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The Ultimate Open University Guide

Are you thinking about studying with The Open University? Do you ever wonder what exactly the Open University is and how it all works? This post is for you! Whether you are debating signing up for a degree or simply want to know more about how distance learning works, keep on reading! I have separated this post into a handy table of contents so you can jump back and forth through sections if you need to. This post is not affiliated with the OU at all. I decided to write it as I have gained a lot of knowledge through previously being employed by them in Student Support and studying with them and wanted to help out with what i know! Grab a cup of tea and let’s get started!

What is The Open University?

The Open University is the largest university in the UK and it is a distance learning institution. This means that the courses on offer are taught almost fully online and part time! I will go in to more depth about how exactly this works, but for now all you need to know is that you study for your degree online about 90% of the time. It does have a campus and library in Milton Keynes, but this is more for staff of the university.

The Open University is also a public research university. This means that that it carries out or finances research and experimental development (R&D) for the government, higher education institutions or non-profit institutions. They do an insane amount of work with the BBC, including the Blue Planet documentaries!

It is called the Open University as the majority of undergraduate courses do not have formal entry requirements such as A-levels. Now, don’t get it twisted. Just because it doesn’t have formal entry requirements, does not mean it is any easier than a normal “brick” university (brick meaning a physical institution where you go to lessons and live in halls.) The OU is regulated by all the same accreditation’s as top universities in the UK and you get the exact same degree you would from any other university in the UK- they are no different. The only difference is how it is taught to you, the time it takes and how you study for it.

Is the Open University respected like a normal university?

The short answer is yes, and some. The Open University is recognised not just in the UK, but globally. OU materials are used at universities all over the UK, including top ones like Oxford and Cambridge. They employ academic staff from some of the best universities in the UK, so you really are getting taught by some incredible people.

More importantly, OU degrees are viewed highly by employers due to the qualities most OU graduates demonstrate. It takes a huge amount of dedication and perseverance and time management to get an OU degree as you will be studying alone almost the entire time, usually while balancing many other commitments like children or a full time job. You have to go out of your way to study an OU degree and employers and education institutions respect this level of dedication very much.

Who can study an OU degree?

Anyone who is willing to work hard enough and lives in a location where the course is offered, which is most of the world now! Remember before I mentioned there are no formal entry requirements? I want to expand on this point a bit further as this can cause some assumptions about the difficulty of an OU degree if they just let anyone in.

Yes, anyone can apply for an OU degree regardless of academic background. However, the OU is regulated just like any other university, so it is only those who have the academic potential who will actually get through an OU degree. Signing up for the degree is one thing, but completing it is another. Guys, the OU can be really tough. I have been to a brick uni as well as the OU and let me tell you, it is no easier just because you don’t need a piece of paper with a particular qualification on it. It’s tough. You have to work hard and prepare adequately.

The OU foster an open policy and wouldn’t stop someone with lack of formal qualifications signing up, however they strongly encourage those without formal qualifications to do some study to prepare, such as their access modules or some free Open Learn courses. You need to be fluent in English and have basic Maths skills at a minimum before you do an OU degree.

This also goes for those who want to study a subject that they have never done before. For example, my A-levels were in English, Geography and Performance, but I study Health Sciences which is essentially a Biology and Chemistry degree. I had no higher level science knowledge, but I did some reading before hand to get an idea of what it is I was signing up for. It is not a requirement that you research the subject before hand, but I would always recommend that you do. OU stage one modules are fantastic because they really do teach you the fundamentals of a subject, but reading around a subject will always help you.

How long does it take?

