​6 tips for surviving as an Open University student

By Amanda Steel

Not everyone can (or wants to) go to uni full time, and starting an OU degree is a great way to earn extra qualifications while you work, travel or volunteer. However, there are definitely difficulties involved, and we asked Open University student Amanda Steel for her top tips:

Get ahead

The course books usually arrive about a month before each module starts. It can be a good idea to cram up in preparation, before the official start date. The allotted time for essays can be less than the time it takes you to write, depending on what kind of essay writer you are. If (like me) you prefer to write smaller chunks over a longer period of time, then getting ahead, to avoid falling behind is the best thing to do. Even those who like to write the whole essay in one night can benefit from starting the module a little ahead. One of the reasons students choose to study with The Open University is because they have other commitments. Sometimes those commitments can cut into study and essay writing time unexpectedly.

Facebook can be a lifesaver

Studying independently, even with occasional face to face tutorials (assuming you're able to attend those) can be difficult. Of course you have the support of a tutor who you are able to contact by phone and/or email, but support from other students can be beneficial, in additional to support from the tutor. There will be online tutor forums, where you can discuss anything relating to the course. Often students will set up a Facebook group too, which will have more students to talk things through with. Just remember that the usual OU rules will apply to Facebook too, such as no plagiarism, no posting essays/extracts etc.

Don't feel pressured

Although I've suggested trying to start the module slightly ahead, don't feel too pressured if you start to fall behind. It can seem like everyone on the tutor forums or Facebook group is racing ahead and getting high marks. It’s more important to concentrate on your own work, rather than looking at what everyone else is doing. The tutor is there if you fall into difficulty and can grant an extension if you have a good reason for needing one. The good thing about OU study is there are no set learning times, so you can fit in study as and when you have the time. Just a few 20-30 minute study session fitted into each day can add up quickly.

Remember you're learning new skills

You will learn more than just wherever the subject you're studying happens to be. Even though the tutor and other students are there to help you, most of the time they are not there in person as they would be in a brick university. That might be daunting at first, having to figure out your own studying schedule and trying to stick to it. You will eventually learn what works best for you. You can also list good time management, self motivation and determination, when applying for jobs. These are all things that employers look for.

Value tutor feedback

This applies to any student really, whether distance learning or at a brick university. However, as I hinted at earlier, Open University students can feel isolated at times. So when you do get feedback, however harsh it may seem, always try to pay attention to it. Without access to daily tutorials, this is all the more precious. For me I only found tutor feedback valuable after finishing certain modules, making my own mistakes, then realising for myself that the tutors were right all along and didn't actually have anything against me, as I once thought with one particular tutor.

Be prepared for less than positive comments

Myself and other Open University students I've spoken with have had similar comments from friends, family and other people we mention our studies to. Comments are usually along the lines of 'it’s not a real course' or 'but it’s not like in a real university' or 'your qualification won't be recognised like mine will.' Of course there are differences between studying at a brick university or an open style of learning. That doesn't mean one is better than the other. They both have their advantages and disadvantages. It just depends on your circumstances, commitments and what works best for you. The end result for students of both methods, but on the same course, will be the same qualification.

Liked this? Read this about the student that was "outraged" about her filthy halls living conditions.