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First up, an apology! You were probably aware from the last waffle on this site that I was reducing my regular content to this site to once a fortnight. Then last week, the week that there should have been a waffle there was nothing – sorry. I had to make a decision because I was actually at work doing an open day all day and, when I finally got home, I needed to decide whether to play computer games online or blog. Well, as you can probably guess, the computer games won! But spending the day interacting with new applicants made me think about what my advice would be for anyone attending open days.

I know this is probably not the sort of waffle you expect from me, but many students are attending open days at the moment and I thought I would present some advice for anyone who is unsure about what to do on the open days or who are new to open days. I am assuming that the majority of my three viewers will probably have moved on from Open Days at universities, but hopefully there might be someone you can actually pass this onto in order to provide some support. Although I work on a Primary Education course, I would say that this advice is generic to all courses and also to all universities. Please remember this is just my advice and not a guide to being accepted onto a course/programme.

  • Do your research – There are many proverbs and saying which relate to benefit of having knowledge, e.g. knowledge is power. Before you head off for the open day I would definitely do your research. Look at websites and online prospectives and see which courses the university is offering, the entrance requirements, the type and cost of accommodation and any information about the student union. It is also beneficial to look at information about the actual town or city as well, especially transport links, shopping (both food and clothes) and entertainment. Almost all open days will ask you to register and will provide you with a timetable of the day beforehand. Before you set off sit down with your parent(s) and decide what you all need to go and see and look at. There might be somethings that you are not really that interested in, e.g. finance talks, which your parent(s) will be so be considerate and create a schedule which meets everyone’s needs. If there are talks relating to the courses/programmes you are considering then ensure that you are attending these. There is often a lot of extra information provided within these, including additional information about how to support your application and what the tutors are ‘looking for’. Although there will be a lot to take in and see at any open day, try to arrange some time to explore the city before you head home – maybe have a pizza before heading home at the end of the day.

  • Ask questions and talk to people – When I am stood on the ‘stall’ at an open day, I meet and talk to a huge number of students and parents. It is essential that you make a positive impression when talking to the tutors and one way of doing this is to demonstrate that you have a positive interest in the course. If you have done your research (see previous point) then you probably have some questions. I would recommend that you always approach someone and start the conversation with something like – “Hi, I’m really interested in studying (enter your course name here) at (insert uni name here). Would it be possible to answer some questions I have about the course?” This demonstrate that you have a real interest in the course and that you have started to work independently – the latter being a key skill within higher education. I personally would recommend avoiding asking things like – “Can you tell me something about the course?”. As well as asking your questions to your the course representatives I would also recommend that you talk to people on accommodation, finance and admissions. You have done your research so go and ask about anything you are not 100% sure about. Everyone is always very helpful on an open day and there is never a silly or stupid question to ask. Definitely go and talk to the student union ask what they are striving for in the university, whether they have a society which matches your interests and what events they organise. Many universities will have student ambassadors attending the open day as well. Ask them questions, see what they think about the university and the course you will be applying for. All of them will be more than happy to talk to you and answer your questions so don’t be shy and, although your parent(s) might want to ask questions too, make sure you lead the conversation – you might be spending three years of your life here so take the lead!

  • The most important question – As well as talking to people it is important that you visit places and buildings around the campus. Key buildings should include the library, the canteen, teaching rooms, student union and accommodation. As you are sat listening to talks, eating in the canteen or just wondering around the campus there is one very important question that you should be asking yourself. Can you imagine seeing yourself at the university, learning and enjoying three years of your life? Many people ask me on Open Day – “Why should we come to this university?”. Although higher education is quickly becoming more of a consumer lead market, I always give the same response when asked this question. Choosing a university is a personal choice. You need to have the right ‘feel’ about the campus and students and staff. You need to imagine that you are actually learning and living there. In response to the question I would say – If this is the right university for you then we would really like it if you join our family/community, but you need to decide if this is the right university for you. This is why it is important to visit a range of different campuses in order to get the right feeling. Give every institution the opportunity, sometimes we actually like the university which we least expect.

  • Can I please remind you that these are my own personal thoughts and advice about attending open days and do not represent the institution I work for in any way. Attending an open day should be an informative and enjoyable experience. You should come away having more information than when you arrived and also have a good understanding of what you would be experiencing during the three years of your course. But the most important thing to come away with is a personal feeling about the campus, staff and current students. If you come away thinking that you can not wait to get back and start learning and living at the university then you have probably been successful at finding the university of your choice.

    Do you have any advice for open days? Have you seen some great ideas and/or practice? If you have then I look forward to hearing your comments and ideas, please add them in the comments below or send them to me via Twitter(@iwilsonysj), Facebook, Google+ or email.

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    It only remains for me to say- have fun and I’ll catch you later and, until then, consider yourself waffled!


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