My First Experience of University
I began my higher education journey in 2008. I left college and went straight on to study Journalism at The University of Winchester. I chose Journalism because I’ve always wanted to write for magazines or newspapers – any publication really; I was also obsessed with LC from The Hills – as far as I was concerned everything would fall into place for me after my three years of study. I thought I’d find a job, settle down, earn some good money and hopefully buy a house before I was 30.
Life doesn’t always work out as we plan it to, however. Things began to happen at home which meant my support system was breaking down both at University and back within the family. I worked hard at the start, but there were some lectures and seminars I just didn’t feel were entirely relevant to what I wanted to do – Media Studies and Film Studies – I just wanted to write. I didn’t want to be behind or in front of the camera – Lord I just wanted to write behind the scenes, that’s all.
Of course, because I’d chosen a set pathway to gain my degree, I had to pass all those modules, not just the ones I thought were relevant to me or enjoyed more as they felt appropriate to my end goal.
Money became really tight. Because my mother, despite being a single parent, earned over a certain threshold, it was deemed that she could support me from home; thus, my student loan only covered the basics such as accommodation. Food, books, nights out: the money had to come from somewhere if I was to continue learning.
I managed to secure a job in my second year working at a local Sainsburys picking online food orders. This was great for my finances but awful for my social and educational life. My shifts started at either 4am or 6am and would end at either 8am or 10am; then I would rush to the University, still in my fruity blue and orange Sainbury’s uniform (as they were then), to join the rest of my classmates.
I was the only one who ever arrived in a work uniform. It was picked up on by my lecturer as I had to go on camera to do a news cast and obviously I stood out BADLY in front of the green screen. In fairness to him, he said working and studying was something to be proud of, but his words had already left a mark and I realised I was juggling and people were noticing.
As things began to break down further, I felt the need to be home at more. In hindsight, there was not much I could do to help, but I’ve always been that way, and so I began to catch the train home regularly at weekends. At £30 a go, this wasn’t the best way for me to be spending my money. I wasn’t earning much from Sainsburys and the cost of living in Winchester is much higher than other university towns.
Making A Decision
Eventually, I conceded defeat. I was no longer enjoying my course, nor being away from home. I was unable to enjoy a social life due to my working hours and money was becoming so tight that my anxiety began to flare up – at that age I wasn’t prepared to be alone. I didn’t know how to manage anything. Some people are so good at this, I don’t think I was quite ready and I know I should have thought much more about university in the years leading up to it.
I took the decision to leave half way through my second year, with a view to returning that September in order to continue my final two years in an English module (to suit my need to write). I went home of course, saw friends, got a job earning a wage in a hotel working all hours and started to make my own money which I could enjoy. From there I got another job taking phone calls in a taxi rank and then I went on to managing a team of five in a busy boarding school office. By that point I was earning a stable wage, university never left my mind however.
Going Back To Uni
Working in a school meant I was constantly surrounded by academics, learners, educators and people who celebrate and acknowledge educational achievement. I craved a degree – it has always been an achievement on my bucket list. I knew I couldn’t go back to a ‘conventional’ university; I enjoyed working far too much and didn’t want to go back to partying with what I now see as ‘young adults’ – sigh, I’m no longer one. I didn’t want to be a mature student and I wanted to stay in my wonderful management job.
As my anxiety has also been getting worse for some time, routine for me is very important. To go back to a minimal timetable for 2 years, living away from home or commuting to uni just seemed like a waste of valuable earning time to me, but also caused me to think about the social requirements. Would I be that boring commuter if I didn’t attend nights out? Did I want to rack up a load more debt for accommodation or travel? Not really. I’d grown up and I wanted an institution that met my new needs. I wanted to continue my work/life balance and be at home.
I’d heard about The Open University through my step-mother, who had done her masters through them. Some three years into working in the office, I took the plunge and applied to the OU. As I’d already successfully completed a year’s study with Winchester this was awarded over and so I began to look for a degree that tied in with what I wanted to do.
The Open Degree
I was at a loss for some time as to what to study. I didn’t just want to do English. I didn’t just want to do History. When I saw the Open Degree I wasn’t too sure what it meant, and I’d never heard of anyone achieving one.
It turns out it was the perfect choice for me. You get to mix and match your modules dependent on what area you wish to specialise in. You can achieve a BA, a BSc, or a combination of both if you split your modules between the two disciplines. I did one module BSc and the rest BA as they felt right for my study pattern. Therefore I earnt a BA (Hons) Open Degree.
As I mentioned earlier, I’d already successfully completed the year at Winchester and so this was awarded, allowing me the option to complete my degree, part-time, in four years. For those just starting out, if you want to study part-time you will be completing six years of study (that’s three years full-time).
I actually considered studying full-time, but after some discussion with both my family and work and the University, it was agreed that 30 hours of study alongside 40 hours of work would be too much to fit in, alongside a social life, and this was correct.
A part-time degree requires you to study for 15 hours per week and, if planned and executed correctly, you can also fit in time to see friends and relax alongside study and full-time work. I wrote a post recently with tips on surviving The OU and how I got to my final year; whilst there is no right or wrong way, you need to find A WAY that works for you.
The Open Univesrity demands great things of their students and with the correct amount of time devoted to your studies, you will find meeting their expectations much easier, whilst also enjoying your time studying. I can’t stress enough how important planning is – it can become overwhelming, but you’ll find it easier to return to your routines after a wobble if you are fully aware of your timeline and deadlines.
How I Knew It Was Right For Me
Being able to study around and alongside my work was challenging, but has made me far more disciplined with deadlines and time management. In the four years I studied with The OU I was able to work full-time, keep some sort of social life and schedule my learning to hours that suited me and my lifestyle. I graduated last week and if I’m honest, I want to do it all over again.
I find that I’m much more motivated when a) not comparing myself to other learners and b) am able to work the hours I want to work e.g. 2am if necessary, without judgement or feeling behind.
When deciding on studying with The OU you need to be honest with yourself; will you really dedicate the time you have spare to working on your essays? Do you want to achieve your degree knowing that it will take a few years? Are you prepared to continue motivating yourself to study when there are lots of other things going on in your life? Whilst The OU isn’t all-consuming, it does take up a large portion of your life, so I must insist that you need to be devoted to reaching your end goal, otherwise there really isn’t much point. That said, however, you are able to return to your degree if something happens or changes in your life, so don’t be entirely put off if you’re unsure – but you will have to retake the module if you finish half way through the year.
I recently graduated: get the low down on Open University Graduation Ceremonies.