Was I competent enough to go out and dive without a DM or instructor? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Was I becoming aware of the things I didn't know that I didn't know? Oh yeah, however this was partly due to the gurus on this board and DMX.
This sums up my OW experience in the warm waters of the Med. I came out of it with the ability to breathe underwater, the realization that OW c-card didn't make me a diver, and the desire and determination to become one.
The AOW class can be an experience. Upon completion of my OW certification, I attended two classes of an AOW class because I was allowed. I was able to do a night dive and a deep dive under the supervision of my instructor. However, my buoyancy at 10 dives was better than this group of AOW students. Did they deserve to pass? I don't care, that issue belongs to the scuba police.
Recently I dove with 2 friends from my OW class. Since OW they went on to AOW and Rescue, while me and another friend did the UTD Essentials and are working on our skills so we can start UTD Rec2 (our last 8 dives have been nothing but practice on boyancy, kicks, awareness, shooting an SMB, and the UTD basic 6). Is it boring to go through 2 tanks doing nothing but practice in the shallows? Yes. Is it rewarding? Hell, yeah!
I'm nowhere near competent in any of the above yet, but the difference between my buddy and me and the other 2 was plain to see throughout our dive. Especially when we shot our SMB and ascended the last 6 meters, horizontal and facing each other, making 1 minute stops every meter and holding depth using nothing but our lungs.
For me education is one critical element, experience is another and finding mentors to create the desire to be the best safe diver is the final part.
Ditto to all the above. I've only have had 2 instructors. I still dive with the first one, but I regard him as an experienced co-diver, not a mentor. My current instructor is a true inspiration to me, a visualization of the kind of diver I want to be and the kind of diving I want to do.
Safe dives, Montana Diver.