How long your degree takes depends on how many credits you study per year. Let me explain what credits are:

Degrees are made up of credits. A full degree with honours is 360 credits and a degree without honours is 300 credits. Aiming for the whole 360 credits is always best! Each stage of a degree is worth 120 credits and to complete your whole degree, you need to complete enough credits. This usually takes 3 academic years at a normal Uni, with an academic year lasting 9 months. It looks like this:

  • Stage one/year one of your degree = 120 credits
  • Stage two/year two of your degree = 120 credits
  • Stage three/year three of your degree = 120 credits

Modules are worth either 30 credits or 60 credits. 30 credit modules require around 12 hours of study per week and 60 credit modules require 18-20 hours of study per week, depending on the person. 60 credits or below is considered part time study and this is what most OU students do over the course of 6 years; whereas full time study is 90 credits or more and it takes about double the amount of study hours in a week for most people. Basically, it takes double the time to get the degree if you do it part time, but you study the same amount of credits overall. So, the typical format of an OU degree looks like this:

  • Stage one (1 academic year) = 60 credits
  • Stage one (1 academic year)= 60 credits
  • Stage two (1 academic year) = 60 credits
  • Stage two (1 academic year) = 60 credits
  • Stage three (1 academic year) = 60 credits
  • Stage three (1 academic year) = 60 credits

Whether you choose to study 60 credits or less per year, or 90 credits plus, depends on the amount of free time you have. You need to account for unexpected things as well such as illness, holidays and other commitments you have. You can always do 60 credits one year and increase to more credits in another academic year if you want to. The amount of credits you study also affects how much it costs per year.

How much is it and how do i pay for it?

Price depends on where you live in the world and how many credits you study per year. I can only speak for how much England fees are, so the best thing I can do is link you to the OU website so you can find out as it is going to be different for everyone:

Click here to find out how much it will cost for you

As an idea, currently the fee in England is £1548 for 30-credit modules, and for a 60-credit module it’s £3,096. Most people do 60 credits a year, but if you want to complete your degree faster, it is going to cost more per year. Study materials, tuition, assessment and exams are all included in the fees which is really amazing!

As for funding, you can either pay yourself per year if you’re an absolute baller, or like most of the OU’s students, you can use a part time tuition fee loan each year from Student Finance. PLEASE NOTE; even if you study more than 60 credits per year, you still apply for the part time loan, not the full time loan as it is still considered a part time course, no matter how fast you complete it.

You should also be aware that unlike brick universities, you do not get a maintenance loan and no support for living costs is provided as you don’t need to go anywhere to study with the OU. There is some financial support available if you are eligible for additional study related costs, like travel to tutorials/specialist equipment if you have a disability and study supplies if you are on a low income. You will need to contact the Open University to find out what additional costs you can get support with, but it is very limited.

How are the courses structured and taught?

If you are used to the traditional set up of attending classes every day, then understanding how the OU actually works can be a bit confusing. However, it is actually really well structured and organised!

Starting from two weeks before you start your course, I have made a little timeline of what a typical academic year of studying 60 credits looks like. This is based on a Health Sciences qualification, so your course outline may look a little different:

You will have a dedicated tutor who marks your assignments and gives you feedback and who you can ask questions to. They will also lead tutorials online for your subject and there will sometimes be opportunities to attend optional day schools on weekends throughout the year.

Assignments will count towards your overall module grade and how this is calculated depends on the module. Your overall module grade will count towards your degree classification. Just like any other UK degree, the first year of study does not count towards your classification, but you still need to pass in order to be able to progress to your next stage of study.

Ultimately, you have set deadlines that you have to meet, but you organise when you actually sit down to study around your own schedule. As long as you are following the weekly guide and making sure to set time to study every week and ensure you are meeting your deadlines, you will be okay.

How do I apply?

The absolute easiest way to apply for an Open University course is by calling them as they will explain it all to you. You can call them on 0300 303 5303 and they will guide you through step by step. Alternatively, you can sign up online. On each course description page will be a big button saying “register now”. It will guide you through each step and it is really straight forward. The OU is open for registrations for modules starting in October in around March each year and you need to be signed up, ideally, 8 weeks before the module start date to allow time to organise funding. Some modules also start in February, for which reservations open in early January. Make sure you do everything swiftly, especially applying for Student Finance as soon as they open as this can take a long time.

