I'm doing a BSc at the moment - part-time, and I guess therefore my experiences are most closely mirrored in what skream talks about - the issues of time constraints and competing demands.
For me, I've not found the experience isolating in the least - I guess this is probably down to the differences between an undergrad programme and a Masters, and also perhaps the nature of part-time study - virtually everyone on my course is a 'worker' in the first instance, rather than a student, so for example there isn't the situation of student flight in the summer months. There is - or at least feels to me - a big shared understanding, a kind of camaraderie - because it's fvck-off hard to work fulltime and commit to studying on top of that ; and it's fvck-off hard to come back to studying after years and years and years out. I almost feel a bit fraudulent describing myself as a mature student, I'm 22 - but I'm far and away the youngest in my class probably, and certainly within my immediate group of friends.
All of that said, though, about perhaps it being the undergrad / postgrad difference that affects the feeling of a student community, whenever I'm in the SU it seems to be overwhelmingly dominated by postgrad students. So maybe it really is just different attitudes at different unis, or something.
I do sometimes wonder about student support infrastructure within universities, and how they differ for mature / 'normal' students. I don't really have any pastoral stuff going on - I mean I technically have a tutor who I could go if I wanted, but I've not had any cause to and not felt particularly encouraged to do so. They're very upfront on this, saying that the feedback they've had is that grown-up people prefer to know it's there and access as they wish, rather than be booked in for however-frequently catch-up style meetings. And on the whole I'm cool with this, but once in a while I wonder if it's a bit too sink-or-swim. That said, the inclusion / financial support people / disability support people are absolutely first-rate and bl00dy inescapable.
I think there's a very vocal challenging of standards from students on my course - in terms of what they expect from lecturers, from the course structure, that sort of thing, which I think is perhaps quite particular to the mature student experience, and which is certainly beneficial. I absolutely love the environment it creates, too - some of the people in my seminars etc bring such a wealth to the debate, it sounds so naff to say it, but experience is just priceless, you know ? I've got guys who work at the Treasury, people who already have another different degree / university experience, the total amassed reading these people have done couldn't possibly be matched by a class of 18-year-olds. I love that. Monkey, I would be incredibly surprised if you're anywhere near the oldest or only mature student in your class, but in any event you'll probably end up being one of the most interesting students as a result.
I've written far too much.