Online shopping is now the norm; yet brick and mortar shops still exist so that customers can go and try out products in case there is a big difference. Take a pair of jeans — easy enough to browse all the colours and styles online. But, trying them out at the physical store will reduce a potential mismatch and fashion disaster.
Universities are similar. Courses and facilities may be researched online, but nothing replaces the feeling from actually seeing the place in person. Jeans can be easily replaced, but one may easily be spending three to four years studying at university!
Open Days therefore exist to offer a chance for prospective Year 12 or equivalent students, aka “shoppers”, to get to know the university better. Many typically consist of academic course taster sessions, a campus tour, and informal Q&A with lecturers and existing students.
So is it worth setting aside time to attend an Open Day? Absolutely. Here are some things to think about and plan for before you sign up for one.
From your university shortlist, have a look at their Open Day offerings online for whether they offer taster courses on the subject you want to pursue. E.g. Cambridge University not only offers a university-wide Open Day, but also college and department-specific ones.
Some such as the Cambridge Department Open Days are free to attend. Students will receive more detailed information on specific courses within the course you are planning to apply for. Other universities may simulate an actual lecture, or lecturer-led visits to laboratories and campus departments. Nothing is required on the actual day except for an open and inquisitive mind.
Most academic taster sessions and/or talks will also end with Q&As with professors and tutors — a great chance to ask about anything further on admissions, teaching style, course content, etc. that wasn’t addressed on the day already. So be sure to brush up beforehand on what your course may involve!
Do you enjoy team sports, individual training, or just hanging around the gym? Consider the facilities. What are the outdoor grounds, pitches, indoor gyms and swimming pools like? Do they look well-maintained, reasonably clean and modern? Does the university offer enough sports clubs offered to satisfy your interests and passions?
Generally, campus universities will inevitably have more space and grounds to offer, compared to those based within a densely-built city. Visiting the actual spaces will give you an idea of what you could use during your time there.
Some sporty universities are also highly academic as well. Take Durham University, consistently a top-10 in the UK, which caters for over a whopping 50 types of sports. This includes both the inter-university, high intensity competitions, or more relaxed fun at collegiate level. There are 650 college sports teams alone at Durham, for existing students to play against each other across 18 different sports.
Lastly, what are the halls and residence like? Whilst university years will pass like a breeze, three or four years are still not short by any means, and accommodation will literally be your “second home”.
Visiting both campus and city universities will give you a very clear idea of the kind of lifestyle you will experience amidst studying. This choice is more personality-driven, as some prefer the hustle and bustle of London city life, whilst others enjoy the homey feel of a campus university, where you are bound to see familiar faces at almost every corner.
For example, Cambridge, a campus university, guarantees most of its students accommodation within its colleges, so there isn’t much hassle in terms of finding private rental flats, and dealing with the lease administration after. Some colleges have more modern rooms versus older styles, depending on when it was last renovated.
On the other hand, other universities like UCL typically guarantees college accommodation only for first-year students. After that, students can still apply for a place in college halls but may not be guaranteed a place depending on demand for that year. So, some students will have to privately rent their own accommodation in London.
Remember to ask existing students on the Open Day about their living and residential experience, for you to understand about the joys, challenges or pitfalls of living there!
Open Days are not mandatory, but like any savvy shopper, a “try before you buy” mentality is useful. Be sure to research early, sign-up and sort out travel plans. Visiting the university will give you a much better picture in terms of its teaching style, facilities, accommodation and so much more.
If you do miss out on the Open Days, however, do not worry. Some universities will host Open Days during the start of Year 13. Otherwise, it can be equally helpful to speak with existing students, alumni or mentors, who have been through the experience themselves.
Janet enjoys teaching humanities subjects as well as Business Studies, Economics, English and Maths. Educated in both Hong Kong and England, she has helped students of all ages with interview and entrance exam preparation, university admissions in addition to IGCSE, A-Level and IB exams. Janet went to Wycombe Abbey before studying Land Economy at the University of Cambridge. Her extensive work experience from the education, property and financial sector enables her to work with students of all ages in an engaging manner.
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