I started studying online January, 2018.
I enrolled into The Open University and I am currently studying a Business and Finance course. It takes up about 3 to 4 hours of my time per week, and the degree would take me 6 years to complete if I continued studying part time. I love the OU. I’ve learnt so much and it has given me confidence in the workplace, flexibility and some great tools.
But the real question… is The Open University for you, dear student? Have you ever considered studying online? Doing something different? Taking a different path than the traditional ‘school, university, work’?
Not sure? In this post I’ll be breaking down the pros and cons of studying online – who knows, it may be something for you…
This is the main reason I wanted to try studying online; it would allow me to study when, where and how I want. No more attending boring lectures, hanging out with uninterested strangers and having to stick to the same city.
The online interface is pretty easy to follow and understand. It all works by weeks:
Every week, the OU tells you what you need to: the number of readings, activities, forums to participate in and videos to watch. And you can choose what to do and how. If you find yourself a couple of weeks behind, no problem: you can easily catch up the next week. Or if you want a headstart, it’s very easy to do several weeks in one week. You’re in complete control of your studies. Huge plus for me.
The OU recommends studying 15 hours a week. Honestly, that’s a bit much to me – the most important is reading and taking notes for every ‘Reading’ (they send you textbooks with the Readings) and completing the interactive activities. You can do further reading or participate in the forums if you want – but it’s totally up to you.
Lastly, they examine you through ‘Assignments’. Every 2/3 months an assignment comes up that includes all info from the previous readings. What I like about these assignments is that they are nearly always case studies with companies from the real world. My most recent one was analysing the watchmaker Bremont and its customer base. Not only very interesting, but they give you tons of guidelines to submit a good assignment.
Oh and if you can’t make it on time, ask for an extension – no problem there.
What I love about the OU is that they know you are an adult and have other commitments, so they in turn are flexible and adaptable to your needs.
This was a big plus for me; studying online allowed me to travel and study at the same time (check out my Experiment 8: travelling and studying online). But you don’t have to be travelling. It simply means you can study from home, an office or even a coffee shop. Whatever works best for you.
And they still do holidays! You get ‘break weeks’ here and there and a lot of preparation time before submitting assignments.
As a student, I love this location independence. As I mention in my Experiment 8, university isn’t the only form of education and too many students graduate with no idea how the real world works. Studying online means you get to have an academic education complemented with a job/travelling/hobby/apprenticeship/internship.
So when you graduate, you’ll have job experience and a degree. Something most current graduates don’t have. More on this later.
Obviously a huge factor for me. University in the UK costs £9,250 a year – that’s £37,000 for the 4 years without taking into account accommodation costs! A module with the OU costs about £1,000, so over 6 years the total would come to around £6,000!!!!!! I don’t need to break it down to show you how much cheaper that is.
And yes, you can still get loans from the Student Loan Company as an OU student.
Think about it; if you have a job, this is a win win win. You could be earning money (although not always if it’s an internship), gaining job experience and a degree. Pretty sweet if you ask me.
For the modern employer
Worried that a degree from the OU won’t be as prestigious than from a normal university? According to Target Careers, an OU degree would be treated exactly the same as a degree from a campus-based university. In fact, I would say in some cases an online degree would be more beneficial. Why? Because completing an online degree means:
- Having a lot of discipline and self-motivation
- Being able to do several things at once
- Maybe already having experience with a job
- Knowledge of the real world and how it works
- Being different – new perspectives and being more creative
And employers love that. Yes ok, if we’re talking about jobs such as lawyer, teacher or doctor, where a degree is essential to getting a job, don’t bother going online. But in business, communications, marketing and generally office jobs, these skills will set you apart from others.
I do love the OU very much, but of course, studying online is not for everyone and there are some cons to it. Here is what you should take into consideration:
Fewer networking opportunities
One of the huge benefits of traditional universities is the amazing network you build. This is where you find people who will give you a job, who will help you along the way and with whom you will make great friendships. There is no denying it, university is a place to make friends, have fun and crazy experiences that you will remember all your life.
Studying online means it might be a little harder to find people in your position. You’re studying by yourself and aren’t in constant contact with other students who could offer you more opportunities.
It’s true that this can be fixed by going to networking events (something I did try) and having a regular group of friends. But networking events are full of professionals who might not be interested in networking with students, and you don’t make the same relationships as you do with someone you’re going through uni with.
So yes, this must be taken into account.
It can get lonely
I’m not going to lie, it can get a little tough to study online. When I first started out, I was working online (this website and some freelancing), I was studying online and not doing many group activities. I had a social club I would go to regularly (full of students my age) and I did go to networking events, but I still felt a little lonely on my study journey. Although there is a ‘day school’ once every 2 months (4 hours with other OU students going over past topics), it’s not as interactive, and it can be easy to close yourself up in a little hole and not see anyone for days – which isn’t very healthy.
This can be fixed by simply having a job/apprenticeship/internship with a company, or even travelling. During the normal day you work/travel and then you fit in 3/4 hours during the week to study. I had much more energy to study when I was busy travelling and exploring new cities during the day. And now I’m going to be starting an internship soon. So really, you need to keep busy.
The other thing is that studying online does require discipline. You’re the one who is held accountable to complete the modules, do the assignments and keep up to date. Yes you’re allowed to be a little behind and organise yourself how you wish – but you’ll still have to study anyway. Which is why it’s important to know thyself. If you know you lack discipline, then the OU is not for you. Plain and simple.
Missing the uni experience
As mentioned above, this is what prevents most students from studying online. Everyone keeps raving on about how much fun university is and how they always wish they could go back. The parties, living with friends, not worrying about a job, having a lot of free time, etc.
Yes I understand, but personally, I don’t regret missing the university experience – and I did try it (one trimester at Napier University lol). Why? Simply because of the way I enjoy myself: I find it way more exhilarating to work on my career goals, ambitions and being in control than chilling at university. I love parties, meeting new students and drinking as much as the next person – but my priorities are different. Studying online means I get to design my life as I want – and that is what is most important to me.
I’m not saying that this is the best path, all I’m saying is that it depends on you. What would you enjoy most? If you’re in no rush to get into the real world, then a traditional university is for you (why not try a gap year first?). If you want to get on with it, start early and work on something you really want to do, consider the OU.
Not for every degree
This is pretty obvious – studying online isn’t a possibility for all degrees. All traditional jobs require a degree from a traditional university (plus it ain’t easy to learn how to operate on a human from a screen).
This post is for students in business, languages, history, finance, etc. Not sure if your degree could be done online? These are the different courses offered by the OU:
Maybe in the near future we will be able to do all the traditional degrees online. This means giving opportunities to people in more difficult countries or tougher economic situations. So I’m all for it!
I am SO glad I signed up to the OU and I couldn’t be happier with the huge freedom it has given to me. But of course, I understand that this is definitely not for everyone. You need discipline and a good sense of where you’re heading to. Something which is quite demanding for someone who’s just finished high school or even still in the middle of university.
Intrigued but don’t want to commit? You can just do one module and try it out (and you only pay for one module at a time)!. Or you can also shoot me an email and I can show some behind the scenes and give you some more details 😉
Here’s a snazzy infographic to summarise it all up (Pin it!!!)
I’m trying to build up the subreddit r/ukstudents: a safe place for UK students to talk about studies, family, money and career building. Come join – we’re all trying to figure out life at the same time 😉