About to become Admissions Tutor...

(70 Posts)
PiratePanda Thu 26-Feb-15 13:57:38

This time next year I'll be taking over as Admissions Tutor of my department. I've been involved with admissions for many years, some years more closely than others, but this is the first time I'll be in charge in my current department. Not Oxbridge.

We have challenges, like less-than-top-of-the-range facilities (thanks Grade 1 buildings), but generally a good to excellent reputation for teaching and research. AAB offer. Our friendly competitors are running ahead of the pack at the moment though, largely thanks to state of the art new buildings that can accommodate newer (read more technologically driven) approaches to things, which are pretty attractive.

I'm asking for general advice on how, while I can't do anything about our facilities, I personally might improve things.

Parents of prospective undergraduates, colleagues: give me your horror stories and, hopefully, your experiences of good practice - and tell me too if, when your DC finally arrived, the hype lived up to the reality smile

OP’s posts: |
Mamafratelli Thu 26-Feb-15 14:07:19

You can only deal with your dept I'm guessing. Make sure the web page for your department has lots of information on there. Videos, destinations etc. have contact details on there and answer promptly.

Does your university traditionally get students from locally or nationally? Your university will be represented at open events etc. make sure the people attending know about your department and what you do really well.

lalsy Thu 26-Feb-15 14:22:57

Ooooh Panda, you may wish you hadn't asked...some horror stories, all from highly ranked (horrid phrase) universities:

-the English dept who refused to use the available microphones in a packed, enormous lecture theatre on Open Day. When asked to, by an audience member, the admissions tutor said "Put your hands up if you can't hear". Hundreds of people did. She then said "So you can hear then", smiled sweetly and carried on. Sarcasm directed at people who may have disabilities and who have spent large amounts of money coming to hear you and can't, top marks.
-the department whose standard offer was different on the UCAS site (A*AA) to the department site (AAA) in October of the admissions round. I emailed and they said yes, they had been meaning to get UCAS to change that but "had been busy". Both the admissions talks we went to at this university involved what I thought were some quite snarky asides about how brilliant you had to be to do this course, how they didn't want people who had merely worked incredibly hard and got A*.
-Only one of the websites we looked at (St Andrews, take a bow) made clear what the course structure was (rather obscure JH). One claimed that it was too complicated to write down so the website merely gave a sample - no hint of that on said website.
-the department who replied to a query about the course structure by emailing a five-page colour-coded spreadsheet saying perhaps dd would be able to work out the answer from that (presumably as they themselves didn't have a clue confused.

On the Open Days everywhere, the students helpers were delightful, enthusiastic and a brilliant advert for the universities. And the staff we met to talk to were lovely too.

dd is now at her first choice, which committed none of the above! and whose admissions tutor emailed prompt and accurate answers to queries about the inevitably complicated course structure. The facilities and buildings weren't that important (but arguably not relevant in her subjects) - it was having someone with a name who provided sensible information in a kind and respectful way that drew her in.

PiratePanda Thu 26-Feb-15 14:45:15

I am open mouthed about the microphones!!!

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lalsy Thu 26-Feb-15 15:00:52

So were we! I was hopping mad, actually. The guy who asked the question looked so crushed.

lalsy Thu 26-Feb-15 15:02:16

And FWIW, spoke in heavily accented English - so may have had to try harder to understand this mumbled nonsense anyway.

PiratePanda Thu 26-Feb-15 15:04:21

I know of a department that lost a candidate in a wheelchair because they forgot to put ramps to the classrooms in on the open day for students with offers. Really really bad!

Mama, to answer your question we recruit nationally (and to a limited extent internationally). Sounds like I'm really going to have to do my homework and make sure the website is up to date!

