Big K is 13 this year and after some serious discussions with the husband we decided that we were done taking dead end jobs that we hated. Financially we are no better than we was 13 years ago. We still struggle, still scrape through and are still bobbing above the poverty line barely keeping our heads afloat. With that and a mental illness, lost my way in life. I believed I would amount to nothing so stopped trying. 3 years ago someone online gave me the answer I needed to kick my butt back into gear and work towards my own personal life goal. But i didn't start doing anything about it until recently.
I always believed that student loans were for 18-25 year old, fresh out of college youngsters looking to stay in education. I always wanted to work with children. I originally wanted to be a teacher but after I completed a Teaching assistant course, I realised teaching wasn't what I wanted. I did however like working within education. 13 years ago I completed A level sociology and A level psychology, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed and wanted to take further. Due to finances I couldn't keep up with payments for the degree and had to give up after 3 years. It has always played in my mind, I have always wondered "what if?" My dream job is to work within the psychology field and it wasn't until I spoke to someone a couple of years ago that they mentioned joining both psychology and education together. I could easily become an educational or child psychologist, I had the interest and the personality to do so. It is however a long and hard study process, involve me needing a 2:1 degree to be considered for a PhD. The whole course including practical training would take around 10 years and cost over £40k, money I simply do not have, nor ever imagine to have while we are scraping the poverty line in dead end jobs.
Putting my dream job to one side I thought starting from the bottom was best. I would gain a C in maths and science GCSE, go to college to gain an NVQ and while working I could pay for the degree (which is how the TA course came about) While searching for a local college for course prices I spotted an advert for free distance learning. I like to learn new things, it keeps my mind busy and of course free is free, we all love free!
Since deciding I didn't want to work within teaching I have enrolled and completed over 200 free courses, in various subjects, costing me nothing more than a few hours of my time. How?
If you skipped the background info, this is where you need to be to find out how...
All distance learning providers have free material online. Not all gain a qualification, they are mainly for personal gain. For me I wanted to keep my brain active but recently it has been about helping me back into education. I have not wrote at degree level for many years and am aware I write how I talk. I also wanted to make sure this course was right for me before I committed to 6 years of studying.
Firstly though,... Fees. How am I paying for this course?
I mentioned that the course in total is £40k. You will have guessed that I am applying for a student loan (a tuition fee loan) While studying a free course I recently found out that a student loan is not means tested. I will have to pay this back when I earn over £21k a year but it will be paid back at a rate of 9% monthly (working out roughly £90 every £1000) there is a calculator to guesstimate the repayment costs here:
Our income is low, we are nowhere near the £25k a year threshold. Had I not applied for funding 10 years ago I would be entitled to this degree for completely free but in a way I am happy to pay it back.While we are a below average income household, we could afford to pay this back at some point and i would rather that a single mum uses the funding available to help better her little family like i did all those years ago. I suppose it is similar in my head to paying it forward. Plus i think i will work harder at it knowing i am eventually going to pay this amount back.
If you are on income based benefits, living in the UK and do not hold a degree, many colleges and universities may be able to find your course for free and provide financial support while you study.
As it currently stands, if i go the whole hog like i plan to and gain a PhD, this is fully funded by the NHS. I am undecided if i will go all the way as many things will change but it is an option for the future. With a PhD costing £29k to complete i would be very grateful for any help towards those costs. If you was interested in a career within the NHS and studying to degree level it is worth finding out if there is an NHS funded course available or if there is any organisations willing to help towards costs.
So... About these free courses?
I mentioned all distance learning providers offer free courses. Here is a few i have personally used and my experience of them.
Open Lean is run by Open University. It was started in 2007 and is my most used source for free courses. The courses are short extracts taken from a full degree so no qualification can be earned. They are however great for anyone who wishes to become accustomed to degree level material. I use Open Learn to fill a few hours when i am on my own and keep my brain cells going. To enroll on a course simply register and browse through the course selection. When signed in, along the top near the social media buttons is a enroll button. Press that and you are signed up. Courses are completed within 4 hours - 24 hours and are do able in your own time. Simply click through and read the material. Some involve listening to extracts and all have small activities for you to do. None of the courses involve any major writing. Each course will recommend further free courses as well as paid for courses for you to do. If you were looking at studying further this is a great way of discovering if you may enjoy the course before applying.
The Home Learning College offers both free and paid for courses. This is not degree level but great for a basic qualification to get you into your chosen sector. I have studied and completed a EDI Diploma in Child Psychology through HLC. I paid over the course of 12 months via monthly installments. My total cost of all courses combined with no funding help was just over £1700. There is government funded courses available but these appear to be in the bookkeeping/accounting sector.
I found these easy to learn through. Everything was done online with any books being sent to my address. I could complete this in my own time and had brilliant support from a tutor online.
This is a new site for me. I found it by chance but seems to list quite abit. It says you can download for free or pay for a postal certificate of completion but i suspect it is not a qualification, it is more a personal achievement. There is an assessment at the end and the certificate will only be issued should you score 80% or more upon completion. It looks like it is worldwide and i think personally its a great tool for getting used to a higher education set up. There is a wide range of courses with a few diplomas available which only seem to take between 10-15 hours to complete. It is self paced so like Open Learn you could stop and start as you please.
vison2learn offer government funded courses. These are completely free but you can only study one at a time. They seem to be mainly for career progression rather than a set qualification but you do get a certificate upon completion. They only offer a handful of free courses so it is worth checking back every few months to see if any new ones appear.
As well as the above it is worth looking to your local college for free or cheap courses. Many colleges offer free GCSE Maths and English for those who did not gain a C or above.
Here is a few more sites which i found while browsing but have no experience of.
- BBC Adult learning - free courses
- elearnuk.co.uk - free and paid
- Learn Direct - free, paid and apprenticeships
You could also look at the National Careers Service website for information about funded and self funded courses in your local area or for other distance learning providers.