No matter how good university websites are, they can’t give you the complete picture of what it’s like to study and live there. If your students can get to an open day, it can really help them make informed choices – and there are plenty of open days left for students applying for 2018 entrance to university (UCAS has a tracker for open days at UK universities). Here’s what they need to know beforehand.
Make a shortlist. This may sound obvious, but you need to check that open days on your shortlist don’t clash. If they do, you can visit a university outside of the open day, although it won’t be the same experience.
Don’t worry about what to do when you arrive. You will find the university provides a range of talks and tours; in fact you may find you are rushing from one to the other. But you also need to spend time in the city getting a feel for what it would be like living there.
Before the day itself, plan how you will get there and allow for delays. You may want to book a hotel so you can be sure of being there for the start. Be warned: accommodation close to popular universities gets booked up quickly.
Go alone or with family? Parents often want to tag along, but it’s up to you. Sometimes it’s good to have another opinion so a parent or friend can be helpful.
Try to stagger your visits. Open days can be tiring and there is lot to absorb. Try not to arrange them back to back especially if the locations are at opposite ends of the country.
The day itself
Plan the day: you need to be sure you can get to the talks you want to. Sometimes the university has a split campus; getting across a busy city to the next talk can take an hour or more.
Universities put a huge effort into planning open days; they want you to apply. There will be the opportunity to ask questions. You can gain a lot of insight from the students themselves; they will give you honest answers. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, even awkward ones, because you are the consumer, investing a lot of time and money in the course.
Questions your parents or you may want to ask about welfare:
- Are there bursaries and scholarships on offer?
- What are the fees for tuition, and the average fees for accommodation, both in halls and in private rentals?
- What pastoral support is on offer and what is the university’s record around student welfare?
- Do older students offer mentoring or buddies for freshers?
- Is there a student medical centre on the campus?
- What is on offer for special diets or students with disabilities?
- How safe is the town or city especially at night?
- What is the drop-out rate for the course and if it’s higher than average, why?
Questions you may want to ask about the course:
You should have been able to discover a lot about the course from the online prospectus. If you haven’t, now is the time to ask especially about how it’s examined: is it modular, or with end of year exams, or both? Depending on your learning style, these can be important considerations.
- Are the students happy with the course?
- What is the quality of teaching like?
- What are the buildings like? Are they in good repair and with good facilities?
- How many hours a week of teaching does your course offer?
- Is it practical to work part-time as well as study? For example, some science courses necessitate weekend work in labs if projects overrun.
- What are the facilities like for your course? eg Science- are the labs well equipped with up-to-date equipment?
- What is the university’s ranking in terms of world research in your subject?
- What are the options for further study such as a Masters or PhD?
- Are the courses accredited by a professional body: for example, psychology courses recognised by the British Psychological Society?
- What is the employment outcome for graduates on your course?
- Where do they tend to find work and what percentage are employed, in work directly linked to their degree, within six months of graduating?
Questions about location:
You are going to live in a new location for at least three years. For some students the location and facilities such as the night life is as important as the course itself.
- Is the university campus-based or spread across the town or city?
- If the university is campus-based and you want to go into town, what’s transport like?
- How far away is the nearest supermarket from your hall or private rental?
- How easy is it to travel to and from the university? Think about day-to-day transport: if you live out in private accommodation from Year 2, how easy is it to get to the campus? How much will it cost? When are the last buses at night? Are there facilities for car owners? (Many universities don’t allow cars in Year 1 if you live in halls of residence.) In Year 2, what are the parking costs or restrictions in the town? If you want to cycle, how safe is it?
Questions about accommodation
Try to visit some of the halls or ask students what they think. Your first year is usually spent in halls of residence, with or without catering included. Cost and quality can vary hugely from new blocks of flats, all en suite, to old buildings with shared bathrooms.
- Many newer halls can be miles away from the campus so make time to visit if possible.
- Check how many weeks of the year are covered in the accommodation contract. You may have to pay for 52 weeks even though you are not there all of the time.
- Is there storage for bikes or parking for cars?
- Ask about availability of private rentals, where you will usually live for your second and third years. What is the average rent? How far out might you have to live and what are the costs of transport?
Although you can’t have a re-run of an open day, you can always return to the city to explore it again before making your final choices. You can also find helpful advice on forums such as The Student Room or by joining Facebook groups for new students.