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Littleham Thu 26-Feb-15 15:09:49

From a parent point of view we have had good experiences with university visits / applications. A few things stand out in my memory -

Good Experience -
1) One university professor who went out of his way to help my daughter with a query about her linguistics EPQ.
2) Smaller scale events tailored to one department's applicants / offer holders - with friendly staff available, enough student guides to take small groups, no question too much bother.
3) Good prospectus & website obviously, but more importantly a detailed write up of each unit.
4) The whole AAA or bust thing is massively worrying to students and I really respected the two universities (very competitive) where the admissions tutor stood up and said 'we realise this is a stressful time, but we are very committed to firm and insurance candidates / we can't guarantee anything but ring us up on results day if you drop a grade / don't panic'. Helpline on results day.
5) Good transport on visit days - park & ride, shuttle buses, guides, parking. Very much appreciated.
6) During the application - helpful 'holding' e mails, letters
7) If you interview - a timed appointment.
8) Good speakers
9) Admissions tutors who come on tsr and sites like this and explain the process / give advice to hopelessly confused students / parents.

Bad
1) Receiving an offer long after all the offer days had finished.
2) The larger events can be a bit overwhelming with huge crowds of people.
3) The wrong sized room for the amount of people invited.
4) Misleading information in prospectus eg Exeter university had A*AA in prospectus for a course this year and then proceeded to give out A*A*A offers!
5) Helplines where no one answers (results day).
6) Taking until April for a decision. You wouldn't believe how students / parents stress over a long wait.
7) Late evening interview.
8) Speaker who reads out the power point. Guys, I can read it faster than you....
9) You are going to get the dreaded 'contact hours' question. A friendly explanation goes down much better with an audience than a stiff defensive one.

Hope that helps.

lalsy Thu 26-Feb-15 15:12:14

Brilliant list, Littleham.

AliceInSandwichLand Thu 26-Feb-15 15:15:09

My DD went to an offers holders open day for MFL at a Hogwartw like uni in the north of England. She was applying for Russian. The department's idea of a stimulating taster was to play a comedy video in Russian, which none of the applicants understood a word of at that stage, without subtitles or explanation, while all the staff sat around telling each other how funny it was and ignoring the students. She and another girl met each other elsewhere at fresher's at another uni that autumn, both having turned this uni down in spite of eventually getting grades that exceeded its requirements. Make sure your uni (it may even be this one?) doesn't do this or similar!

Pokeymont Thu 26-Feb-15 15:19:49

As from next autumn I'll have four DC at Uni (hopefully).

We like,

Clear transparent entry requirements plus full info about different combinations (eg is A*BC going to be ok for a ABB course - it's not always clear)

Open days that have morning talks and afternoon talks - it's sometimes too expensive to difficult to get to far away Universities early in the morning. Weekday open days that start early and finish early May mean that kids can't come as they can't afford peak time rail travel.

My kids try and get a true idea of the students timetables. It would be useful to provide examples of what a typical students does during a sample week - ie how many lectures, how many tutorials etc. this info was rarely provided but my kids found it useful.

AliceInSandwichLand Thu 26-Feb-15 15:20:32

Seconded - great list above! Also - clear and helpful information about accommodation early on for firm offer holders. Students and first time parents will not necessarily understand the options or which types of accommodation are in short supply.
Cups of coffee at open days are more welcome than fabric bags with the university logo, IMO!

Bonsoir Thu 26-Feb-15 15:24:13

Long drawn out decision-making processes with applicants kept 100% in the dark are awful and put applicants off universities they were previously very keen on.

Department pages on university websites that have lots of recent undergraduate bios are really helpful.

lalsy Thu 26-Feb-15 15:28:56

Pokeymont, that is a great idea about a sample timetable - dd would have found that really helpful, especially given the often defensive answers to the contact hours question that Littleham mentions.

Pokeymont Thu 26-Feb-15 15:39:36

Being clear about what is expected of PSs is useful too.

Facts and figures are good too. Information about how many students get firsts, how many do a year in industry, how many are school leavers, how many get their first choice of accomodation etc etc It all helps to build a picture.

I agree that having a presence on TSR is useful.

Free coffee and tea is suprisingly welcome. brew

I generally don't go to the general parents or finance talks - the most important thing are the course specific talks for the DC. Course specific talks for the parents can be useful too.

