Open days 2019: make the most of every university visit

By Joseph Hamilton Aug 28, 2019
The next wave of 2019 open days are just around the corner and for many sixth form students, this can often be a challenging period of deliberation. A decision based off one university visit could determine where you choose to study for the next three or more years of your life. Daunting? Perhaps. But hopefully, this complete guide can relieve some of the stress that taints what should be an exciting period of discovery.

Preparation and mind-set

Bookings and timings – get it sorted early!

The first thing to do when preparing for your 2019 open days is to plan in advance so you have a good idea of what you wish to get out of each visit. Every university will have a downloadable map on their respective website and a timed itinerary of every lecture, talk, and event planned for the day. Some universities may require you to book for certain talks, with others being open to everyone.  Here, it becomes important to properly prioritise what you want to see. Subject-specific talks are always hugely beneficial, giving a valuable insight into what sets that university's course aside from the same subject at a different institution. Having said this, you will also find more generalised talks hugely useful. The Dean’s address, accommodation, studying abroad, mental health facilities and student union events are all examples of talks that will give a broader insight into life at a particular university.  On the day a prospectus can usually be picked up, with many universities now also offering to post them to you for free. It’s advisable to leave time between talks to travel between lecture halls. You may also wish to leave longer periods free to explore the grounds or even the surrounding town or city. 

Travel and accommodation

Many of your dream universities may be on the other side of the country, so try to pick the most efficient and perhaps most affordable form of travel. 
  • If driving, then have a clear route mapped out and leave time for traffic. It may also be helpful to have located and/or pre-booked a car park nearby. 
  • Trains are often the easier option but be sure to check for delays and find out how to get from the station to the university. 
  • Avoiding travel disturbances is without a doubt the first step towards a successful open day.
You may also want to find nearby accommodation for the night before to avoid travel disturbances on the day and potentially explore the city/campus the day before. However, the cost will add up. For example, the cheapest Premier Inn rooms in Manchester are over £35, with London being significantly more. So, ask yourself if it is really worth it.

Approach every visit with an open mind

It may be the case that you already have a list of universities in mind, perhaps arranged by preference. Although it's good to have done research and already have a good idea of your favourite universities, try not to approach visits with any pre-existing ideas.  Often, an open day can completely change your perception and if you are open-minded enough then what you thought to be a lesser university may have the potential to blow you away. They say you will get the feeling when you find the right university.

On the day

Lectures and talks

Subject-specific talks should be a priority on your 2019 open days. The next three years will be fun no doubt, but you are ultimately there to study and if the subject doesn’t interest you then you will not only find yourself bored but you may feel like you're wasting time. It may be useful to take notes on the specifics of the course. Some examples of questions you might want to ask are:
  • How many chosen modules do you get?
  • Is the final year predominantly exams or coursework?
  • What is the teacher to student ratio?
  • How many contact hours do you get?
All of these factors should give you a pretty sure understanding of what the university can offer you and, if the talk is good enough, these questions should be answered within the allotted time. If you feel unsure about anything then there will be subject-specific faculty you can approach.   More generalised talks from senior staff will hopefully be more self-explanatory. Once you have been to a couple of visits you will be able to easily compare the options that certain universities provide.  Accommodation and student finance are undoubtedly two of the most important aspects to consider. It will become clear very quickly which universities have better support systems for students when it comes to everyday life on campus.

Exploring the campus

 The campus itself may not always be what you expect. Some students go into open days with the expectation of an idyllic, Californian campus with grassy hills and vast sports fields. Although there are still institutions that can provide this, the majority will not look like this. But that is not to say they are not as good! Try to find the university campus that best suits you. Some are ingrained in the fabric of the city. Some seem to have created a whole student district out of nothing. Some do have the grassy fields but maybe lack the excitement and grit of a city Uni.  It is ultimately all about balance. You may wish to look for something that somewhat reflects your hometown, however often this feeling can not be replicated. Throughout your time at Uni you will be expected to step outside of your comfort zone, and this all starts with the open day.  The university may not look familiar or even particularly pretty, but it will be unique. Each university will have its hidden beauty and sense of authenticity, some more than others. It is your job to find the one that clicks with you the most.

Looking back critically

Planning your future

Once all your 2019 open days have been fulfilled it will come the time to start looking back at all the universities you have visited and deciding which one is the one Hopefully, you will have enjoyed every open day you attended, but you will eventually have to start looking back more critically. There are hundreds of factors that will have swayed your decision one way or another, so prioritisation is the key. The prospectuses from each university may be your go-to when it comes to comparison. You won’t have to read every one front to back but try to inform yourself as to the essential features of each university. They should have all the information you need about the university in question – and in a lot of detail! These hard facts along with desired grades and university rankings will sway your opinion to an extent, however, such stats are certainly not the be-all and end-all. Your thoughts and feelings about every university will differ based on your personality and expectations of what you wish university to mean to you. And, for the most part, this personal preference will be largely influenced by your experience at each open day.  Not every visit will go smoothly, and certain factors should be taken with a pinch of salt. Open days exist to paint the university in the best light possible, an experience which will not be the same as everyday life on campus. Extreme circumstances withheld; the open days will be a reasonably accurate reflection of the type of institution that you may end up at.  And of course, university is not for everyone.  After all of your visits, you may decide that the best path for you resides elsewhere. An apprenticeship? A job? A degree-apprenticeship? Not only do all careers require different qualifications, but all people desire different environments to gain the qualifications needed. 

The leap

You are bound to know people that have taken the leap into university before. Don’t be afraid to quiz them on their experience of university. Open days are great but personal accounts are even more valuable in formulating a vivid image of uni life.  For many prospective students, this is a period of important decision making. Having said this, try not to let big decisions like these loom over you. For every scary change in your life, there is an equally as exciting one just around the corner. Above all, enjoy every open day to the fullest because one of them is likely to make that big impression on you that just might sway your decision. For more information and helpful resources, whether you're looking to go to university or do something else, the Fledglink app can help you! Download today to discover your future.   Written by Joseph Hamilton
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