Studying in Your Late-20s: Five Women Share Their Experience


When I was in my last year of high school I remember feeling so excited about going to university. The idea of leaving Auckland behind, along with my parents and the infamous bubble I lived in, eating two minute noodles for lunch and dinner and gaining some independence was all thrilling (the weight gain was arguably less thrilling).

But I also remember how narrow that conversation was.

I remember my girlfriends and I not feeling entirely supported in a plan that didn’t involve going to tertiary studies straight away. There really wasn’t a huge emphasis on “alternative options”. Whether that meant travelling first, working for a few years, or simply the space and time to tinker with sh*t. It was also pretty comical that I was expected to make a decision at 17 years old about what the next few years of my life were going to look like.

Hence why I thought it would be beneficial for some of my younger readers to hear from five successful young women who chose to study later in their twenties, and how that experience shaped their personal story.

Gabby Cashmore is 27 years old. She is in her first year of a Bachelor of Occupational Therapy. Outside of university she is also involved in running a family farm and working in the emergency department at Waikato Hospital.


“I tried studying when I was younger but I was never passionate about what I was learning and one day decided that I could either be qualified for something I didn’t enjoy and feel miserable or find the thing that filled me with joy and build a career around that.

I discovered occupational therapy when I was volunteering for Riding For The Disabled and found it to be hugely interesting and really rewarding, so I spent some time with a practicing occupational therapist and enrolled to study a few months later. There are quite a few mature students at my campus so there are networks in place for support and I have found the staff to be really compassionate towards family, for example accomodating mothers who are studying.

There was a lot of pressure from school to go straight into a tertiary education but there weren’t many options presented to my peers outside of the standard law, commerce or medical degrees. It took me a long time to realise how many amazing career paths are actually out there! Since I went back to study a lot of my girlfriends are now looking to further enhance their careers also, either through additional studies or volunteering for roles within their community.”

Shelley Graham is 25 years old and waited until she was 22 before attending university. She did a Bachelor of Biological Science majoring in Physiology and Pharmacology. She is currently the Retail Manager at Sass & Bide. 


“My family were incredibly supportive of my decision to not go straight into a tertiary education after high school, they’ve always told me to be sure of what I wanted before committing to something. By contrast, my school advised against taking a few years off because they saw university or going into the trades as my only viable options.

Delaying university by four years allowed me to work, travel, save money and get some life experience before settling down to study in a field that I was really passionate about but knew would be different to anything I had ever done. It also gave me a greater understanding of the responsibility I had in terms of my student loan and the discipline that was required to complete my tertiary studies. Had I been an 18-year-old fresh out of high school I would have been tempted to take advantage of having no one to hold me accountable and would have missed class, skipped a hand-in or dropped out altogether.

I definitely found it hard when my girlfriends were getting excited about the papers they were taking, attending classes together, flatting and forming study groups, but I reminded myself that it was more important to do what felt right for me.”

Abbey Hale is 22 year’s old and will be 23 when she graduates with her Bachelor of Design. She currently works as a “student architect” at Context Architects. 


At the end of high school, I yearned to find my place in the world. I was strongly against going to university until I knew exactly what I wanted to achieve and get out of it. I also had a huge sense of wanderlust that needed fulfilling so I set out on an “Eat, Pray, Love” journey for the next three years.

My parents were so supportive; I can’t remember a moment where they doubted my decision to travel first. I had chosen design subjects for my final three years of high school which, some would say, is a death sentence in terms of work load and both my teachers and family could see I was at breaking point.

Taking that time out from studying, gaining some life experience and learning how to be independent played a huge role in ultimately becoming a more mature version of myself. I realised where my passions were in terms of career choices and could make an informed decision to study something that would get me a job that aligned with those passions. The downside was the impact this had on my friendships from high school. I chose a different path to them and it soon became clear that we were in different places in life. This mean that we drifted apart and are no longer in touch.

Elle Chrisp is 29 year’s old and has attended university twice: once immediately after graduating high school to complete a Bachelor of Arts, and again at 25 to complete her Law Degree. She was admitted to the bar in June of this year.


Straight after high school I enrolled in a double law and arts degree. Looking back it was a massive stab in the dark – I knew I liked TV shows about lawyers and I knew I liked reading magazines so that was how I chose my majors! I ditched the law degree but completed a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Mass Communications in 2013.

After graduation I moved to New York for an internship at Harper’s BAZAAR, then worked at Calvin Klein before ultimately finding a passion for financial services while working at a financial institution in a communications role. New York exposed me to so many jobs I had never heard of before. When my work visa was coming to an end and I was planning to move back to New Zealand, one of the directors at my job in New York encouraged me to finish my law degree, so I enrolled in university again, this time at 25 years’ old, and will soon start my new career as a litigation solicitor. It’s my dream job and I’m so excited to get stuck in.

If you take anything from this story let it be this: Deciding what to study is a really expensive decision that you will be paying off for years to come. Student loans are not free. So choose carefully before rushing into any form of tertiary education.

Isabeau Brimeau is 26 year’s old and lives in London where she has her dream job as the Digital Producer for Delicious Magazine UK and Health Food Guide Magazine UK. 


Unfortunately – or fortunately – I didn’t pass my last year of high school. The most frustrating part was that I failed by only 12 credits. So it was unfortunate in the fact that it wasn’t my choice to not go straight into tertiary education. I spent the next two years thinking about what I wanted to do, what I was good at and what I was passionate about. Had I passed my final year of high school I think I would have studied something completely different and ended up in a job I didn’t love.

The silver lining was that in 2012, New Zealand students could apply for special admission to university without qualifications if they were 20 years old on or before the first day of semester, and that was the year I happened to turn 20! I enrolled at Massey University and completed a Bachelor of Communications.

To tell you the truth, if I could go back and do it all over again I wouldn’t change a thing.

Header image by Holly Burgess for The Twenties Club