Live student interview with Sophie Blackmore: Why I study online


10th Dec 2020

We recently hosted a Facebook Live interview with LLB (Hons) Law Student Ambassador, Sophie Blackmore, to find out why she chose to study online and how she manages her studies while working full-time. If you missed it, you can watch the full interview here or read the transcript of it below.


Interviewer: Hello everyone, and welcome to our next live interview with University of Essex Online. Today we’re interviewing Sophie Blackmore, a current LLB (Hons) Law student and one of our Student Ambassadors. How are you today Sophie?

Sophie: I’m good thank you.

Interviewer: Great! So, in today’s interview we’re going to be chatting about why Sophie chose to study online with University of Essex Online, and how she manages her time. So, if you are watching us live and you’ve got any questions, then please go ahead and drop them into the comments. So, I’m just going to kick off – so Sophie, can you tell us about yourself? What do you for work? Where you live? That sort of thing.

Sophie: So, I live in London, in North London and I have a background in the legal sector. So, before I started at the University of Essex Online I was at a secretarial college. And then from there I knew that I really wanted to be a legal secretary.

So, having that little bit of extra knowledge alongside a secretarial qualification is really helpful. I’m currently working at a really well-known international law firm, as a PA where I support four partners in banking and finance. So, it’s all very related.

Interviewer: Cool! And how come you decided to study online rather than choosing a campus-based institution?

Sophie: Before I started online studies, I did attend another university on-campus, but in evening classes. And it didn’t really work for me. I found it was quite a bit more of a commitment than I was expecting and that I could really fit in with my time.

So, by studying online, when I was applying I definitely got the impression, and it’s definitely true, that you can get a better work-life social-life balance. And the university really helps by offering that, by being really clear about deadlines and all that sort of stuff. That’s one of the main reasons why I decided to study online, and especially with working, it’s nice to be able just to log-on rather than going into a campus. So that’s very helpful.

Interviewer: Especially at the moment, I’d imagine? [laughs]

Sophie: Yeah! [laughs] Definitely.

Interviewer: And why did you choose Essex Online specifically?

Sophie: So, Essex Online specifically. I found it on a Google search. And I was looking at another well-known online institution and I just wasn’t sure. By coming to the University of Essex Online, being able to achieve a University of Essex degree was something that really drew me to the university.

Particularly for law, and as the university in general, the University of Essex is really reputable. Especially in industry and in law it’s really good bog-standard university that everyone recognises. So that was one of things that appealed to me. Also, no exams!

Interviewer: [laughs]

Sophie: Everyone loves that. So, for me struggling with dyslexia and not not being able to do exams but exams were very daunting. So, it almost sounded too good to be true. But in this case it was true and it definitely says what it does on the tin.

Interviewer: Brilliant, cool! And you’re doing level six at the moment, is that right?

Sophie: Yep, nearly at the end of my degree.

Interviewer: How have you found it so far?

Sophie: I’ve been quite lucky for the fact that I started level six in January, so for the majority I’ve been at home. So apart from there being a lot more reading in comparison to previous levels, and by having more time, it’s definitely been easier. But that’s not to say it’s easy, because I think if things were normal I would definitely find it a lot harder. But hard is a good thing, because if it was easy then what’s the point. All in all, it’s been really enjoyable, and the content is great.

And how Student Advisers stay in contact with you to check you’re alright. And the university offering lots of things for students to get involved with has really kept me busy. So, I’ve really enjoyed it so far.

Interviewer: Brilliant! So, if you are watching us live then don’t forget to pop any questions you’ve got into the chat. I can see that Adam has asked why you chose to study online which you’ve covered briefly, but do you want to sort of recap that for Adam?

Sophie: Yeah, sure. So, it was largely for flexibility alongside work, because I had done another part-time qualification at another institution before and it didn’t really work for me. And how the degree is setup online is very black and white. You know when your deadlines are – you know when your live Q&As are. So, you can plan months and months in advance, so nothing is new. You can even see your submissions and assessments which are due as soon as you get access to a module. Once I found a university that offered that, it was a done deal basically.

Interviewer: Brilliant! So, for anyone watching who isn’t sure how online study works – can you explain a little bit, like what it’s like logistically, how you do your studying?

Sophie: Sure, so it’s very much like normal universities in that you have assignments to do and you need to hand them in. I would say the big difference is, and what a lot of universities are picking up with now having to adapt to, is pre-recorded lectures. These have saved me! Especially where there’s some pre-recorded lectures that have transcripts meaning I could just read it on the train on the way to work. I can read it whilst watching TV, though I probably wouldn’t advise doing that.

