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Should you study part time or full time with the Open University?

The age old question. Do I study my degree full time in three years or part time over six years? Do I do part of it full time and part of it part time? So many choices! Today’s topic is all about study intensity with the Open University to help you decide what the best option for you is.

What is classed as part time and full time study with the Open University?

First of all, it is important to understand ALL Open University courses are classed as part time degrees, so if you fund through Student Finance for example, you must apply for a part time loan, even if you study at full time intensity. This is because you study via distance learning and there is no requirement for you to be on campus, or study at an intensity more than part time hours. OU students will be classed as a part time students, regardless if you do your degree in three years or 6 years due to the way the course is delivered.

The financial stuff

Financial support is limited for OU students. If you want to study at full time intensity with the Open University, you will not get a maintenance loan to help with living or study costs (except if you have a disability preventing you from going to a Uni full time or if you are eligible for some financial assistance- it wont be enough to pay living costs, though). It is not anything like the experience of studying full time at a brick university in my own opinion of having done both.

The OU has definitely been geared towards those who can’t attend a full time institution for whatever reason, or need something they can do alongside work and other commitments from their own home.

So, what is the difference between part time and full time intensity?

Now we have clarified that you are going to be classed as a part time student no matter how much you study, Intensity refers to the hours you need to put in to complete your course. This is a difficult thing to quantify because everyone is different in how they study, but the Open Uni suggests the following:

  • Part time study (60 credits per year) is anywhere between 16 to 18 hours a week
  • Full time study (120 credits per year) is anywhere between 32 to 36 hours a week

To decide whether you do part time or full time study, you need to think of how much time you can realistically commit to studying every single week.

How do I decide how much time I have to study?

This will depend on what your prior commitments are. I would consider thinking about how much time you spend on the following:

  • Do you work part time or full time (or at all) and how many hours do you spend at work? Do you work a shift pattern?
  • How much time do you spend commuting to and from work? Can you study on the train/in a car for example, or does it require your full attention? (don’t study and drive!)
  • Do you have children or caring responsibilities? How much time do you spend on this? For example, can you only study when they go to bed?
  • What is your previous education experience? Have you studied at a higher level before? Do you already know some of what your degree is going to cover?
  • Do you have any hobbies you do in your free time? Eg: Going to the gym/fitness class or running groups that take up time? You will need to fit study around this. Hobbies are important!
  • Do you have disability requirements or mental health issues to consider?

Expect the unexpected

All of these factors will influence how much time you can realistically commit to studying. From my own experience, I also feel it is important to be aware of the unexpected. For example:

  • Unexpected illness. I had an unexpected operation whilst studying that luckily only required a couple of assignment extensions. But we are humans and we get ill. If you are already pushed for time, you need to be aware of scenarios where you just cannot study that are out of your control. Sure, it might not be an operation. But, you might get a sickness bug or flu that puts you a couple of weeks behind schedule. You need to make sure you’ll be able to cope in this situation
  • Previous study experience matters. If you are new to higher education, it might take you longer to get to grips with learning to manage time, write essays and submit assignments. You need to allow extra time to settle in to your new routine
  • Holidays and leisure time. It is so important to make time to relax outside of studying so you do not get burnt out. You want to make sure that you consider any periods of time where you can’t or wont want to study, such as going on holiday or just allowing time for fun
  • General life: Cooking dinner, cleaning, laundry, food shopping, seeing family and friends. We all use time for this and it might not be something you think about when you sign up for a degree, but it requires time in your week away from study. Sometimes, we just don’t feel like studying, so we wont do it. Think about the fact you are a human who needs to rest

You can use the Open University time planner to get a rough idea of how much free time you have for studying by clicking here

How hard is balancing work and study?

Like everything else mentioned, it depends on the individual and their personal circumstances. Although I am giving advice right now, I would like to be as honest as possible and that means saying that I don’t think you should ever compare your circumstances to another. Just because single-parent Jenny with 10 kids and a full time job can manage full time study with her life, doesn’t mean you can, or should. Jenny sounds pretty cool, but I know that I couldn’t do it.

We are all so different. Our brains work totally differently to one another and what works for one person may not work for you, no matter how easy or how hard they claim it is. Our lives are different, no matter how many similarities they share. I am not you and you are not me.

Me personally? I study part time with the OU, but I also do additional courses outside of the OU. If I added up the time I spend on study, it is probably the same as a full time student. It works for me, but it is not easy and I do not do much else other than go to work and come home to study. I like it, but you might hate it and find it too much.

