Having applied for university 3 times, I think of myself as an open day veteran. The first open days of 2015 seem an age ago, and I’d estimate I’ve probably been to 15 or more since then. Naturally, the more open days I attended, the more I learnt about how to make the most of them and ensure they were worth the (often expensive) visit.
The first thing I would say is that if you’re considering going to university, going to open days is a must. Yes, they can be a faff and they can be expensive, and sometimes they’re useless. Nevertheless, they are something worth investing in. After all, it’s your future, and it’s worth being informed in your decision. Attending open days could be the difference between having a great time at uni and having an awful time. Even if you are sure you know where you want to go, they are still worth attending; in two out of the 3 times I’ve applied for uni, the choice I originally had down as my LAST became my firm choice. On another occasion, the choice I was sure would be my first was ruled out within the first 10 minutes of the open day. Had I not attended, I could’ve easily ended up somewhere I wouldn’t be happy.
Once you have decided on the open days you want to go to, it’s important to have a think about what you want to get out of them. Plan the talks you’re going to go to, accommodation you want to visit and have a think of any questions you would like to ask. Asking questions is one of the best things you can do, so I’ve thought up a few important ones which have served me well over the years!
- Is the course accredited? This doesn’t apply to all courses, but for some there are organisations which ‘accredit’ degrees. This is something that really used to confuse me, but it essentially means that an official organisation approve of the degree and the matter it teaches. In some cases, this can give the degree extra value. When I applied for Psychology, for example, I knew that I wanted my degree to be accredited by the BPS (British Psychological Society). My Journalism course, however, is not accredited by the NCTJ, but in this case I am ok with that; having gone over it with a lecturer, I decided the course is valuable enough and is right for me regardless.
- How many weeks contract is the accommodation? Contracts for student accommodation in halls tend to vary from about 42-52 weeks. As accommodation is paid for weekly, it’s worth noting how long your contract would be, as the price could vary significantly depending on its length.
- Do you offer any bursaries? A large number of universities offer at least a few bursaries for students who fit certain criteria, such as being from a low income background or a high academic achiever. Bursaries are sums of money that don’t have to be paid back, so it’s definitely something worth looking into.
- How much say do I get in where I do work placement? This was always amongst my number one questions. Personally, I hate the idea of being told where to gain my work experience. I have always wanted uni to be an opportunity for me to make sure I get the most from my degree, by being as independent as possible. Subsequently, I have always been more drawn towards universities which help you find work experience yourself rather than just telling you where to go. It’s also worth looking into what sort of companies and opportunities are available for work placements in the vicinity of the university.
- What is the student life like here? Yes, choosing a university should first and foremost be about the quality of the degree it offers, after all you are forking out over £27000 for it! It’s also worth considering the bigger picture, though. Uni is somewhere you will be spending at least 3 years of your life, so being happy with the location, the social life and extra-curricular activities is really important, too. Your happiness should always be number one priority, and after all, you’re more likely to succeed with your degree if you’re happy anyway. You might want to ask about societies, nightlife, fitness, sport or anything else you’re interested in outside of education.
Above anything else, trust your instincts. I’ve learnt over the years that within a few minutes of arriving at an open day or interview, you often ‘just know’ whether you feel at home there or not. Listen to those gut feelings, they’re not often wrong.