So, in that sense it’s really really flexible. Like I said earlier, the clarity as well in the modules, being able to see when the live sessions are. And the live sessions aren’t compulsory which again is good, because everyone at the university, pretty much works full-time and from all over the world. So, by expecting students to turn up to something at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, when you’re stuck in the office, or asleep, isn’t ideal. So yeah, that’s kinda how it works.

You get to see your units, which you’re advised to do two units a week. I sometimes push it to three or four depending on how ambitious I’m feeling. And by doing that I then gain a plan of what I’m going to do for the next week, the next month or three weeks. Depending on what I’ve got coming up. And yeah I just sort of adapt my reading and what units I’ve got in more detail, towards the assignment that’s coming up.

So, in that sense I feel that it’s more you’re studying to be more specific rather than being so general in a subject. And although being general is good, I feel like sometimes being more specific in and being more general in a specific part means you understand it better, than if you were to sit an exam and it’s on everything. Yeah, so that’s kinda how it differs.

Interviewer: Cool, great and that’s all done through the virtual learning environment, is that right?

Sophie: Yeah and you get access to e-books which the university provides which is also great. Especially with law and law books being so expensive. And we have access to the University of Essex Online university online library, so that means we’ve got a wider variety of books we can get access to, JSTOR, Westlaw, and LexisNexis, and all that sort of stuff. You do get the same access as other University of Essex students too.

Interviewer: So, what would a typical day look like, on a day that you’re both working and doing some studying? What would that look like for you?

Sophie: So normally, I will have a look the night before of what I need to do, specifically on a Sunday look what I need to do the night before. So that I can get it prepped, I always prep the night before…

Interviewer: Very organised!

Sophie: Yeah, a bit too organised! And I usually try to get my lectures read on the train, if they have a transcript, if not I’ll sit and do that in an evening. I’m quite fortunate that where I work they’re really supportive. So, I am allowed to, when I’m quieter, do some uni research or watch lectures, stuff like that whilst I’m at work. So quite a lot of the time, I probably juggle work and uni 9 to 5, but not everyone is so fortunate.

I’ve had other employers where I had to do it all in the evening, because they didn’t want me doing it at work, which is fine. So, in that sense I tend to make sure I research during the day, because it’s quick and I can print it at work, or I can mark it up on the computer and email it to myself. But that’s how I tend to juggle it. I have a set plan on what I want to achieve in a day, but I don’t achieve it all the time. So, it’s just how ever it works out and some days I might be so busy that I don’t even touch uni work, and I kinda give myself a day off every week. But yeah, it’s just as and when, but most of the time it’s when I’m working 9 to 5. It’s research during the day and in the evening is when I actually head down with assignments, so yeah.

Interviewer: Cool, so have you found any unexpected challenges? Things you weren’t expecting before you started studying online?

Sophie: The discussion forums are different. I try to describe it to friends, the best way I’ve found to describe it is like a chatroom but with strict rules. That was kinda the only thing I struggled to get used to. But the university really does guide you on how to achieve really well in them, and how to engage with others. And I feel that’s really helped in other aspects and really transferable to work. I found my emails to colleagues are so much clearer because you have such a small word count to write such large questions. Especially the critical questions – they get me every time. I type them out in draft and it’s like 500 words and it’s meant to be up to 300 – and I’m like oh my gosh what am I going to do? So that was the only thing which kinda took me by surprise, even though I knew it was coming, I just wasn’t sure how it was going to be delivered.

It took me a while to get used to the online library purely because I had never used something like that before. Where I was previously, it was all textbooks, so that was something I had to get used to and I picked that up pretty quickly. But apart from that it’s been really good.

Interviewer: Brilliant! So, what’s your sort of study setup like? Do you have a particular place in the house you study or anything like that?

Sophie: So, when I first started I was religiously at my desk, at home or in the office. But now I’m a bit more flexible, and it depends on what I’m doing. So if I’m doing an assignment, a big written assignment, I’ll tend to sit at my desk – and I recently got a screen, so I’ll plug my laptop in and just have too many windows up, so for that I’ll be at my desk. But in terms of research, reading, even discussion forums, I tend to do it on the sofa

Interviewer: Really comfortable… [laughs]

Sophie: [laughs] …whilst watching ‘Come dine with me’. Yeah, I like to watch with a bit of background noise, so normally ‘Come dine with me’ is on, which is my favourite, or Legally Blonde – the irony!

Interviewer: Inspiration!

