The global push to flexible HE – the sort that suits working adults – has much to recommend it but there’s a lot to take on board. UK and Australian higher education, in particular, have a history of carefully constructed programmes where people simply cannot take a Year3 course without the ‘underpinning knowledge’. Globally, there is now the option to land yourself on a course for which you are now either over-qualified or, to be fair, not ready. Either situation is wrong – so how do you avoid it, how do you make a good choice of course/module? Assuming you are already signed up somewhere, here are some ideas:
1 Check the assessment method
Some people like essays and other people like tests or discussions or projects. Ideally, at the end of a programme, you should be good at all of them but real-life decisions require real-life sense. If the university/college cannot tell you what the assessment method is and give percentage breakdowns between types – run. All good universities have some sort of course approval system that includes an outline of the assessment system.
2 Be realistic about time
Accountants: you know when year-end is, so why do so many of you sign up for extra classes just when you are going to have to be in the office ‘permanently’? It takes time – sometimes lots of it – to convince universities and colleges to grant you an extension or transfer to a later cohort. That may also cost you money. If work is certain to get in the way a) do not sign up for too many courses and b) see if you can sign up for a course with a flexible workload. Courses relying on teamwork are not good for this because your team-mates may need your input just when you are at your busiest in the office. Instead, look for courses with independent reading and project work where you can put in extra study at times when the office is less busy.
3 Be gentle on yourself
Especially if returning to HE or starting in later life, have a think about your skills. You may be the world’s most challenge-beating salesman but if being really honest with yourself, you write the occasional memo and get your partner to write the annual holiday letters, you may not want to start with a subject that requires both email discussions and weekly essays. If you write very little, join the essay writing class at your first opportunity to save many hours of misery on other courses and increase your chances of a good grade.
4 What should you know first?
It is tempting to sign up for the course you have always wanted to take just because – at last – you can. There may be no formal ‘pre-requisites’ (courses you must have passed first); perhaps because people join the course from a wide range of backgrounds and specifying an exact entry route is seen as overly restrictive. Good marketing literature and good advisors will say something like “students are expected to have a grounding in/ sound knowledge of …” but it is easy to ignore the warnings. One way of checking the warnings is to have a look inside the recommended textbook, if there is one, and check page1 plus the charts, tables and case studies.