I enrolled onto my first degree module 2 weeks into my 29th year.
I was scared.
I was apprehensive.
I didn’t know what the next 6 years would hold.
I started counting the days until I turn 35, as that is when I will finish my degree.
But most importantly…
I was excited.
In the weeks leading up to enrolling with the Open University, I spent time researching — looking at the courses available, the financial support, the reviews and experiences of alumni. I was hooked. I knew I wanted to jump right in, and signed up to a Bachelor’s degree in Arts and Humanities (Creative Writing Specialism).
I had to wait 6 months for my first module to start, in October 2019. As I write this, in July 2020, my first year is finished. I can’t believe how quickly it has gone! A sixth of the way through my degree — okay, it still sounds like a long way of when I say it like that!
I have also continued to work full time during my first year, and will continue throughout my degree. I see my fellow OU students doing the same, some work part time, some have children, some work full time AND have children! How they manage is beyond me, but here is my shout out to ALL Open University students — You ROCK!
Distance learning can be hard, we have to motivate ourselves, we don’t have anyone checking up on us and we rarely have to attend face to face sessions to keep us on track. But, it is also incredibly rewarding!
Now, how am I managing? Here are my key tips to studying a degree via a distance learning university.
Don’t get overwhelmed
It can be easy to look at your module books, the online materials and upcoming assignments and PANIC!
You can easily become overwhelmed and wonder “how can I do all of this?”, particularly if you don’t have unlimited time to commit to your studies.
Panicking and becoming overwhelmed is the worst thing to do, this will kill any motivation and INCREASE levels of procrastination — which is a no no!
Take a step back, work week by week as suggested in your study guide and try your best to enjoy it. Another important thing to avoid feeling overwhelmed? PLAN! Which is coincidentally my next top tip!
Have a plan
Personally, I love a good plan! I am the queen of planning.
I take a look at what units I have for the upcoming weeks on my study planner, I look at my work and social commitments (at the moment, the latter is nil!) and figure out what time I have aside from that.
My plan changes from week to week, and also depends on how quickly I get through the units (some take longer than planned, some I find I get through quicker). One week I may dedicate an hour and a half after I get home from work to studying, the next I may dedicate Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
This works well for me, I submit all my assignments early and am currently 2 weeks ahead of the study planner provided to me by the University. This gives me more time to relax and not look at my study materials if I want — but if you do this, try not to keep studying too far from your mind, or it can be hard to get back into it!
Don’t berate yourself if you don’t stick to the plan
The number one thing to remember when having to plan and manage your own time is:
Sometimes we need to work more for our day job, we have family emergencies, Christmas and birthday celebrations, unexpected illness or even just simply becoming burnt out. All of these are normal occurrences in life that throw us off our path, and that is okay.
If you find yourself falling off of your plan, don’t beat yourself up about it. As with becoming overwhelmed, beating yourself up about it can lead to a lack of motivation.
Instead, take a moment to see why and how you feel “of plan”, and realize that it’s not the end of the world. Take another look at your plan, and re-jig things about until you feel it is more manageable with what you have going on in life.
Worst case: if you have a traumatic event that really throws a spanner in the works, reach out to your personal tutor and explain that you are struggling to keep up. All universities, distance institutions included, can offer extensions on assignments should life get in the way a little too much. Take advantage of this gift, and give yourself a break.
Communicate with others
As I said in my last point, reaching out to your personal tutor can bring a sigh of relief when feeling a little under pressure with your work loads.
Communicating with others is so important when studying from home. We don’t have big lectures, we don’t live with other students and sometimes it can feel a little lonely.
I recommend finding ways to keep in touch with others from your course. You will most likely have a tutor group, made up of others locally to you who are studying the same module. While face-to-face meet ups are rare (I have had 3 this year), create a group chat with those in your group and catch up regularly. It can help put worries at ease, and can eliminate confusion over module material through discussion!
There are also Facebook groups for modules, where people from all over the country discuss all things module and university related — and can be a way to feel “stuck in” to the university experience. All of these have really helped me feel connected.
One word of warning though — if you don’t like putting your phone down for an hour and coming back to it with 258 notifications, try to avoid mass WhatsApp groups (of more than say, 10 people)…. I tried this and regretted it after about a fortnight, when I left said group. Sometimes communication can become a little too much!
Be proud of yourself
I think this is the most important thing. Completing a degree isn’t an easy task, otherwise everyone would have a First Class Honors degree framed on their walls.
Completing a degree takes hard work, determination, motivation and more hard work. It can be even harder trying to complete this while continuing the demands of normal life — work, kids, family, friends and the rest.
After every assignment I give myself a little pat on the back well done. When I receive grades for assignments, I always feel proud of myself — whether I did better or worse than expected — because I completed another step towards my degree. I tell others I am proud of myself, and don’t feel ashamed of that.
To anyone completing a degree — whether at a distance or brick university — all of these tips can work to help you on your educational journey. Be proud of yourself, continue to work hard and prove to yourself and the world that you can do this.