This time a year ago, I was preparing to embark on the next significant stage of my life: university. But, where other students were busily packing bags, organising accommodation and fretting about who their course-mates would be, I sat, perfectly relaxed, at home, awaiting the delivery of my course materials. I had chosen to study with The Open University.
Whilst my appearance was in no way frenzied, there was, somewhere in my mind, a great deal of concern as to the choice that I had made. Unlike many stereotypical OU students, I was an eighteen year-old, fresh from college and equipped with a strong set of GCSE and A-level grades.
UCAS and the process of identifying courses and universities to apply to had been a significant part of sixth-form life and, as such, I had spent over a year carefully selecting my choice.
But my teachers and fellow students were not happy. My grades would have allowed me to go to Oxford, study medicine or some other 'intelligent' field. A Childhood and Youth Studies degree from what, to many, seems to not be a 'proper' university just did not fill the expectations set out for me by the academics there to guide me in deciding my future. The doubt that this instilled in me was in no way quashed by the fact that I did not know anyone else in my year who was taking a similar route: everyone was set to attend physical universities, with many applying for places at Britain's top institutions. That being the case, there must have been a reason why I was the odd one out.
Image sourced from here.
A year later, I have completed 120 credits and am ready to begin a second set. In recent weeks, I have seen various discussions on twitter about a lack of support for college-leavers considering OU study. As such, I would like to discuss all I know now, having stepped out of the norm very much on my own.
- OU study is not the easy, lazy option that was laid out to me by disapproving adults. In fact, it is quite the opposite for so many reasons. Firstly, I chose to study 120 credits a year: that is the same amount of work as any other student at a more traditional university. That work is to the same standard as that required for any other identical course, the only difference being that, where others have regular lectures and materials to support them through every single topic or assignment, I had an online information system and a tutor at the other end of an email. And, once I had managed to find the time to study, motivate myself to do so and make sense of the content that I was teaching myself, I had to word it all into an assignment that would be marked using higher grade boundaries (1st, 2:1, 2:2) than in any other university. As such, I was not conning myself out of a challenge by choosing to study with the OU, nor was I claiming a lesser degree for myself. I was signing up to work harder than the majority of my friends currently studying at other universities.
- Having said that, I have been repeatedly surprised by how easy I have found the course. This is not to say that I have not been intellectually challenged, and I certainly haven't aced the course so far, but I have been given an opportunity to find out exactly what I am capable of and, as it turns out, that is really rather a lot. Everything I have learnt has been taught to me, by me. Everything I have written has been proof-read and edited by me. Every time I sit down to study, it is because I have told myself to do so and that motivation allowed me to complete a year's work in just one term. Where my friends at traditional institutions are given step-by-step nurturing and a sense of immediacy that acts to motivate them, I have been almost entirely on my own. And yet, I have finished my first year with a distinction. I am capable and I do not believe that I would have known just how capable I am had I not chosen this education route.
- My capabilities were, unfortunately, one of the things that caused my teachers to deter me from OU study. They claimed that I was too intelligent to study such a course whilst simultaneously asserting that I was not making an intelligent, well-informed choice. In the time since leaving college, I have spoken to many people, from family to friends, employers to folk on the street and, when asked what I am studying where, my answer never solicits anything other than a very, very positive response.
The truth is, most people very much approve of distance learning and see it as a far more practical route into further education. Furthermore, time has shown me just how well-informed a decision I made. Not only had I spoken to many past and present OU students to gain a sense of what it would be like but I had visited traditional universities enough to know that they just were not for me, meaning that I made a choice that I had the conviction to commit to. In the past year, many of my friends have quit their courses, changed universities or moved home, having made ill-informed choices that proved to be completely inappropriate for them. I cannot help but wonder how many of them would have even considered the OU when browsing for their futures.
- Of course, another advantage of OU study is that I have been given proper time to work, volunteer and undertake other courses alongside my study. By the end of my degree, I will also have three years professional experience in my chosen field with many professional qualifications to boot. This, I believe, makes me a far more likely candidate for future job applications than a traditional degree could have done.
- And finally, studying with the OU is, of course, cheaper. With the average student racking up £45 000 worth of debt during a 3-year undergraduate degree, I will be in just £16 200 (just!), with savings from the work I have done during that time. For many students, this is an essential consideration.
For some, the experience of going to university is as important as the degree they achieve at the end. For others, their career goals limit their choices as to degree pathways. But for me, studying with The Open University was by far the best option and, for any young people considering their options, I urge them to seek out the information they need because, yes, we are capable.