When I decided to become a mature student last summer, I cast around the internet for information about the organisation I wanted to study with and found hardly any. I was about to commit to 4 years study and a large student debt and I was desperate to find experiences of real people to tell me what it would be like and whether it would be worth it.
I've now completed my first semester and my first module and I know the answers to the kind of questions I was asking 3 months ago, so I wanted to do a blog post about it to help others in the future...
Firstly I'm a part-time student studying Graphic Design with the Interactive Design Institute. IDI advises that this involves about 20 hours study a week and I'd say that so far that's been pretty accurate. Theo is in nursery three mornings a week and by the time the dog walk is done, I have 6 hours across those mornings to work and I'm very strict about doing nothing else in that time. In addition I work every lunchtime when he has his nap and I do a couple of hours every evening. I very rarely watch TV during the week and I don't have time for sewing. It's a heck of a commitment and I have no idea how you'd manage it if you work full-time. In fact from what I've seen discussed online I might be pretty much the only person who didn't fall behind to some degree this semester and that has a lot to do with my own personal determination and obsessive organisational skills.
As far as the course content goes. A lot of the reason I wanted to study was to learn how to use Adobe Illustrator and in some ways that target has been met, but not directly by the course content. IDI introduces you to the very basics of Illustrator, but if you want to learn more you have to teach yourself. As I now have a motivation and purpose to do so I have been doing exactly that and its been very fulfilling, but again so much of the course is about what you put in yourself.
Distance learning institutions like IDI often advertise themselves as a cheaper higher education alternative for school-leavers and it's true, they are, but if I was advising a school-leaver I would never recommend this route. At 18 you do not have the discipline to keep the momentum of study up and you miss out on loads that you'd experience at a bricks and mortar university. Going the other route might mean your debt is larger, but personally I think you are more likely to end up with a qualification to go with it too.
Anyway, the point is I have survived and completed my first module! Our brief was to design a poster to advertise a typographical conference, but of course it was much more than that. There was copious research, many hours of idea generation and development work and then there was at the very end, one poster. As a graphic designer you must fight the urge all along to over-complicate your design and you need to get the message across in a simple visually compelling way. I have a long way to go and a steep learning curve to climb, but I have my first poster and I have the knowledge that with one semester under my belt, I have now surpassed my previous record of university attendance 20 years ago!