The answer is probably that it is as hard as you make it for yourself. It is possible to do lots of things, including full time study and full time work, but that doesn’t mean its the best option.

How do I decide what to do after I consider how much free time I have for studying?

A lot of the decision to go full time or part time is thinking about how long the degree will take. Loads of people hear “6 years to do a degree?!” and think it is simply far too long, but ask yourself, why are you trying to rush it?

Why is three extra years of so much concern? Let’s talk about social conditioning for a sec! (sorry to go all philosophical on you, but this is important)

Stop being worried about how long it will take

Social conditioning is the sociological process of training individuals in a society to respond in a manner generally approved by the society in general and peer groups within society. It includes the following:

  • Doing things quickly whilst young- eg: getting married, making babies, having a career all by the time you are 30! (ridiculous when you think about it)
  • Going to uni straight out of school and settling down young
  • Believing you are “too old” or its “too late” or that you are running out of time to “get things done”

You are not running out of time. You are not too old and it is not too late and 6 years is not too long. Time passes anyway and we have all found ourselves saying “I just don’t know where the time went”, or “it only feels like yesterday that *insert sentence reminiscing about something*”.

I am half way through my 6 year long degree with the OU and i feel like i have blinked and missed it. It is going so incredibility fast! Of course there are days where I think of the time I have left to go still and it feels like an endless slog that I just want to be over with, but then that time passes anyway and I wonder what i was complaining about.

Live in the present moment

When we spend all of our time living in the future, it is really hard to enjoy the present moment and this rings very true when deciding to study part time or full time.

Normally when you want to do something quickly, it is because it’s end result is going to take you closer to the thing that you want. It might be that you don’t like your job and education is the way out, so you want to get it done as fast as possible. Maybe, you need the qualification to advance in the career you are in and the extra money is really needed right now, so you just want to speed up the process.

It may be, that you think you are getting old and your time is running out to do things. Tell that to the OU student who started their part time degree at 80.

If you are in an unhappy situation right now or are dissatisfied in anyway and getting a degree will bring you closer to getting you out of that situation, of course you are going to want to rush it. I have been there. I nearly dropped out of the Open University to go back to a brick university full time. But, it should never be at the sacrifice of your grades or wellbeing. You do not want to put yourself in the situation of trying to get things done, only to find out you cannot cope or put enough time in and your grades suffer.

You can change your study intensity, but be aware of the implications of deferral

There is the option to sign up for full time intensity and drop down to part time, if it is too much. You can also start part time if you prefer in October on 60 credits and if you find it manageable, pick up a second 60 credits worth of modules the following February if that is an option for your particular degree path and complete the year full time.

Implications of deferral

Please note though, that if you cancel a module part way through, there can be implications. This is called deferring, where you stop the module to pick it up at a later date.Implications depend on when you stop and start the module. Such as, whether that module is in its final presentation, how you paid for the module and how much funding you are entitled to. Make sure that by deferring you do not put yourself at a disadvantage. Always speak to the Open University so they can go through this with you and explain your options in detail. When you defer a module, it is flagged on your student record.

Deferral is not always an issue the first time, but if you do it more than once it can lead to being placed on restricted status. Restricted status means you cannot study until you speak with an educational advisor who has to approve whether you are allowed to study again or not.

Tips and advice for managing your time

Ultimately, a lot of how you cope will be based on time management skills. We cannot always prepare for everything that happens in life. However, good time management skills always help to make things easier. Here are some of my top tips:

  • Get an academic wall planner to write all of your key dates on. This will be assignments, exams and tutorials. It will help you to keep on top of everything and organise your schedule around study
  • Allocate leisure time. For me, this normally falls on a Sunday as I like to study during the day on Saturdays. It is really important to make sure you have time off of studying to enjoy life and avoid burn out.
  • Join “studygram” (and follow me @thestudygene 😉 ) This really motivates me to keep going and it is so fun getting to know other students online
  • Create a dedicated workspace and get a desk if you can. Associating a place with study really helps to get you in the mood. It doesn’t have to be at home, libraries and coffee shops were my go to before I had a desk!
  • Try the App “Forest”. Forest is a productivity app that helps with focus when studying, encouraging the Pomodoro method of studying in small manageable chunks with scheduled breaks
  • Find a study buddy! Check your OU forums online to find students in your local area who may want to meet up

I hope you found this post useful. Let me know if you have any questions by contacting me, leaving a comment or heading to my Instagram page!

Love Beth xox