University open days are a great opportunity to help you decide where you want to study.
However, if you’re anything like me, you’ll 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.
Plan your open day 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).
Don’t forget to contact the university if you have any special requirements or disabilities so that the university has time to make any arrangements you need.
When booking your place on an open day, take a look at how you can travel to the university. Take into consideration how far away the university is from the station, if there are parking spaces available and if you will need to take time off school to travel there. You may also need to stay overnight. If you cannot drive there, pre-booking transport will likely save you some money, especially if you purchase a Young Persons Railcard.
Travelling to open days can be expensive and this should not stop you from attending one. Here is a list of universities that offer bursaries to help students attend open days. If you cannot see a university or college on the list that you would like to visit, call them to ask if they provide financial support or if they can start doing it.
Plan Your University Open Day Questions
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.
Types of questions you could ask are:
Explore the facilities
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.
Another aspect to consider is how far your college/accommodation is from your department.
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 the main college or your department. Just remember, this is going to be your home for the next few years, so make sure you will be happy living there.
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 about a shortcut, I realised it wasn’t 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 in one day. So decide beforehand which colleges, in particular, you’d like to explore and find out more about.
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