I am a firm believer that the most important factor in deciding where you're going to go to university is where you're going to be happiest. Which is why open days are a fantastic opportunity for you to go to experience university life, and decide where you are going to be happy. When I was younger, I had a dream university, I'd planned on going there when I applied, it was forefront in my mind that that was where I wanted to go to university. But when I actually went to the open date, I didn't like it. Even though I'd spend so much of my childhood going out to places close to it, and going to events that were associated with it, when I actually got in there, when I actually met the students, I didn't like it. And then I ended up going to University of Bath because I felt happy there. I went to the open date and I smiled. I walked out onto the amphitheatre, in the blazing sunshine, next to the lake, saw the looks of all of the happy students, and I knew this is where I'm going to spend the next four years of my life. And they were four brilliant, amazing happy years.
You are making a big decision. And this may be one of the first truly big decisions that you've had to make all by yourself. You've got to decide where you're going to be living for the next three, four, five, potentially even six years. This is a long time, and it's going to feel even longer if you end up somewhere that you're not happy. Reading prospectuses, looking at things online, watching other people's videos is a great indication of where you might be happy. But pictures can be deceiving. They make somewhere small and overcrowded seem large and spacious. There is no substitute for actually going to the place, for actually going to open days and seeing how you respond to the environment and seeing what you think of things.
Open days season kicks off early in June. And there will be loads and loads. This is great opportunity for a day of school just after your mock exams. I know that I definitely through in a few cheeky extra ones where I wasn't actually intending on applying, just because I didn't fancy going into school on a particular day. Obviously, this is not something you should tell your teachers.
After June, July, it will quiet down a little bit, but most Saturdays up to the UCAS application deadline will have a few open days on. You should try and visit as many as you can. You need to make a long list of places that you're interested in. Use the university profiles in this book to make a list of places you’re interested in, and then go and visit them and see how they feel.
Register beforehand for the ones that you're interested in, and they might send you through a goody bag. It is at this time of year that you start to accumulate a large number of free pens and post it notes, as universities send these out as advertising. In the pack that they send you, there might be a list of lectures. Have a look through them and sign up for the ones that you like. It's going to be a range of academic things, people talking about specifics of the course, people talking about any placement opportunities, there are going to be talks from the admissions, and on how to fill in your UCAS form, which hopefully your school, and these series of videos, would have covered quite well, also, talks on student finance. How much it's going to cost you to live at that particular university. Try and go to as many of these as possible. You want to get as much information as you can and be as informed as you can before you start making any firm decisions.
Remember, open days are the university's opportunities to sell themselves to you. They are putting on everything they can, doing as much as they can to make them seem like the most amazing, the most special, the most brilliant place ever, to try to entice you to go there. Because you're going to be giving them a lot of money, you are worth a lot money to the university. You're going to be giving it to them directly in tuition fees, and indirectly, in things like accommodation fees, the money that you spend on campus, money that you spend in the bars and the shops. They are trying to show off and entice you to come to their university. Now, if you are not impressed with them showing off, if you're not impressed with them being amazing and showing off everything they can do, how impressed are you actually going to be on a day to day basis?
The students' union at the university will be out in force. And the students' union, are generally going to be volunteers. And if they're spending their time volunteering to show off at how amazing their university is, they generally love it there. Talk to them, ask them why they love it, ask them why they're so enthusiastic. If there aren't people around who are looking enthusiastic about the university, ask yourself why that is. There are probably going to be some student guides, as well. Now, these may be volunteers, and these may be paid guides. Sometimes the students that are paid to guide you around are a much better indication of what the university is like. As opposed to the super enthusiastic volunteers who think everything is absolutely amazing. They might give you a bit more of a real insight into exactly what it is like at university. Ask them whether they're happy. Ask them whether they like it there. Ask them whether they're enjoying their course. Chances are, they will give you an honest answer. Remember, these student guides, the student union volunteers, they remember what it was like when they applied through UCAS. They were in the same position as you a year, two, three, four years ago. They know the hard decisions that you're having to make. And they generally want to help you as much as they can. They want to answer the questions, they want to tell you how to make decisions, they want to pass on their advice to you. They're generally really, really nice people who are there to help you. So ask them as many questions as you can. Find out what it is really, really like there before you commit yourself, your money, and your effort to spending all of your time there.
Look at all of the facilities that you can. Most universities are large, interesting, and diverse places. But you need to find somewhere that suits you and where you're going to fit in. For example, is there somewhere on campus or close where you can practice your faith? If you're interested in shopping and going out to bars lots, is there enough locally, either with associated with the university or associated with the town, that's going to keep you interested? If it's a 40 minute train journey away to the nearest decent set of shops, is that really going to work for you if that's your major pastime? If extreme sports are an absolute essential at the weekends, pick a university that offers a range of extreme sports. The course, the type of university is going to be a major driver in this, but don't forget, you're going to be living there. You're going to be there for a very long period of time. So make sure you're going to fit in, make sure you're going to be happy.
Ask a few questions about logistics. What time does the library shut? Because if the library shuts at 5pm every day, which is unlikely for university libraries, that's not actually very useful. What's the Wi-Fi coverage like? If the Wi-Fi coverage doesn't actually extend to the accommodation, well, that's not very useful.
Try and ask as many questions as you actually can, so that when you come to filling that UCAS form, when you come to pick your university and your courses, that you have as much information as you possibly can to base the decision on.
Questions to ask on open days
What time does the library shut?
What is the Wi-Fi coverage like?