During your time at college or sixth form you find yourself bombarded with glossy prospectuses from universities all over the country, some from places you are surprised even have a university! They all look rather nice, with smiling students clutching their books as they walk across a positively glowing campus. But is the umpteenth staged picture of a group of friends really going to convince you on one of the biggest decisions of your life so far? Probably not.
What prospectuses are great for delivering to you the dry facts and information about an institution: the course figures, the league tables, entry requirements and number of library computers. But what they can’t provide, and what can only be found by visiting the university and city, is a personalised view and a feel for the environment that you will spend the next three years in. This is almost as important as the quality of teaching; if you love the city you are in, you will have a far better learning and social experience than if you can’t stand the sight of it.
An Open Day allows you to make a judgment for yourself, instead of simply relying on what is effectively an advertising campaign to make a decision for you. It also affords you the chance to experience a lecture or seminar environment for the first time, so you aren’t quite so taken aback when you sit down bleary eyed for your first lecture in Freshers’ Week.
I, as many of you will, visited five different universities. All were academically relatively similar, especially for my chosen course. Three I dismissed virtually instantly after I had visited, for numerous reasons. I decided that I did not want to be on a remote campus – I felt it was too insular, too isolated from the outside world.
You should also take the opportunity on an Open Day to ask personalised questions: what are the aspects of the course or student life that you find most important, not just what prospectus deems fit to tell you. I spoke to the staff and students at different universities, and in some cases this for me was their downfall! I found the responses I got from the staff were not to my liking (as well as some of the staff themselves!), so I crossed it off the list. This I would not have gotten from their admittedly very impressive prospectus.
I’m sure many of you have friends or siblings already at university? Visit them! Experience the local night life (important no matter who tells you otherwise), and also hear student experiences in a free environment and from people whose opinions trust. How have their problems been dealt with by their faculties? How well do the facilities really work?
Using all these factors is how (after long deliberation) I finally decided between Newcastle and another institution. They were on par academically and, to me at least, socially. So I spoke to a friend’s brother and a cousin at each about their personal experiences. I spoke to staff both about the courses and just in general. I got a feel for each city by visiting both several times. It was only after this that I could make a decision – and one that I do not regret in the slightest.