By Sharee Cordes
I think it all started for us when Jayden became interested in linguistics. I was searching on the internet for some way to help him find out more about linguistics when I came across the Open Universities Australia website. Unfortunately they don’t offer any undergraduate linguistics subjects, but there were so many other interesting sounding subjects on the list, so I suggested to Jayden that he might like to have a look at what was available. Jayden was 14 at this time, and I thought that I would like him to get an idea of what options were out there for tertiary study.
He became quite enthusiastic when looking through the list of Open University subjects as well, and decided he would like to attempt one. He chose one from the list of recommended first subjects – Introduction to Human Geography, which was offered by Curtin University. One of our considerations when choosing this subject was the assessment requirements; this subject required 2 long essays but no exams, which we thought sounded achievable for Jayden.
The next step was to do his enrollment, which was online and easy, and to buy his text book, which was expensive, about $120. Soon he received his study materials in the mail and started work.
Open Universities state the each subject requires about 10 hours of study time per week, and we found that this was about right. There was a lot of reading involved, mostly from the text book and readings that had been sent to Jayden.
The biggest challenge was obviously completing the essays! The first part of this challenge was finding resources. I helped Jayden quite a bit with this, as it required searching catalogues on the internet and having libraries send books to us (we are in the country). Jayden used some web sites as resources, but it is really important to use books as well.
Next came writing the actual essays. Jayden has grown up as a natural learner, he had limited essay writing experience; however his experience on our homeschoolers debating team had set him up beautifully for this. He was able to apply what he had learnt when writing his debating speeches to plan and write his essays. The hardest and most stressful part for Jayden was referencing, as he had no experience of this, and we knew that it was very important. Soon after he finished this study, we got the new version of Microsoft Word which actually makes referencing very easy!
After a few very late nights Jayden completed his essays, and his subject, and received a very good mark.
Our overall feelings about this experience were very positive. Jayden found the subject to be really interesting and enjoyed the opportunity to research areas that interested him in great depth. We had some very stressful days when he was writing his essays, but I think a lot of the stress was due to not really knowing what was expected (especially in regards to referencing), and also due to not allowing enough time to get the resources sent. I am sure that next time will be a lot less stressful because we will be old hands!
Jayden is very keen to continue studying at University level. We believe that if students have completed four subjects through Open Universities they are able to apply for entry to a regular university course (although we plan to do more research to confirm this), so Jayden hopes to get into University this way.
We decided that although Jayden had the ability to study at this level at 14 we didn’t see any need for him to be under this pressure at such a young age, so he has put off further studies until next year.
We feel that Open Universities Australia is a great option for homeschooled students who have good thinking and writing skills and are keen to study subjects that interest them at a higher level.
Some facts about Open Universities Australia
- Open Universities Australia is an organisation that offers university subjects from fifteen leading Australian universities and colleges to the general public on a user pays basis. These are regular university subjects, the same as students enrolled in full university courses would be studying and can be used as part of a university qualification.
- Subjects are studied externally using the Internet and resources that are mailed to you. There are over 700 subjects to choose from.
- The minimum age for studying through Open Universities is 11 and there are no entry requirements for first year undergraduate subjects (although some more advanced subjects may have prerequisites.)
- There are four study periods in the year beginning in March, June, September and December and each subject goes for about 13 weeks.
- They offer Unilearn bridging units in areas such as mathematics, chemistry, biology and physics for people who wish to improve their skills before attempting a University subject in these areas.
- They also offer free Quickskills modules which give students information about things like time management and preparing for exams.
- There is a list of recommended first units for people who are just beginning University studies.
- Subjects cost between $610 and about $850 (less for Unilearn subjects). Fee Help is a scheme that may be accessed to help pay for this.
- A student enrolled in two subjects is considered to be a full time university student.
- Students are issued with a student card
- For more information, visit the website www.open.edu.au
Back in 2008 I wrote a story for Otherways about the experience of having our teenager studying subjects through Open Universities Australia. At the time I wrote…
“We believe that if students have completed four subjects through Open Universities they are able to apply for entry to a regular university course (although we plan to do more research to confirm this), so Jayden hopes to get into University this way.”
Well, I just wanted to write and let everyone know that it works! Jayden was offered a place in the Bachelor of Arts at MacQuarie University in Sydney back in December – before the year 12 school students even had their exam results – and today he was also offered a place at Melbourne University in the first round of offers.
Jayden went on to study a total of five subjects through Open Univerisities. We were told by a student advisor at Melbourne University that he could apply there with only four subjects, but as places were quite competitive, he had a better chance if he had six. We were also told that because they have an English pre-requisite, Melbourne Uni would need to look at his subjects to ensure that one of them would meet this requirement (they could not tell us which subjects would do this though). Because of this advice, Jayden decided to study ‘Introduction to English’ as one of his Open University subjects – this proved to be his most difficult subject so far!
Completing five subjects through Open Universities was hard work for Jayden, he only did one subject at a time, except for the last study period when he did two, but this still seemed to take a large part of his day (although we still managed to fit in plenty of homeschool camps!). One thing that he found quite hard was that there was no break between subjects, he would finish one subject on Friday and start the next one on Monday, so he was really ready for a break by the time he finished. However, it was certainly preferable to the hard slog that we see so many year 12 students doing, and the advantage is that he has already completed the first semester of his degree.
When Jayden applied for the courses, he just filled out the regular application form. He didn’t say anything about his homeschooling background on the form, relying solely on his University results. The offer from MacQuarie actually came before the results for his final two subjects had been released, so they have offered him the place based on the results of only three subjects.
For Jayden, and I’m sure for many other homeschoolers who wish to go to University, this is a great option – I am still amazed that it worked so well!
I hope that this will help other students to find a path that works for them too.
Wishing you all the best with your homeschooling journey,