Get a Degree in Your Spare Time

I’ve been doing Open University courses for a few years now, and it’s something that I get a lot of people sending me questions about, so I thought I’d write a review about it to help answer some of the frequently asked questions. 

===How do you study?=== 
You get sent course books that were written especially for your course and you study them when you choose. You get a calendar that says roughly how fast you should be studying, but as long as you do your assignments before they are due, you are free to study when you choose. You generally get tutor marked assignments throughout the course (though it always depends on the exact courses you take). 

===What can you take courses in?=== 
Take a look at the web site for a full list of courses – there are way too many just to list here! There are a mixture of undergraduate and graduate courses in a mixture of arts and sciences courses. I have taken courses in computing, archaeology, astronomy and various other sciences. 

They have a range of openings courses which are ideal to take if you are new to a particular area of study. You don’t generally need to have A-levels or any particular qualifications in related courses before you start, but it helps to take an introductory course if you haven’t done any study in a while. 

===How much credit do you get for a course?=== 
120 points is equivalent to one full year of full time study; you get a certain number of points for each course that you take, ranging from 10 points for the shorter courses to 60 points for the longer nine-month courses. 

Within certain limits, you can take as few or as many points as you like and as few or as many courses at the same time as you like, but the university doesn’t generally like you to do more than 120 points at a time, because it’s supposed to be too much work. I have known people take more if they get special permission though. 

===How much does it cost?=== 
The cost of the course varies wildly, but generally, the more points a course is, the more it costs. A rough range for some of the undergraduate courses is from £115 for some of the introductory 10 point courses to over £600 for a 60 point course. The computing courses, graduate courses and the residential schools are several times this price. Costs for EU students and international students are rather more than this. Contact the university to see if further financial aid may be available to you – sadly I can’t get any because I have studied before. 

===How long do you spend on a course?=== 
The courses I’ve taken have ranged in length from 6 weeks to 9 months. The amount of study that you need to do each week depends on the number of points that each course takes and the number of weeks that you study over. In general, every 10 points credit is equal to about 100 hours of study. So if you do a 10 point course over 6 weeks, it is 100 hours of study and you study at about 17 hours a week, or if you do a 30 point course over 9 months, it is 300 hours of study, and you need to spend about 8 hours studying. 

===How hard is the maths?=== 
Lots of people ask me how hard the maths is. Obviously, it depends very much on the courses that you take – if you are taking maths or physics, then you can expect the maths to be post-A-level in standard. But for the Geosciences courses I take, it’s really not beyond GCSE level. 

===How many assignments do you have to do?=== 
Like all these other questions, it really depends on the course that you take. The 30 point courses I have taken have generally had about four assignments over the duration of the course, plus either an end of course exam or end of course assignment (usually an extended essay or project). 

===What support do you get?=== 
The support depends on the course that you take, but you generally get assigned a tutor who will answer your questions and mark your essays. Some of the courses have tutorials in person, where you meet up for a class with the other students on your course. Other courses have an online tutorial system, where you would do the same sort of questions, but post to a message board instead of meeting in person. 

===How to plan study time=== 
The question people ask me above everything else is how on earth do I manage to fit in the study time along with a full time job and all the other classes that I do. Make no mistake, it can be pretty difficult. It really helps that the study books are usually developed specifically for the course. I find that it helps to take courses that you have an interest in, so that you can read around a bit for interest before the course starts. 

I mostly do my study in bits and pieces of spare time rather than having to find several hours in a big block (which rarely happens!). So, I read for forty minutes or so at lunch, when I’m having my breakfast, when I’m waiting for people to arrive, when I’m at the gym, when I’m on the train etc. I read through my learning objectives, find out what my assignments are based on and focus on those areas when I’m reading through the books a first time. Then, when I need to do the assignment, I just reread the relevant bits of the book. I wouldn’t say that I usually spend as much time as I really should do on my study, but that’s usually reflected in the marks!. 

===How much flexibility do I get?=== 
You usually get some flexibility even in the named degree courses, where the subjects that you take are pretty restricted. Or you could opt for an open degree and take whatever courses you want. Generally you will still need to take a certain number of courses at level 1, 2 and 3 (first, second and third year) 

===What do I get at the end of it?=== 
Some of the qualifications you can work towards are certificates, which are 60 points, diplomas, which are 120 points and degrees which are 360 points. Exact details of the courses you take depend on the individual qualification. 

===Are there people like me studying there?=== 
OU students come from a wide range of backgrounds. So most probably there is someone like you there – whether you are eighteen or eighty. 

===What is my favourite course?=== 
By far my favourite course was a week-long astronomy residential school in Mallorca. We joked about how we were going to be staying up all night partying with the stars and then sleeping most of the day on the beach – sounds a nice lifestyle eh? And on the final night – we went for a night out in Magaluf (not really my scene, but it was an experience!). It was hard work, but I got a bit of spare time to walk around the local area. 

===What if I need additional help?=== 
Speak to the university – they are excellent at helping with whatever special circumstances you might have – whether it’s needing extra time because you are moving house or need the learning materials in a different format (e.g. a transcript of a cd). 

===Would I recommended it?=== 
Oh, absolutely. It’s a much cheaper way of getting a degree than studying full-time at a traditional university. Plus, if you take 60 points or more a year, then you are considered to be a full time student and can get an ISIC or NUS student ID card to get discounts. 

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