I’m two-thirds of the way through a degree with the Open University. I spent a lot of time considering what subject I wanted to study and whether I should go to a ‘normal’ university after all, but I decided that it was right for me to take one course at a time and see where it went.
This is how I came to start Open University, my experience so far, the courses I’ve taken, and some of the advantages and disadvantages of the system.
I’ve never been to school; I was home-educated. I enjoyed studying GCSEs at home and took the exams at a centre run by our friends. I decided to take A Levels from home as well (English Literature, Geography and Thinking Skills), which was much more difficult, and I lacked motivation.
My older brother, David, had looked into the Open University and decided to take a Level 1 course, ‘AA100 The Arts Past and Present,’ instead of studying A Levels. He had a positive experience – he enjoyed the course and got on superbly with his tutor and fellow-students. I liked the sound of it and decided to try the OU as well. David went on to obtain a 2:1 – BA Hons in Humanities with English Language.
I started off with ‘W100 An Introduction to Law: Rules, Rights and Justice’ and was immediately attracted to the idea of being told exactly what and how I needed to study; a nice change from my A Level experience! I clicked with my tutor and was drawn to the subject-matter, which was previously unfamiliar.
The next course I took was ‘A224 Inside Music.’ I was blessed with a great tutor and enjoyed studying a subject which came more naturally to me. I’ll never listen to ‘Oh what a beautiful morning’ in the same way again!
For a while I agonised over whether I should go down the law route or continue with music – I couldn’t do a full music degree with OU, so that was a problem for me. Should I continue with OU, which I loved, or go to a normal university to study music?
I accepted the fact that I wasn’t going to get a clear answer to the Law-versus-Music question, at which point everything started to fall into place: I discovered the two Creative Writing courses. As soon as I saw them it was obvious that was the way to go – I’ve always loved writing.
The first course, ‘A215 Creative Writing,’ inspired me and pushed me out of my comfort zone. I went straight on to ‘A363 Advanced Creative Writing’, which was even more of a breakthrough. Some of the research I did for stories was very strange, which was amusing when anyone saw the open tabs on my computer: heart attacks, Strauss, the weather in the summer of 1982, chocolate brands, girls names beginning with ‘S’, hospital opening times, and slate mining! I found confidence in my simple writing style, with my tutor’s detailed feedback and encouragement, and threw myself whole-heartedly into every assignment. I was delighted to receive my first OU Distinction!
I’m now heading for a Humanities degree with Music and Creative Writing. I have gone back to Level 1 to take ‘AA100 The Arts Past and Present,’ a compulsory component of the Humanities degree. I have one more music course to complete next year. It has been an excellent decision for me economically as well as academically. When I started there was funding available, so I haven’t had to pay for the degree.
Perhaps the OU wouldn’t work as well if you were studying a more practical subject. It’s also not ideal if you want to have the experience of moving away from home and exploring new places. Although there is plenty of support on the courses they do require a lot of motivation and independent study. If you find you learn best around other people and enjoy a lot of social interaction then it may not be for you. It’s also hugely dependent on the quality of your tutor, and so the experience could be very different if they are inefficient or fail to inspire you.
The Open University is great because of its flexibility. There are no qualification requirements in order to enrol, you can work at your own pace and it’s easy to fit around your life. A lot of people seem to juggle the part-time courses with full-time jobs and family commitments! Most of the course work is done from home, working through the text books, and CD/DVD materials. There are online forums where you’re encouraged to interact with your tutor and other students, and online tutorials during the courses. There are also several face-to-face tutorials, which is a great opportunity to meet people. You can mix with people as much or as little as you like.
It’s sad to think that I won’t be studying with the Open University for much longer, because I’ve genuinely loved the experience. It has suited me perfectly, particularly as I’m used to working at home, and all my tutors have brought the best out of me and have been relentlessly supportive. I have learnt many skills and made lovely friends along the way.