Open days: Ditch the prospectus and see it in the cold light of day

The University of Warwick is a lively, cosmopolitan place, with shops, banks, bars and restaurants, according to its prospectus. Everything a student will need is close at hand on a campus that is easily accessible by road, rail and air, it says. No wonder David Kim, a sixth-former, put the university high on his wish list. Until he attended an open day and discovered that he didn't like it.

"I was very keen on Warwick from the prospectus. The nice scenery and the modern facilities in the pictures created a dynamic university in my mind, but I found the reality a bit dull and very isolated," he says. "I know people who have gone there and loved it, and there was nothing wrong with the university at all. It's just I had created a different university in my mind, and it wasn't until I got there I realised I wanted to be part of a town," says Kim, 18, a pupil at Coombe sixth-form college in Kingston upon Thames, Surrey.

Others had a very different reaction. "I really liked Warwick. I liked the campus and I was very impressed with the music centre," says Christine Leung, 18, a student at Farnborough sixth-form college in Hampshire.

That's why university open days are so important, says David Peters, head of Coombe sixth-form college. "Students get the feel or the vibe of the institution or the city and they have often revised their views when they return."

Most universities will be holding open days in the next few weeks inviting upper- and lower-sixth-formers and their parents to inspect the facilities and meet lecturers and students. Over the year, there will be opportunities for guided tours and shorter visits, but open days have become the big showpiece event, particularly at the "new" universities.

Universities in historic, lively cities have a natural advantage, but they don't suit everyone. Jessica Crandon, 17, from Farnborough sixth-form college found that she didn't like Cambridge, despite its pretty buildings. "I thought there was a very snobby attitude towards A-levels," she says. "One of the lecturers told us that you don't learn anything taking an A-level and she prefers the International Baccalaureate. I didn't feel I would fit in."

Laura Stewart from Farnborough fell in love with Bath but ruled out Warwick, saying it didn't match up to claims on its prospectus. Fellow student Tom Llewellyn, 17, liked Bristol, especially since he was able to attend mock lessons, and Jonathan Stead, 17, said he felt more at home at Cambridge than he'd expected.

It's not possible to get a really detailed impression from a visit, but you can get a feeling for the atmosphere, which helps you make a decision, says Priyanka Patel from sixth-form, who has visited Oxford, Bath, Warwick and LSE.

Universities always put pictures of the best parts in their prospectuses, says Coombe student Alex Duffy, 17. "They are trying to sell the university. Then, when you get there, you see the parts they wouldn't want to show," she says. "If you are going to spend three years somewhere, you want a good atmosphere and friendly people. I didn't really take to Exeter, but I liked the friendliness of Sheffield and I loved Durham. People I talked to at Durham were really enthusiastic about the place and the course and I can imagine myself there."

A lot of the talks on open days are boring because they just repeat the prospectus, she says. "I want to be excited about studying a subject and they talked about the practicalities."

As well as taking in the atmosphere and talking to staff and students, open days are also a chance to inspect the accommodation and facilities. A lot of bars on campus may suggest a lively social life but can also be comforting for parents because the students are more likely to do their drinking in a relatively safe environment.

Open days have limited places and fill up quickly – more than 6,000 visited Warwick last Saturday. But most universities host visits and tours later in the year and many students and their parents pay informal visits to get a feel for the campus and location.

Five things to ask on open days

Is accommodation provided for all first-year students? And what happens in years two and three?

What are the class sizes for small-group teaching?

How much undergraduate teaching is done by professors and postgraduate students?

If there are academics who are leaders in their particular fields, how much actual involvement do they have with the courses?

How big are the library holdings? At an "old" university, it should be a million items or more. How big is the holding for your subject? LL

News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
News
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Travel
Bruce Chatwin's novel 'On the Black Hill' was set at The Vision Farm
travelOne of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
Sport
footballManchester City 1 Roma 1: Result leaves Premier League champions in danger of not progressing
Arts and Entertainment
Gay and OK: a scene from 'Pride'
filmsUS film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
News
i100
Life and Style
Magic roundabouts: the gyratory system that has excited enthusiasts in Swindon
motoringJust who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
booksWell it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Supply teachers required for secondary schools in Peterborough

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Secondary supply teac...

English Teacher - January

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: English Teacher A Hull school i...

Humanities Teacher - January

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Humanities, Religious Education ...

Science Teacher

£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Science Teacher - South Es...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?