You have to first register on the OU course online to hold a place. You then either pay yourself to complete the registration, or you apply for Student Finance and use your Customer Reference Number to complete registration. If you are confused at all, do call the Open University as they are really helpful.

How easy is it to balance study around working and other commitments?

This will massively depend on what your commitments are and how organised you are. I work full time and I have found it perfectly manageable, but I put in a lot of effort to stay organised and it comes at a bit of a sacrifice of my free time, as i spend most weekends studying all day as I do not like studying after work because I am tired and want to relax. Equally, I do not have children or any other commitments outside of work, so for me it is a bit more manageable. Time management and organisation will be the thing that gets you through an Open University degree. I am always sharing organisation tips, so feel free to subscribe to my blog to stay updated!

How do I know if I am ready to study?

Knowing when you are ready is something only you can answer. If you are constantly thinking about studying but haven’t yet got around to it, it may be that you just need to take a leap of faith and go for it! The worst case scenario is you do not like it and decide to stop, but you will never know until you try.

If you are aiming for a particular career that requires a certain degree, that is always a good starting point. However, be mindful that your career interests can change over time and a degree is a big commitment. Choose something you are passionate about studying. There is no point investing hours of your time a week into something you do not like.

Again, whilst the Open University is open to all regardless of qualifications, unless you have alternative experience, I wouldn’t recommend diving straight in to a degree until you have brushed up on some academic skills. Start with an OU access module or do a few free courses and skills workshops online. The OU will teach you a huge amount of what you need to know, but having a solid foundation of skills to build on such as writing essays and meeting deadlines will really help you.

What is it like compared to a “normal” university?

I have been to both a brick university and the OU and they are very different to one another. You can ready about my OU experience so far by clicking the following link:

What it is like studying with the Open University

Choosing between the Open University and a brick university will require a whole other blog post, but academically they are not very different. The experience you gain from each is quite varied, though. If you want the uni life experience of living away from home, freshers, halls of residence, attending regular lectures and making loads of new friends, you probably shouldn’t pick the OU. The OU is definitely more for people who want to get a degree, but need the flexibility to be able to work or travel at the same time. That is not to say you can’t do that when you attend a brick university, but the OU is significantly more flexible and better designed for online learning.

Frequently Asked Questions

I took to Instagram to ask what some of your main questions are about the Open University. The above points I have discussed will answer most, I hope, but I have included a little Q&A below for some miscellaneous questions.

Question: What are the video lectures like? Is it boring or are the teachers quite interactive? All lectures are different. The majority are interesting, engaging and very helpful. They are delivered through Adobe Connect and normally students use the chat box to type and ask/answer questions and the tutor does a screen share of slides and talks via the microphone. They are delivered in small groups which i really like, as it is easier to ask questions and focus. However, there are always going to be lectures/tutorials that aren’t as interesting to you.

Question: Do you have an option to do your practicals at a uni closest to where you live? This depends on whether the practical is compulsory or not. The majority of the time, practicals are done from home. Any required practicals would be organised at a location near to you but this isn’t always possible and you may have to travel. Practicals are very limited with OU study and normally they are delivered as additional residential schools that you have to pay for, if you want to do it and its not compulsory.

Question: How long have you been studying with the OU? I have been studying with the OU since October 2017 and I am due to finish in 2024 (If i am counting right. I study part time, 60 credits per year).

Question: Can you pick and choose modules as you go or is there a guide or format you have to follow? Do you follow a specific path even though you haven’t chosen a major yet? In England, you don’t really do a major and minor. You normally choose your degree title when you sign up and you follow a set structure of modules. This is pretty much how the Open University works, but they do have the option of the Open Degree. An Open Degree allows you to have a bit of flexibility and blend different subjects together, but the rest of the courses are fairly structured for you.

I hope that I have been able to clear up the main things you need to know about Open University study! I hope that you found this helpful and if you are planning to sign up for a degree, best of luck! I really enjoy OU study and I honestly would recommend it to anyone who is thinking about it. Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog and social media accounts for more student lifestyle and study skills advice.

Love Beth xox