University open days are a great opportunity to help you or your son or daughter decide where they really want to study.
However, if you’re anything like me, you’ll both turn up at an open day, have a look around, attend the talks and only remember afterwards things that you really ought to have found out on the day! Here are a few things I wish I had thought about to ensure you don’t waste your time at an open day.
Firstly, plan ahead.
Many universities require you to book onto the open day far in advance. Because of this, I missed out on quite a few open days that I would have liked to attend (I almost think it’s an initial test to rule out all of us who aren’t super organised! Probably not – but still, don’t get caught out!)
There’s not much that you can’t find in a university prospectus or on the website. However, the most useful part of an open day is being able to talk to current students. They are the ones who will know their course best, so use them. Ask about their experiences, what they think are the good/bad aspects of the course and any advice they might have for you. Besides finding out about the course, ask students about life outside of academics. What’s on offer in terms of societies or sports? Especially if there’s something you’re really into – be sure to ask about it. This will also give you good pointers for common interview questions.
Explore the facilities together.
Go and check out the department, sports grounds, the library etc. Also, be sure to go and see the student accommodation. Particularly when it comes to Oxbridge colleges, accommodation can vary massively between colleges. Some blocks will be new and refurbished while others will be more traditional with dodgy plumbing! Some accommodation will have the option of en-suite rooms while others have a bathroom shared between six. Some colleges also have off-site accommodation for second/third years so it’s worth finding out if this is the case and if so, how far it is from main college or from your department. Just remember, this is going to be your or your child’s home for the next few years, so make sure they will be happy living there!
Another aspect to consider is how far your college/accommodation is from your department.
Again, talk to current students. When I went to see Robinson College on the Cambridge open day, it seemed like ages away from my lecture sites. But after talking to students who told me a short-cut, I realised it wasn’t actually as far as I thought. The good thing about the Oxbridge open days is that all the colleges (or at least most) will be open for you to visit on the day. While this is convenient, you can’t expect to go and see every college on one day. So decide beforehand which colleges in particular, you’d like to explore and find out more about.
Key message: Plan in advance, think about what you want to find out and talk to current students!