Applying to university is about more than finding a place that will accept you: it's also about finding somewhere that you want to be for three or four years. Open days can really help with that part of the process, and the key to getting the most out of them is planning ahead.
Online research can get a lot of the initial legwork done: investigate the specifics of courses, such as what facilities are available and accommodation options, so that you can eliminate any places that don't offer what you want before making a time-consuming trip.
Social media is your ally, too, says Hannah Morrish, the education community manager at The Student Room (TSR), an online resource for students. “It’s a great idea to check social media sites to see what students are really saying about the university. They’re perfect for finding out things you might not hear on an open day."
Check out the university’s Facebook and Twitter accounts and the TSR forum for updates before and during the day, and keep an eye out for open day hashtags as well. "It’s good for getting other people’s impressions of the university,” says Morrish.
As open days approach, prepare a list of questions and write them down so that you don't forget to ask anything important. Once you're on site, don't be shy of any students helping out. "Always have a chat with the student guides!" says Morrish. "They’ve been there and done it, so find out what they love about the university and why they made their decision."
The other part of the equation is the teaching staff, who should be on hand to answer questions. "I would definitely recommend talking directly with the tutors who will be delivering your courses," says Lynsey Jane Bowen, a recent graduate of Derby University's MSc in Marketing Management. "You could email the university to see if they will be available."
If fitting in talks and lectures alongside schmoozing staff and students seems like a lot to manage, some deft handling of any friends and family accompanying you can help get more done. It can help dodge any awkwardness too, says Andrew Carter, head of recruitment and outreach at UWE Bristol. "If your parents tend to dominate conversations and don’t ask the questions you’re interested in, be diplomatic and suggest you split up and go to different sessions. Open days generally offer more activities than one person can do in a day so you can compare findings on theway home."
Once you're home, write down your thoughts about a place. Be honest: institutions are effectively bidding for several years of your life, after all. "Don’t ignore your gut feelings about a university," says Carter. "It can tick all the boxes and still not be right for you." Planning ahead, chatting on the day and trusting your instincts will ultimately help you make the best choice.
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