Some of you may know I’ve been studying with the Open University, a distance learning institution, since October last year. I’ve been enjoying it a lot, but I’m not totally happy with every aspect of it, and last weekend I decided to apply for physical university, which, if I decide to go, would start this autumn. I wanted to write a post about why I might change to traditional uni, but that post wasn’t making much sense without the context to explain why I started studying with the OU in the first place.
And so this topic is coming at you in two parts, the first of which is this: why I decided to take up distance learning last year. There were many reasons for this, but many of them related to my mental health:
- My social anxiety last year was too high to be able to even consider starting a new course in a new city, alongside hundreds of people I didn’t know – just the thought could cause me panic
- I wasn’t completely sure I wanted to study Sociology yet, or do it at university level – I thought this would be a good way to test it out without fully committing to a three year degree
- I wanted to be able to do other things alongside studying – get a range of work experience, travel a bit, have more time for writing, etc.
- I wanted the freedom distance learning could give me – the flexibility of doing things on my own time really appealed to me
- I had extremely low confidence in my academic abilities despite my college grades
- I had very low self-esteem regarding what I thought I was able to cope with
- I liked the independent learning style: 99% of OU work is independent, and that suits me a lot – I learn best through reading, writing and working through activities on my own so this felt perfect for me
- I wasn’t interested in a typical university lifestyle – I know lots of people who go to uni aren’t getting drunk and going out all the time, but my few experiences of visiting friends at uni showed me that this is still very much a culture that exists, and that didn’t appeal to me
- I know a few people who really struggled in their first year at uni and I felt like I would be similar
- I’ve read plenty of articles describing increases in mental illness for uni students, such as 78% of students reporting a mental health problem in 2016, with 33% of students having suicidal thoughts: I felt very vulnerable last year and thought it would be likely for me to be one of those statistics – already having had experiences with bad mental health made me aware that university could make it a lot worse (particularly because college certainly did)
There are probably more reasons why I chose distance learning over attending physical university but these are just the ones that came to my head when writing this. As you can see, a lot of it came down to anxiety and feelings that I wasn’t ‘good enough’ for uni. I don’t quite know where such strong feelings of vulnerability and low self-esteem came from: I’ve always had pretty good grades at school and was never bullied, yet these emotions persist.
I never felt like I belonged in school environments, the huge amounts of people and the social side of education was never something I got a grip of; I was happy with the few close friends I had, but I think just having to be at school, around so many people and in so many conversations, drained me. I would go home each day and crawl into the safety of my bed, to read a book or watch something online. I never felt like I could be myself at school. I was always having to expend a lot of effort on putting on a performance and keeping a smile on my face.
By the time I got to college, I sort of gave up on the pretences, and acknowledged it was going to be a struggle to get to the end. With a lot of help from my mum, who encouraged me out of the house each morning with a nice breakfast, a lift to college and a promise of something good to look forward to in the evening, I got through it. The relief of knowing I never had to go back was overwhelming, and I realised I never had to put myself through that again.
All of this helped form the context of my decision to study with the OU. I could get a degree without putting that huge strain on my mental health? Perfect! Sign me up.
So why have I come to the decision that I should potentially uproot all of that and go to physical uni? That’s exactly what I’ll be covering in my next post, so stay tuned…
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