A letter to First Years

Open Justice student and regular blog contributor Dona Mclachlan shares her experience of studying law at The Open University with students who are first starting out on their OU journey.

As you stand at the foot of the mountain of higher education, some of you may be on a familiar climb others new to the experience. Looking forward to the summit at the top may seem a daunting task, a seemingly impossible, long, difficult feat. Gain comfort from the knowledge that many have gone before you and succeeded in their endeavour. Some of you will sprint through in three years or less, others will take six years or longer. Timing matters not, this is your journey, enjoy it. You are about to embark on a life changing experience, embrace the challenges, you will overcome each and every one, celebrate the victories no matter how small.

There are numerous things you can do to assist yourself, start by not looking at the entire course syllabus for the degree, focus instead on what you can do today to further your studies. Today is all we have make the most of it even if it is just reading on your way to work, or spending 30 min after putting the children to bed. Every minute counts towards the climb to the finish.

Learn your way around the OU website, that is your campus, walk around virtually, know where to find things. Familiarity leads to calm assurance you can access your first tutorial ‘room’ or student services when you need some IT help. Make sure your technology is up to the job of finishing your course with anxiety free ease.

Most importantly join in, don’t be bashful. You will find the first face to face tutorial that took so much courage to attend is not full of glamorous super smart people who know all the answers, but individuals exactly like you with just as many uncertainties. You are not too old, too young, or too anything,  you are just perfect as a student. Those tutorials are not mandatory but so important to success, the data supports the fact students who attend and contribute to tutorials both face to face and online are more likely to achieve higher marks. Plus it is fun and  fantastic to meet other like minded students who you can study with. These fellow students are your network and can be support as you progress through the degree.

Get involved with the University, run for student office, join the law society, moot, mentor. The more you get involved the more you learn about the University, the tutors, the heads of the different departments. These individuals will assist you with personal references in the future if applicable, or offer guidance through some tough decisions about your future career. They have insight into many things and are accessible if you only just step up and make yourself known. Additionally you will feel a connection to your university and your peers that rivals a bricks and mortar university, a pride of place.  

Embrace the library, you are a university student now, develop a haughty disdain for google, you are above that. You will be given access to some very comprehensive databases. It is important you learn how to research in these databases with speed to not only to complete your degree but prepare yourself for the working world in your chosen profession.

Believe in yourself, you have got this. Everyone suffers from self-doubt particularly in that first module. Know the degree programme has been designed for success, the OU want you to succeed, your tutor wants you to succeed. 50 years of remote teaching experience and delivering material has gone into your course of study. You will be a success if you put the effort in.  

One day seemingly soon you will realize you are at the summit of achievement having accomplished with relative ease a feat you thought so daunting an impossibility at the beginning. You will have become not only more educated and more employable but a supercharged version of your former self, the best you can be. As you look from your summit the vista will reveal other mountains to climb only this time self-doubt and trepidation are absent because you know how to succeed, you are an Open University graduate!

Dona is an OU law student who is currently studying W360 ‘Justice in action’ and regularly contributes to the Open Justice blog. As well as blogging, Dona enjoys cold water swimming.

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