. A conclusion of this review is that a phenomenological research methodology would allow women to tell their own stories and enable researchers to investigate the complexities of the interrelationship between expectations of university study and actual experiences. Universities encourage diverse student populations, within this diversity high attrition rates amongst mature age female students has been noted. Research indicated that these students experienced a complex relationship around expectations driven by motivations, ability to cope with the academic work load and to manage family roles (Scott, Burns, & Cooney, 1998). This study used a phenomenological approach (Moustakas, 1994) to seek to understand experiences of university for 10 women aged between 40-49 years studying Psychology. Participants took part in a semi-structured interview and topics included: reasons for commencing study, formation of expectations about support, if lived experiences differed from expectations; and did any discrepancy between expectations and reality affect adjustment to university. Life-stage, life-story and identity underpinned motivation to return to study and influenced social and academic expectations, together with expectations of their ability to cope with study and their other roles. Discrepancies between expectations and lived experience caused some problems in adjustment. Recommendations for design of student services and transitions programmes were made to assist this cohort of students adjust to university.