For Eithne Kavanagh, winning the USI Mature Student of the Year award came as a welcome surprise during a less than usual March (pronounced: “lockdown”).

“It’s a strange one, as I really didn’t expect to win. So when they said my name I was completely shocked,” she confesses. “Due to the COVID 19 pandemic, a virtual ceremony took place, so my husband was literally jumping up and down in the kitchen. It was nice to have everything I’ve done recognised.”

More than just recognizing academic achievement, the award takes into consideration the whole spectrum of student life, so it’s clear to see why Eithne came out on top at this year’s ceremony. 

“I’m always very hard on myself, I think a lot of mature students are, and it’s hard to not compare yourself to other students who are excelling academically. For the last two years especially, I’ve made a particular effort to do non-academic activities to attempt to integrate better, but also I’m very aware as a mature student I may not get the opportunity again.”

Returning to college was a team effort for Eithne, who says she was lucky to have the necessary support to balance the workload of academic pursuits and family pursuits.

“I was lucky to have help from my parents and my in-laws who would come down to help with babysitting. It wasn’t easy trying to explain to my four-year-old why I wasn’t around as much anymore. He has an autism diagnosis and was starting in Sonas Special School, and he was not happy with me leaving. I have a ten-year-old who is very understanding and tells me she wants to go to UCC now.”

When asked what advice she’d give to future mature students, Eithne has no shortage of tips.

“I’ve a few pieces of general advice for mature students: if you have a question, ask it. Do not worry about other people. Be honest. If you’re struggling, tell someone. Start the work as soon as you can. Be kind, to yourself and others. Put yourself out there, but know your limits. Remember why you chose to be here.”The Mature Student Office offers a wide range of supports for mature students. If you have any questions, or need any advice, they’re there year round to help. Email for more info.