Choosing the right university is about so much more than the course. It is about the location, the environment, the facilities, the extra-curricular activities and the ambience. What appeals to one student won't necessarily appeal to another. These are decisions that can't be made from a distance online.
Open Days dominated our weekends this time last year and whilst a thing of the past for us at the moment, I have been reminded by friends going through the process this year of just how valuable they are.
Your teenager needs to go along and get a feel for the university, after all you wouldn't buy a house without seeing it first would you?So where to start? Well irrespective of where in the country your teenager may be looking to study, the principles for getting the most out of an Open Day are the same. Just follow steps one, two and three.
Step One – Choose visits wisely
Whilst it may not be possible for them to visit every university on their prospective list, there is no doubt it is an important way to help them make a decision, so encourage them to visit three of their five choices at least. Their decision on where to visit may be dependent on distance and travel expenses but that aside, they should also check the Open Day dates of their wishlist universities to see if there are any clashes.
After each visit, make sure they make a list of what they liked about each university and when looking at other potential universities, look out for those positives to make comparisons.
Location cannot be overemphasized. Help them to think about where they would like to study – is it a big city university where they can have easy access to all the opportunities and entertainment a major city has to offer? Or would they prefer to study at a campus university which is predominantly in a rural setting, where they can lead a student-centric life and feel part of a close university community?
We live in London, a city with everything on our doorstep but our son opted for a campus university away from home and this is also a big consideration in making that final choice. How close to home do they want to be? If they can't decide before the Open Day then make sure they visit both types, home and away and can compare the two.
Open Days are also a good way for them to eliminate those universities that don't tick all their boxes too. Those that excited our son in the prospectus fell short of his expectations when he visited, which just goes to show that what looks good on paper or online may not pass the close and personal test.
Step Two – What to do when they get there
Whilst as a parent you may have a view on their university selection, ultimately it is their decision to make. They will be the one studying and living there not you. Make sure they go prepared with all the questions they want the answers to. This is their opportunity to see the facilities; meet the academic lecturers who will teach them; meet the students who are currently studying there and find out what goes on at the university, besides the lectures!
Examples of some questions they might want to ask:
- What is the local area like? Where is the nearest supermarket? How easy is it to find a part time job?
- What sports clubs and societies are there at the university? They might have a specific interest in mind or they may want to try something new.
- What is the social life like? Is it campus focused or do students tend to head off campus to socialise?
- What are the different accommodation options and how do they compare? If it is off campus, how far away is it?
Make sure they also ask any specific questions about their course to the lecturers. This is the main reason they are there after all. Universities usually do a presentation about the courses on Open Day or they might even be lucky enough to have the opportunity to speak one-to-one with them.
Encourage them to look out for any specific campus tours or interaction sessions for their subject area so they get a real taste of what is involved each year, as these are a great way of getting a feel of what their chosen course might be like. If they can find a student helper (often called ambassadors) that is studying their course, this is an excellent way to find out directly from them what the course is really like.
Most importantly and one thing that really helped our son was getting in contact with students from his school who were already studying at the universities he was considering and doing the course he was applying for and arranging to meet up on the Open Day and chatting not only to them but their friends.
It is not a time to hang back or be shy, they need to make the most of their contacts if they have them, speak up when meeting lecturers and other students and avoid "wishing" they had done so later.
STEP 3 – Trust their gut instinct!!
After taking everything in at an Open Day persuade your teenager to take a minute to step back and listen to their gut. Back to the house analogy - we all know when it just feels right. Similarly after each visit they should probably have a good idea about whether it could be the type of university they would like to study at just by listening to their instincts.
They need to think about the people they have met throughout the day, the students and the lecturers. Can they see themselves working alongside them? Can they see themselves living with them? Time spent reflecting will avoid regrets later.
Of course having family or close friends at an Open Day with them is great as it's good to listen and share opinions. Personally, however, I think the best test is for them to do a trip alone. Many universities will invite students back for a second visit once an offer has been made and accepted. These are known as Offer Holder Days and as going it alone is what this next stage of their life journey is all about, step back and let them explore once more by themselves. Ultimately, it is their life so let them make it their decision.
Have you been through this process? If so what advice would you add? If not is there anything you want to know? All comments welcome as always.
Disclosure: This is a collaborative post.