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Jo's story: from Access course to first class graduate

Portrait photograph of OU graduate Jo. She's facing the camera and smiling. In the background you can just see blue balloons

Health and Social Care graduate Jo had to leave school after her O-Levels, to help support her family. Following a conversation with a colleague, she was inspired to pursue an Access course with the OU, which she describes as a 'game-changer'. She shared her OU journey with us:

"I left school after my O-levels to take a job in a department store as my family needed the financial support. I remember my Mum telling me I was “lucky to have a proper job”. Times were hard for my family and I needed to help out.

The years flew by and I always felt disappointed that I had not continued in education. I’d been on autopilot for a few years following my divorce and was desperate to do something for myself. I wanted to prove to myself that I could go back to education and pursue my dream of obtaining a degree. A colleague was studying with the Open University and I asked her so many questions! I felt sure she must have had A-levels to embark on a degree, but you didn’t need them.

I didn’t have the confidence to study at degree level. It had been a long time since I had studied anything, and I wasn't sure if I was capable. To my relief, I found that the OU offered Access to Higher Education courses. The bonus for me was that, because I was on a low income, I didn’t have to pay for the Access course, which was a game-changer. Most of my life has revolved around watching the pennies so to be able to study part-time and for free was just unbelievable.

I started my Access course in 2014 as a single parent bringing up four children aged between three and nine. I was working part-time, so studied mostly on my non-working days and the weekends.  I was so nervous and had no idea how I was going to manage. I had to be super organised at home and at work. I kept telling myself the academic year is not a long time, so I was prepared to make some sacrifices.

I hope tutors know how important they can be to their students.  My tutors were all very knowledgeable and amazing in different ways, but two in particular had a big impact. Valerie was my tutor for the Access course. She explained things very clearly and gave me the foundations in academic writing and helped me to believe in myself.  I got a distinction overall and I was blown away. That gave me the confidence to continue my OU journey and start a degree in Health and Social Care. 

The other tutor who stands out was during my degree studies, my first Level 2 tutor, Kathy. She was so calm and again had a very easy way of explaining things. I remember her saying to me. ''I know you will go on to complete your degree Jo''.

I have overcome many obstacles during my studies but have felt supported by tutors when life got in the way.

I really did feel part of a community while I was studying; distance learning does not have to be a lonely experience. Usually I’d join a WhatsApp group for each module to talk to other students. I was inspired by all the amazing students who were doing well on their assignments and by hearing stories from those who were in their final years of study getting ready to graduate, they were awesome.

I feel so proud that I have done this while my kids have been studying themselves. I’ve even inspired my youngest to go to University; all because of my OU studies.  


To anyone thinking about starting to study with the OU, just do it! Get your degree if that's what you want to do. You can study from home if that suits you. It's hard sometimes as money can be tight and we have so many responsibilities, but always remember YOU are important and YOU matter. If you’re not sure, talk to the OU for advice or speak to past students. You may be nervous, and you may have lost some confidence but my goodness you will get them back tenfold!

I’ve now managed to fulfil my dream of getting my degree and I’m delighted that I have a First Class BA (Honours) in Health and Social Care. It was worth every bit of sacrifice I made."


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