Choosing which university you’re going to go to is a really big decision, and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. There is so much information about all universities and courses online and of course in prospectuses. It is important that you take advantage of all the resources that are available, so your decision can be as informed as possible.
If you are fortunate enough to be able to visit some of the universities you are interested in, make sure you do. Trekking up and down the country can be very tiring, time consuming and also expensive – so if you do decide to attend some open days you really have to make the most of them.
As ridiculous as it might sound, one crucial thing you need to check before you embark on a journey across the country, is that the university you’re off to visit actually offers your course. Not all universities offer all courses so ensure that you have looked into this. Course lists are not difficult to find and a simple search is all you’ll need to do.
Once you’ve decided on the universities that you’re going to include in your tour, there are a few things you should do to really utilise the experience.
Plan your day.
For most big open days, you can find schedules for the day, including talks, tours and demonstrations, online. In many situations, you may actually need to book. This could be simply for the day – just in order to visit the university. Equally you could also be required to book on to subject specific talks or particular sessions. So, make sure you check out their website, and ensure you book anything you’re interested in to avoid disappointment. As well as the administrative side, it’s also important that you consider the logistics of your trip. How will you be travelling? Will you be going alone, maybe you’ll be meeting up with friends or some existing students you know? Consider these things and plan your time accordingly.
Study the course syllabus and other available information.
This will be encapsulated in the planning of your day. Your knowledge of the course, facilities and university will be really useful on the day. Bear in mind what you know about already, and make sure you focus on finding out the rest. If it’s been extensively covered by your careers and development team, don’t sit through another talk on student finance. Universities are big and there is so much to see and learn, so you really have to be efficient with your time.
Speak to academics.
There will usually be the opportunity to speak to some of your future lecturers and tutors. This is a great opportunity to meet who could be teaching you and get an impression of the department’s values and approach. It could also be so useful to find out about their specialisms. It is likely that some of these academics will be taking your modules, and maybe even some of your tutorials – so gaging what they’re interested in and how the course may be influenced is really useful. As well as just a general feel for the faculty, speaking to academics enables you to ask specific questions about the course. They could be very specialised questions or concerns that you have, that are obviously not touched upon in the prospectus. Maybe you want to know how your passion for French could be wangled into your second-year options and what help would be given to students studying interdisciplinary modules.
Meet the student support team.
Most welfare departments will have quite an obvious presence at university open days, as well as amongst the student population. So, it shouldn’t be hard to track them down. Even if you don’t feel like you have any significant circumstances that require support, it is a good idea to familiarise yourself with the support that can be provided. University can be a time when young people suffer from a range of issues – from purely managing their time, to severe mental health. All universities should be offering a great level of student services, so you should never feel uncomfortable to go to a university owing to this. But you may naturally feel more inclined to one over another for this reason. If you know you are likely to be visiting the support team a lot, this can clearly be an influential factor.
Visiting the student services can also be really useful in raising awareness of facilities and resources that you may otherwise not realise you are entitled to. For example, you may not be aware of all the funding or learning resources that your situation renders you eligible for.
Speak to current students.
University open days are large scale events, and require a lot of help in the form of chaperones and tour guides. More often than not, those assisting will be current students. So, whether you really want a full campus tour, it could be invaluable to go on one purely to speak to the student and find out their views on where they’re showing you around. These students that are guiding you throughout the day are just like you but a few years older, so feel free to ask them everything you want, and they’ll probably be more than happy to provide you with honest answers.
View all the facilities that you’ll be using.
Check out as many of the halls, lecture theatres, demonstration rooms and suites as you can within your department. Look at the resources that are available to you. Consider the distance between these places and the opening hours of them.
Take notes and pictures.
You might be visiting lots of universities, so it can be great to take pictures to refresh your memory and remember which was which. Notes can also be great to refer to once your home. It is great to take in the atmosphere and to go with how you felt – sometimes people can feel at home at a university purely from one visit – but it is also worth fully evaluating the day. Surprisingly, universities have noticed that their admission figures really vary owing to the weather on their open days. As bizarre as it may seem, don’t simply choose your university because you had a great picnic on the lawn in the sun. Some days it will rain, and you’ll be stuck in the canteen.
Explore aspects that are important you.
We’ve mentioned elements that all students should be interested in and ways you can make the most out of your trip. But perhaps the most vital thing you need to consider is what is important to you. No one else can really tell you what you should be looking for. Maybe you want to be able to participate in some niche sports, or you really want to be surrounded by a rich landscape. Whatever it is make sure you do everything you can to find out about what matters to you. If you’re far more concerned about the city, don’t attend every single talk there is going. Make a quick stop at the university and explore the city. Don’t be afraid to ask any questions and to take a slightly less regimented approach to tackling open days.
By Steph Ryan