Each year, more and more people decide to return to education as a mature student (someone over 23 years of age). Last year, 13,020, or about one in six of the 76,121 CAO applicants, were mature.
Mature students bring with them many different 'life experience' qualities gained that help them adapt readily to the demands of study at degree level.
However, going to college as a mature student can be a daunting prospect and many people worry about the challenges they will face.
From finding your way around campus and learning to use an academic library to attending lectures and tutorials, submitting assignments and essays, doing research and meeting deadlines -- life as a student can seem overwhelming.
On top of this, for many mature students all of this must be balanced with the demands of family life.
Most higher education institutions have a wide variety of supports in place to help mature students, including a dedicated mature student officer who can advise on what services and supports are available specifically for mature students.
These can include academic supports (study skills seminars or academic writing and mathematics support), counselling, careers advice, health services, accommodation, creche facilities and disability services.
Many colleges also run dedicated orientation programmes for mature students, which take place before the first term begins and which are designed to help students make the transition to third-level study.
A number of colleges also have a mature student society, run by the students themselves, which provides more informal supports to help new students settle in.
Support is also provided for people with disabilities and typically includes learning support, access to specialised software and specific individual student support where necessary.
Some financial support is available in many colleges under student assistance funds and childcare funds.
Most colleges would strongly encourage students to take some kind of preparatory course before embarking on a degree course. Many universities offer foundation or access courses for students who have been out of education for a while as a means of smoothing the transition back into study.
These generally run for the academic year and are designed to provide students with the tools they need to engage in third-level study. Alternatively many people opt to take a FETAC or Leaving Certificate course before going to college.
For people who are planning to enrol as a mature student in 2014, it is extremely important that they make contact with the mature student officer or admissions office in their chosen college to ensure that they are aware of all application procedures prior to February 1.
EMER SHEERIN IS THE MATURE STUDENT OFFICER AT NUI MAYNOOTH