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In my youth I was lucky enough to live within walking distance of a field that contained horses.  Occasionally I would walk past them, pick some grass from the side of the fence I was on and feed it to them, even though they had plenty of grass in their paddock.  Sometimes I would wonder what they saw in the grass from the other side of the fence, although now I wonder if they were clever enough to realise that they hadn’t urinated on the stuff near the road…  Or maybe they really did think the grass was greener over there.

This brings me to an article in the Bucks Advertiser (unfortunately I can’t find an online version) that I read, as part of my job, today about the importance of A-levels.  Six people offered their opinion on if A-levels were important or not and, ironically, it seemed that the people without A-levels thought they were important, while those with A-levels thought that they would have been better entering the workplace straight from school.

The arguments from people without A-levels were that they felt they had missed out on important building blocks that would have given them additional knowledge to help them in their everyday lives, things that others will have considered quite basic, but that they had to find out about the hard way; also they said that you can earn more with more qualifications. The arguments from people with A-levels were that they are basically only tailored towards sending you to University and that while general knowledge is useful they considered vocational training to be more worthwhile in terms of earning capabilities.

I think both arguments also apply to deciding if you pursue degree level education – the right vocational training (if you know what you want to do with your life) will mean that you don’t pile up the student debts and will give you a three year head-start on the wages ladder, while a degree has a lot of transferable skills and the expectation that you’ll be able to start on a higher salary than if you hadn’t done it (y’know, if we were in a favourable job market!).

But I think in the end that so long as you are able to make an informed decision, either could work for you.  So I’ve put together a list of things that I’ll be trying to do to make my Open University degree work for me, but is probably transferable to the world of work too.  Just so you know, this list is the result of a lot of reflection on what went wrong with my first degree.

1. Work as hard as you can – I know there will be times when “as hard as I can” will be less than at other times, but I never want to look back and regret not putting more hours in to it.  Although that does bring me onto…

2. Don’t let yourself burn out – I know that when I overwork myself the overall quality of my work suffers.  I know that when I spend a sustained period of time at full speed that it causes me to mentally collapse.  I am learning to recognise the point at which that happens and so that I can apply the appropriate amount of relaxation time and time taking things at a slower pace.  Learning not to take too much relaxation time is also important!

3. Remind yourself of the reasons you picked this path in the first place – I want to prove to myself that I can do better than I did in my first degree.  I want to improve the quality of my writing.  I want to experience the joy I get from learning new things.

4. Be honest with yourself – in my first degree I spent two or three years sticking to it because I was too stubborn to give up.  If I’d have reminded myself of the reasons I’d picked that degree and honestly assessed if I was on track to meet those goals I may have realised that I was on the wrong path.

5. Make use of the resources available to you – I’m terrible at this.  I have a habit of not contacting my tutor often enough (for both this and my first degree), I stop talking about how everything is going with my family and friends when things are looking down and as a result I miss out on valuable support.  I make my life more difficult than it has to be and I know that this is one area where I need to improve. I am not a one woman juggernaut that can plough through my learning on my own, I am a fallible human being and I need the support of others.

Now the only trick is putting them into practice!