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Arts and Humanities - student stories: Tom Penford, Chartered Accountant

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I left school aged 16, after achieving good GCSE’s to become an apprentice footballer with Bradford City F.C. It is often talked about in the football world that even if you are fortunate enough to have a career to your mid 30’s (the average football career is 7 years) you would still need to do something else afterwards - so this got me thinking that I should start to explore further education.

A good friend and Bradford’s goalkeeper at the time was halfway through his own Open University degree in Healthcare and he was a massive influence on my decision to begin my History degree.

When I started my degree, my football career was going as planned - so I started it as more of a hobby and a plan for the future. However, by the end of the degree (which took 5 years to obtain) it was clear that it was going to play a major part in my prospects as I had dropped out of the football league into semi-professional football.

By virtue of having a degree I was able to get a graduate role at PwC. But this in itself was more down to PwC’s culture of diversity – because I didn’t have A-levels I was turned away by every other major organisation without even a second look – despite getting a 2:1 and having a successful and interesting past.

Within PwC I used the self-discipline that the OU fostered to become a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW). But more importantly, the mentality of the OU is to go out there and do things off your back, this agency helped me build a strong internal network and gain my current role in innovation.

The most challenging element of studying was that I was on my own doing it – the only opportunities to interact were on weekend classes, but unfortunately I was always working. That said, the courses were always so well written and engaging that I never thought about giving up at all.

Throughout my studies I encountered a number of significant life changes, however, the OU course was really helpful in providing me structure and targets at a time of chaos.

My advice to anyone considering OU study is to set yourself deadlines and create a regime to make sure you deliver your work, but don’t be frustrated if you cannot meet them. Some days you want to work and some days you do not and the worst thing you can do is stare at a book knowing that you are not really doing anything. I was able to fit my studies around my life by looking at the module as a whole and effectively planning when I knew I would be able to do something and when I would not. If I thought that something may be hard to deliver having an open dialogue with a tutor early on was helpful.

My experience of studying with the OU was rewarding; it educated me on more areas then I expected and in fact I now have a love for Art History which was not a specific focus for me at the time. I am always proud to say that I studied with the OU, as it was my decision to do it and I didn’t do it at the end of my A levels as if that was expected of me.

As a millennial, a retired footballer and a chartered accountant, who now works in Innovation developing new commercial propositions, I have learnt that my future is no more certain than ever before and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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