Sophie: Exactly! So I sort of mix and match, so it means my desk is my sit-down ‘I’m going to do well at this’ – and then when I’m feeling a bit more, ‘I can’t be arsed to sit at my desk I’ll go to the sofa’. I feel giving it that flexibility, I don’t feel like I’m forcing myself to do anything that I don’t enjoy. And I’ve not not enjoyed anything so far. And so yeah, that’s how I tend to study.

Interviewer: Cool, and what have your friends and family been like? Have they been supportive?

Sophie: They’ve been really supportive, but they all think I’m completely crazy. Well parents didn’t go to university, but all my friends did. So, I started as they were finishing. They sort of really, I don’t know whether they didn’t get it at first, they sort of didn’t really understand it. But no, they know realise, they think I’m a bit mad by trying to do a 9 to 5 and pretty much try and do my degree full-time, which is a choice.

But I think what works well with Essex Online is the fact that it is so flexible. So you can be completely mad like me and try to do your part-time degree in a full-time manner. Or you can really be part-time about it, or you can really stretch it out over a long period of time. I feel some institutions are so rigid, in that you have to do it in X amount of time, or you have to do it in terms. And I think that’s something that they kinda wished they had a little more flexibility. Erm but no, they all think I’m mad. And they’re relieved I’m coming to the end to have a bit more freedom.

Interviewer: Brilliant! So just a reminder if you are watching us now and you do have any questions for Sophie then please go ahead and pop them in the chat. Sophie is one of our current LLB Law students. So where are you hoping to use your degree in the future? Where are you hoping for your career to go?

Sophie: So, I started out wanting to be a lawyer and that’s still where I want to go. I’m busy trying to fit in applications, but they are changing the qualification route. So that’s thrown a whole kettle of fish in, so that means I can kinda qualify as I’m going at the moment. But otherwise I know that I would like to do some more further study. So maybe then possibly after a Masters, do a PhD – so I’ve got quite a few options, all of which I can do at a similar time. I would like to either get it up to master’s level, but ideally I’d really like to qualify as a solicitor too. Nothing too specific.

Interviewer: Good to keep your options open at the moment.

Sophie: Exactly!

Interviewer: Do you have any tips for someone maybe considering online study? In terms of working out whether it’s the right choice for them?

Sophie: I think you have to be really honest with yourself. And it’s all well and good saying I’m going to study online, and I really want a degree. But there’s doing a degree for the sake of doing a degree whilst you’re working, or doing a degree in something you enjoy because you didn’t have the opportunity to do it before and now’s the right time for you. There’s that aspect and also being really realistic about your own life. Because I can’t sit here and tell everyone that they should do an online degree, because it is individual. I know for some people it won’t work because they have really busy lives. But for some people it will work really well, because they can still earn money and work full-time or work part-time and do a degree.

So, in that sense, having like an honest look at what a week is like; seeing how much free time you have to dedicate towards doing the degree; and realistically how much reading you want to be doing. I think the university says you have to do about 10 hours, or something like that, per week? I wouldn’t quote me on that. I might be wrong!

Interviewer: I can’t remember off the top of my head… That should be something I know!

Sophie: I think it’s something like that, but I do well over. So, I think, as well as taking that into consideration, how much work you want to do more. But just being realistic and just planning. Because it is a commitment and four years is a long time, but it does go really quickly. And how the university works, us being able to take a month off and then pick it up, is also really helpful. So just being really realistic of how your life works. And if you’ve got the opportunity to fit it in; it’s almost like getting a dog, do you have time to walk the dog?

Interviewer: That’s a good analogy.

Sophie: It’s kinda the same thing.

Interviewer: So that’s great. I don’t think we have anymore questions and that’s about all we have time for today anyway. But thank you so much Sophie for your fantastic insights into what it’s really like to be an online student. And thanks to everyone who has been watching us.

I really hope you’ve been inspired by what Sophie has had to say. If you are interested in talking to her anymore – if you got any particular questions you’d like to ask her – I’m just popping a link in the chat where you can contact our Student Ambassadors.

We are going to be doing more of these Facebook Lives in the future. We’ll be back in a couple of weeks, actually next Wednesday I think it is, with Stevie from our Admissions team who is going to be talking about various different options for financing your studies online. But in the meantime, thank you so much once again Sophie.

Sophie: That’s okay!

Interviewer: And thanks everyone for watching. Hope you have a good day!


Has Sophie inspired you to start your online study journey? If so, download a prospectus now to find the course for you.

Additionally, if you’d like to know more about Sophie’s experience studying law online, you can chat with her via Unibuddy here.