James Collins intended to go to university to study Leisure and Tourism, however, when he the opportunity to be a model he thought he’s take a year out and give that a go. That year turned into many years and eventually James decided that he needed to plan for when his modelling career would come to an end. He had originally wanted to study something in Sports the first time around, so, after completing a personal training certificate, decided to enrol with the OU to study Sport, Fitness and Coaching. James studied full time around his modelling work, which meant he had to be able to complete his OU studies whilst travelling around the world! Three years later and James completed his degree achieving a First Class. He is now studying for his Masters with Middlesex University with a focus on strength and conditioning. In the future, James is aiming to work in an academy or with athletes training them on strength and conditioning. He’s also considering a PhD!
“I completed my GCSE’s and GNVQ back in the day and finished that in 2001. The intention was that I was going to go to Birmingham University to study Leisure and Tourism. Back when I was applying to university there weren’t that many degrees in sport related subjects apart from Physical Education. I wasn’t the best student in my teenage years, so I didn’t get the grades to be able to do that at the time, which was why I was going to do Leisure and Tourism – I’m not really sure what I would have done with that though.
But before I started with Birmingham University I got an opportunity somehow to be a model. So I thought I’d give that a go and take a year out. That year, however, turned into many, many years and I did that all through my 20’s. I was very lucky to be able to travel the world doing it – New York, Paris and Milan, but I got to the point where I was tired of not using my brain, and I knew that eventually it would come to an end and I needed to start thinking of the future. I took a personal training certification to see if I could learn again as it had been so long and I passed that so then decided to give the OU a go. I needed to be able to study alongside modelling and travelling as I couldn’t just be based in London or anything like that.
When I started my OU studies it was a nice shock to the system! I decided to complete my studies full time, so I did it in 3 years. I was able to still travel around for work and just take my books and my laptop with me. I did my tutorials here, there and everywhere and it actually went very well. Somehow I managed to get a first class grade!
I think everybody knows the OU. You grow up seeing the videos on BBC 1 and 2 at night and I just one day decided to have a look to see if there was anything sport related available and was quite surprised to see that there was. As part of the sports degree with the OU there was personal training experience so that seemed to fit perfectly and that’s why I chose that degree with the OU.
There were a couple of challenging elements for me. I was doing it full time and there was a lot of reading that you had to do, especially around Christmas. In the curriculum you have the Christmas period off, but I found that’s where I caught up so that was really busy for me. Also, at a regular university you have your teacher with you every week and you can ask them questions face to face, whereas with the OU you sometimes have just one tutorial and you have you ask your questions by email which can mean you have to wait a while to get a reply. Doing exams in handwriting was brutal. I was used to doing it all on a laptop and my hand was in agony. Whilst studying I was always travelling for work, so I was having to deal with everything that comes with that, including working out of different times zones and jet lag. I was always having these big events to deal with too. However, because of the type of study I was able to take my books and materials with me to be able to study whilst travelling.
I found having the online tutorials really helpful because you could go back and listen as many times as you liked. Whereas now in my lectures for my masters I record them on my phone and hope that will work every time so that I can go back and listen to them like I did at the OU. Being able to do that is super, super helpful!
Because I was doing it full time, every month I’d have 2 assignments due in so I’d give myself two weeks to get the assignment done. The first week, I would make sure I got all of the reading done and in the second week I would write my assignment even if it didn’t have to be in for a couple of weeks and I would just stick to that routine. If I had a ton of reading to do then I would just do it on the weekends.
When I first started my OU studies, the original plan was that I was going to be a PE teacher. I was intended to follow up my OU studies with teacher training. But the first year went really well and I just started to have a look around at what other jobs there was in sports that I could do. I decided to go down the strength and conditioning route and then I found a Masters course at Middlesex University that I thought would be good and so I started to just aim for that instead. My current plan is to complete my masters in Strength and Conditioning and then start applying for roles working at an academy or with athletes coaching on strength and conditioning. I’m also just debating whether to do a PhD alongside that too!
My advice to anyone considering an OU course would be to just stay on top of the reading and try to have a strict timetable that you stick to, because it’s very easy to get behind, especially with holidays or big events in your life. Also I would say to ask your tutors anything you’re not sure about – I was really bad with emailing them, but they are there to help you and they may even give you the answer without realising it!
I would definitely recommend the OU because you don’t need to have a certain level of grade to enter, so if you did poor at school when you were younger and want to get back into it, you can give it a try. You’re able to earn money and get a degree at the same time. Also, if you can’t get to a regular university, or are restricted by your location, then it’s perfect. I think it’s brilliant!
I graduated in 2016 and the whole day was great – it was everything I thought it would be. It was good to be able to see other students graduating too. The whole experience is obviously quite different to a regular university because you don’t know anyone else, so it’s just you and your little family. But I loved it.”
If you want to follow in James’ footsteps and study sport and fitness at The Open University please visit the ‘Study with us’ section of this website.