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Hello, fellow crustaceans,

after giving up on my studies a few years ago, lately I’ve been thinking about getting back in the game. I have several options ranging from simply going back and continuing my previous studies to applying to a completely different university.

Recently I’ve been reading more and more about various distance learning options, and they seem fairly interesting. In Europe, The Open University seems like one of the larger providers of the sort. It’s not cheap, but it seems like a well regarded institution.

Does anyone have any experience with a pursuit like this? Any tips, tricks, warnings or recommendations? How do people look at an “online degree” when applying for graduate or postgraduate studies? For what it’s worth, I’m interested in a BSc in Physics, but any experience will be of help.

Thank you!

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    I went to a state technical school as a young man, majoring in CS, and dropped out two years in due to the tech boom of the early 2000’s when I was offered a job making more money than anyone in my family had ever seen.

    Years later, I decided to go back and finish my degree. A buddy of mine ended up going to WGU and recommended it for busy professionals, and that’s where I ended up.

    Pros:

    • Nonprofit
    • Accredited
    • Competency-based, meaning you can test out of any class whenever you feel you’re ready (or, for some classes, submit a project)
    • Inexpensive (around $3000 per six-month-term, for however many courses you can pack into those six months)

    Cons:

    • The selection of majors is somewhat restricted
    • There’s not a lot of contact with faculty; you definitely need to be self-motivated (there are chats and cohorts and course mentors you can talk to and such, but it’s up to you to reach out to them)
    • The quality of the materials ranges from poor to okay
    • I feel like it didn’t really each me all that much

    So that last point deserves some elaboration: the courses seem very simple. Now, that was looking at them through the lens of decades of practical experience and (arguably obsessive) self-teaching. If I think back to when I was 18-22, they might not have seemed so simple then.

    Also, that second-to-last point should be talked about a bit. The primary learning resources are all fine; they’re the same textbooks and such that you’d get at any university. The lectures are often just video series from one or another professional education organization (that is, not a university/professor, but a professional). There are occasional videos from professors at the university, but (like anything) they vary widely in quality.

    There’s a heavy focus on practice and less on theory: as part of your degree you get various certifications; the certification is, in effect, your “final exam” for the course.

    The fact that most (but not all) classes have a “final exam” that you can take at any time and be done with is a double-edged sword. I remember the “introduction to programming” class that I was required to take didn’t actually require that you write any code: it was just a final exam where you read some Python code and said what it would do or find errors in it, etc. (There are other courses where you do have to submit relatively large programs as your final project; these were all in Java IIRC.)

    All-in-all, I’m not super-duper-satisfied. I didn’t need a degree for my career; it was almost entirely just to check a box. If you just “need a degree” for whatever reason, and you’ve got a busy life, WGU is a good bet. It’s cheap, it’s fast, it’s accredited, and it’s non-profit. In terms of return on investment, well…it’s cheap and it’s accredited so it’s great bang-for-buck. In terms of education, it’s…well, I didn’t learn anything.

    (I’m in the process of deciding if I want to go get a second bachelor’s from a more prestigious school, treating the WGU bachelor’s as essentially just “getting the last of my pre-reqs out of the way,” but it’s a lot of time and effort.)

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      Thank you, that was most helpful! I believe we’re in a similar position: I don’t require a degree for my career, but I would love to have some sort of academic credentials since they do give you some options that would be very hard to get otherwise (academia, many research positions, the warm and fuzzy feeling of completion etc.).

      Unfortunately, WGU doesn’t seem to admit people who don’t live in the US or Canada. Intuitively, I’m aware that the lack of contact means a lot of the success depends on the amount of work of the student, and that motivation is the key. Regarding the variation in quality, I’ve found that to be the case with my brick-and-mortar university as well; certain teachers are simply bad and certain classes are simply not well thought out, and I guess that just becomes much more visible with distance learning.

      I appreciate you sharing your experience!

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      Unfortunately I don’t have any experience with distance learning, but I do have experience with a degree in physics.

      I got my MPhys 4 years ago and the contact hours were high (for the UK, compared to people doing softer sciences) at around 25 - 27 hours a week. This was pretty valuable time, with a lecturer to ask questions and explain the concepts that I had trouble with.

      I don’t know how much “contact” time you get with distance learning courses, but I found it very useful / vital for me personally. Plus the lab based modules were pretty useful.

      As for how people look at it - I’m just about to finish a PhD and start a postdoc - I’m pretty sure if you have the grade (2:1 or higher) and have the experience / do well in the interview it would count the same.

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        Thanks a bunch! My previous studies have been towards an MEd in Physics and Computer Science. Going back to that would be an option, but since the studies don’t affect my work and my interests lie elsewhere, I am considering alternatives.

        I’ve done a fair amount of lab work, and I do agree it’s really useful! I’ll certainly miss that, but I’m hoping I’ll still remember a thing or two from my labs a few years back. :) As far as other contact time is concerned, from what I could gather, you usually get assigned a tutor who you can contact in case you get stuck or need further clarification, which sounds like a reasonable compromise.