Taking a gap year is becoming more and more popular. But would it be possible to merge your gap year and the years spent at university into one great, amazing travel experience that doesn’t have to end after one short year? Is it possible to get a degree and travel the world at the same time? The short answer: yes! Nowadays, you can get a degree while travelling the world!
**This post was imported from my old blog and was originally published in 2015**
Of course you always have the option of travelling a bit during semester holidays or long weekends. But if you’re anything like me, that just isn’t enough. The reason why I’m only just starting university now, at the age of 23, is because I just couldn’t stay in one place for three years just to get a degree. So what has changed now? Nothing, really. I haven’t stopped travelling. I’m writing this post from Laos, after hitchhiking here from China. I’m also studying for a Bachelor’s degree at the same time. So how can I get a degree while travelling? Online distance-learning!
Are online distance-learning degrees real?
I used to think that online degrees aren’t ‘real’ degrees. However, after researching the topic a bit, I realised that’s not the case at all. As a matter of fact, a degree from an accredited online learning programme looks as good on your CV as a ‘normal’ degree – plus, it shows your future employer that you have dedication and amazing time management skills! Ok, it’s not Oxford, but neither was that university in Nepal I wanted to study Buddhism at (That was my plan before I decided to get a degree while travelling at the same time!).
I’m currently enrolled at one of the courses at The Open University, and honestly, I’m loving it! And if I ever decide that an online degree isn’t enough, I can always do my Master’s at a ‘real’ university. Oh but believe me, the workload feels very real. I generally spend a few hours every day studying – and it’s not unusual for me to hide behind my books and laptop for 8 hours straight if there’s an assignment due. However, the great thing about distance learning is that I can study when I want and where I want. So if I have something awesome planned for next week, I simply work my a** off this week and try to get ahead of my study planner!
How does online education work?
This probably depends on the institution and programme you choose. I can only speak about the modules I’ve taken so far with The Open University. I got sent a bunch of books and login details for an online portal. I need to do a lot of reading, but also other activities online, as well as live Skype-type tutorials. For this year’s modules, I didn’t have to take any exams, but had to send in essays and assignments, which were then marked by my tutor. Next year I’m gonna have to write an exam in Switzerland, so we’re trying to arrive in Europe by then. (Edit 2016: this is not necessary! You can request to move your exams to anywhere in the world for a fee. For instance, I could write my exams at The British Council in Yangon, Myanmar!)
Some courses will have other dates where you have to be physically present at a certain location, others won’t. My course is pretty location independent, which is great, because this means I can travel the world – except for that one week next year when I have to be in Switzerland, but c’mon, that’s a small price to pay for a degree! (Edit 2016: Again, not necessary! I am completely location-independent and studying does not interfere with my travel plans.)
How much does it cost to get a degree while travelling?
This depends on various factors, such as which university you choose, which course and modules and even your age and nationality. It costs me about half of the price I’d pay in a ‘normal’ university in England (paying home fees). It’s more than what I would pay at university in Switzerland (which is next to nothing). However, it’s also important to consider the cost of living. If I studied in Europe, I’d pay much more for food and rent than I would in India or South East Asia. This is especially true if you’re from an expensive country like Switzerland. Depending on where you’re from, most courses will be cheaper than their equivalent in a traditional university.
At the moment, fees at The Open University are around GBP 5’000 per year of full-time study, meaning that a complete Bachelors degree will cost you around GBP 15’000. If you are a UK resident, you should be able to get a student loan. The International programmes by the University of London are much cheaper and you can complete your degree for GBP 4’292! However, it seems that you get much more support at The Open University, so depending on how much of an independent learner you are, The Open University might be a better fit for you! There’s lots of other distance-learning institutions and many traditional universities offer online programmes as well nowadays. (I am working on creating a Distance-Learning Guide to help out other people want to study and get a degree while travelling the world. Stay tuned!)
Can I do it?
Most people should be able to enrol in an online learning programme and get a degree while travelling the world. Some courses require you to live in a certain country or have a certain nationality, some courses will require certain qualifications or that you are currently working in a specific field or job.
For example, for my course I had to officially register with a Swiss address, as the course wasn’t available in China. This means that all my books got sent to Switzerland and my online tutorials were at 3 AM because of the time difference – of course I was still allowed to travel, so everyone understood why I looked a bit tired! I couldn’t choose the module I originally wanted, as it required me to work in an Early Years Setting (nursery school/ day care) in the UK, so I had to choose a different module. So check out a few courses and make sure you meet all the requirements!
I’m sure you’ll find the right course for you and soon you will also be getting a degree while travelling the world! One of the things I love most about The Open University is that their undergraduate degrees have no formal ‘academic’ requirements – this means you can enroll in a course no matter what grades you’ve got. You can even enroll if didn’t finish secondary school! Other universities have normal entry requirements. The programmes at the University of London, for example, have more specific entrance requirements depending on which course you’d like to enrol in – for instance, you might need to demonstrate a certain level of mathematical competence.
What is studying for a degree while travelling like?
Although I like to complain about all the assignments I have to write and the books I have to carry, enrolling in an online BA programme with The Open University was one of the best decisions of my life! Not only is my course really interesting and I have great tutors, but I’m also getting a little peace of mind. The past three years, although I was loving travelling, I was always a bit worried that I was wasting my time or I wasn’t sure what will happen in the future, career wise. Now I can keep doing what I love, which is travelling, while getting a degree at the same time. So if I ever want to stop travelling, I’ll have this as a back-up! Plus, it will make it SO much easier finding work abroad. Of course it’s not always easy, but I think it’s worth it.
To give you an idea of what it’s like to study and travel at the same time, here’s a little pro and contra list:
learn at your own pace
being able to travel
cheaper than ‘normal’ university
you can get student discounts
you learn something new
it looks good on your CV
you can travel the world at the same time
you have a degree at the end!
|need good time management skills
hard to stay motivated
may have to carry around books
no social aspects of being at university
some courses are a bit pricey
some people might tell you your degree isn’t real
Ok, I might be a bit biased here, but I can think of so many more advantages than disadvantages of getting a degree while travelling!
Edit 2016: I’m now in my final year and I can honestly say that my experience with The Open University has been nothing short of outstanding. The workload in year 2 & 3 gets much more, so you should be prepared for that. In my first year, I was able to work full-time as an English teacher while studying – I have since decided to switch to working part-time (Although some people still manage to work full-time on the side!). Academically, I feel like I’m on the same ‘level’ as my peers at traditional university. Where I see a clear difference though is motivation. A lot of my friends back home moan a lot about not wanting to go to lectures or not caring about their subjects – I genuinely enjoy studying and don’t have to attend any 8 AM lectures! Plus, I’ve learnt how to manage my time really well and have become a very independent learner. Including my enrollment in a BA distance learning degree on my CV has helped me immensely with my job search, both in Asia and Europe – and I haven’t even graduated yet! Most importantly, the material that The Open University provides is incredibly well designed/ put together which has made this experience really enjoyable. In fact, I’m already looking at MA distance learning programmes! (With other course providers, as my subject is not covered at MA level at The Open University)
Have you ever been enrolled in an online learning programme or are you considering getting a degree while travelling at the same time? Share your experience or any questions you might have in the comment section!