I'm now 7 months into my BA (Hons) History degree, with the Open University.
For those of you who don't know, the Open University offer distance-learning degrees to anybody. And when I say anybody ~ I mean, anybody. You don't need to have achieved your A-levels to get in, you could be 16 or 65 to qualify, and you can study just about anything.
I chose the OU as I didn't want to go away from home. I know that to some people, going away to university and being "independent" is part of growing up, but do you know what? I'm independent as I am. I work full-time, I pay all my rent and bills myself, and I look after myself.
Independence wasn't something that I wanted to gain through university. Neither was friends - as horrible as that sounds! - but I was happy with the life I had already; I have some amazing friends, I'm in a long-term relationship which I didn't want to turn into a long-distance relationship, I wanted to be around my family to support them as they're going through a tough time, and I already had a job.
So if I didn't join the OU for the independence or for the social aspect of it, then why did I do it?! Oh yeah, for a degree. I'm from a family that very strongly supports and encourages academia. I always did well at school and knew that I wanted to achieve something higher than my AS-levels. So, in October of last year, I took the plunge and signed up to study English Literature and Language and in February 2013, I got started.
I've found myself to have a bit of a love/hate relationship the Open University. On the one hand, the flexibility is brilliant - you decide when you want to start, how often you want to study, what you write your assignments about, etc. But, at the same time, I don't feel that the support network that you'd have with 'proper uni' is there; I barely speak to my tutor and, as I've been unable to attend tutorials due to work and other commitments, I sometimes feel that I'm missing out on hearing other peoples ideas, thoughts and opinions on the course and the topics we cover.
Having said that, Twitter has been a hub of support for me, with regards to my degree. I've met so many lovely people studying with the OU, and when I have a question about something university related, I can always count on OUSA (Open University Student Association) to retweet my query and, within minutes, I'm inundated with advice from fellow students.
Amongst these supportive fellow OU students, are Imogen, Elizabeth & Lia, all of whom I've turned to for advice along the way. Each of us are at different points in our own personal journiers, so her'es a little bit about how they feel about studying with the Open University...
Elizabeth - whose amazing food blog you can find here - is from the Shetlands and has been studying the SXL390 course, researching biology and health science since September 2005.
For Elizabeth; studying from home is ideal as she lives in a very rural area; Elizabeth also informed me that 1 in 4 people living in the Shetlands have studied with the Open University - due to it being such a rural part of the country - which is an amazing and heartwarming statistic; you can actually find out more about the people of the Shetland's relationship with the Open University here! She finds the flexibility brilliant as it means that she can fit her studies around her life. Elizabeth has also found the residential schools to be quote unquote 'fabulous' and says she has never had a bad tutor! Elizabeth also says that she feels a great sense of satisfaction and pride when she gets a good mark on an assignment, or finishes studying something that she's found challenging - something that I totally agree with.
However, she feels that the Open Uni's forums aren't as helpful as they should be and that her queries haven't always been answered; and also that sometimes not being able to see your tutor face-to-face proves to be very challenging. A further issue is that, when there are kids around during, for example, the summer holidays it's very hard to find some peace and quiet to study which is something that you could avoid if you were studying at university away from home.
Elizabeth handed in her final EMA yesterday - congratulations! So in a few months, Elizabeth will have a BSc (Hons) degree, which is definitely something to be proud of!
Imogen - who writes a wonderful beauty & lifestyle blog here - is from London and has been studying a variety of courses which, after five years of studies, will provide Imogen with a BA (Hons) in English literature. In Imogen's own words, here is what she thinks of the Open University.
Right, pros and cons from a seasoned student!
The only con I can think of is that it requires real dedication and self-motivation. I like this as it means I'm in control! But it can be difficult if you're feeling under the weather or just rather lazy as the buck stops with you alone!
The courses on offer are second to none and the flexibility of my degree path has been what I've loved the most. I've studied social science, English Language, English Literature, History and other Arts subjects and I've loved the variety on offer. I'm finishing up with an English Lit Shakespeare module and I can't wait to get stuck in. My degree will be in English Literature and after five years I'm thrilled to be accomplishing my goal! That you can study full or part time is also brilliant as I've switched between the two when necessary, and have been able to go at my own pace.
The course materials and course structures are absolutely brilliant, as is the tutor support in the majority of cases. I have had one or two 'dud' tutors but most have been amazingly supportive and they really know their subject inside out. I think a common misconception with the OU is that you're alone and isolated in your learning, but this hasn't been the case for me at all. The online student forums are brilliant for connecting with fellow students and the tutor group face to face tutorials every month or so are great if you'd like to meet people in person. Plus the OU has great social networking, from twitter to Facebook, and I love tweeting away with others on my course!
The main thing that appealed to me with the OU was the chance to take control of my timetable and study whenever best suits me. I'm a morning person and prefer getting up early to study, and I love that I can choose as and when to make notes/read/draft essays etc. Because of the assignment deadlines and well planned course structure it isn't difficult to set up a routine that suits you without feeling totally left to your own devices!
I've found that OU qualifications are really well regarded by employers, which is great. Whenever I've mentioned the OU in interviews I've always had a positive response and I really take pride in balancing OU study with other aspects of my life.
I've thought of an additional con, actually... OU study is addictive! Meaning bad news for my bank balance! I want to keep studying for as long as possible and I've already got my eye on various Psychology courses...
The lovely 26-year-old Londoner, Lia - who is studying the same course as me! - has also helped out with this project; here is her in insight into studying with the Open University...
Much like myself, Lia finds that self-motivation can be a real struggle and that it has, at times, caused her to lag behind and struggle keeping up with deadlines (especially when she has had to choose between Masterchef and her studies!) but she thinks that with a good dose of a 'COME ON!' attitude, you can succeed.
For Lia, the Open University gave her a second chance after she'd had a rough time at school; she left without any qualifications but had always wanted to study, and the OU allowed that - without any judgement.
Lia is also overwhelmed by the study materials that each student receives, free of charge as part of the course. She says that the fact that they are so to-the-point, wonderfully explained and tie in perfectly with the course, is amazing. Lia ends her thoughts on studying with the OU by saying; "I love everything about OU really!"
So there we go; the Open University from the perspective of four students, all at different stages of their degrees. If you'd like to find out more information about who the Open University are, what they do, or how you can get involved visit their website here.
I really hope you've enjoyed reading this post and that it might inspire you to aim higher, work towards a degree & see how it can change your life.
Lots of Love,