Being able to chat with the lecturers, the admission staff and the older students is really useful. The friendliness and 'feel' of a place can swing a student if the courses are similar.

PiratePanda Thu 26-Feb-15 16:54:36

Thanks, this is very helpful and a brilliant list. Sounds like the things that really matter to people are clarity about the process and what's expected, and a friendly, personal approach to open days with plenty of time and opportunity to ask questions (and no one making jokes in Russian or sneering at people who can't hear).

Were anyone's DCs swayed by these things though? How important will our facilities be in the scheme of things if everything else is right? (We are genuinely a very friendly department with one of the best staff-student ratios.)

OP’s posts: |
lalsy Thu 26-Feb-15 17:20:17

Facilities didn't matter to dd at all, perhaps beyond a pleasantish library, but she isn't doing science or IT, and had a limited choice of courses. Everywhere either had sneering/sarcasm or lack of clarity (either about the process or the course - maybe a joint hons issue?) somewhere in the mix, even her firm and insurance. So modern furniture on top would have been asking for the moon on a stick smile.

Good luck, I'm sure you'll be great!

AliceInSandwichLand Thu 26-Feb-15 17:32:32

I would say staff much more important than facilities for arts subjects and both probably important for sciences - but staff still more so?

Decorhate Thu 26-Feb-15 17:40:18

My dd applied this year for a very over-subscribed subject. So we very quickly stopped bothering to look at libraries, accommodation, etc!
As others have said, absolute clarity on entry requirements & how applicants are assessed is a must. Too often we eventually found crucial information buried deep in the website.

And course content, teaching methods etc. My dd used one of her previous choices on a university which only at interview stage revealed that their teaching methods were exactly what she had been trying to avoid...

Decorhate Thu 26-Feb-15 17:41:13

Gah! Precious not previous!

Pokeymont Thu 26-Feb-15 17:46:18

I think pleasant surroundings help. Obviously facilities matter hugely for some subjects and less so for others.

My DD is finding it hard to differentiate between the course content at the different Uni's she has applied to so other things such as the facilities are coming into play.
She knows the quality of lecturers is important but it's impossible for her to tell how good they are just from a couple of sample lectures. You can only gleen so much from Unistats and the student representatives can be a bit biased.

HidingFromDD Thu 26-Feb-15 18:13:59

If you're presenting on open days for the STEM subjects, do NOT produce a presentation where the 'study' shows 4 guys peering intently through a microscope and the 'social' shows a blonde with big boobs and a low cut top! It's a clear indication of how the department is gender biased and was very offputting to my maths orientated DD!

If you're going to put on a demonstration lecture, do make sure it is a good one. We will assume that you pull out your best for the open days and if it's boring or ill thought out will assume the rest is worse (that was also the Hogwarts like Uni in the North of England).

Please give out maps of the open day to anyone who asks, especially if this is a city centre Uni and quite spread out. Explaining that you need to register a 'x' first when you can't find 'x' is very frustrating (although this was quickly addressed when I collared a lecturer at the open day and explained the situation).

A long wait for offers is very stressful. DD2 is still waiting on one (Warwick), and only just received two others. However, the two others have both emailed previously and explained there may be a long wait because of the course structure she requested (wanted a joint/combined honours course).

Clear presentation of the course content is very important, if you know your course differs from others please point it out, there's a lot of Unis out there and it's gets very tricky keeping track of all the different points.

Clear explanations of how you allocate accommodation is also important, including where students live in the 2nd/3rd years. This is particularly important if you are an 'insurance' offer, some campus unis don't guarantee accommodation to insurance offer students which could leave them scratching around for accommodation, it's less of an issue with city centre based unis as they tend to have more private accommodation on offer.

Sorry this is long, I'm in my second consecutive year of Uni applications so have spent vast periods of my life recently on this!

Littleham Thu 26-Feb-15 18:28:57

Having suffered for two years watching the whole process I'd say that my dd's went for course content and staff over facilities. My eldest changed one of her choices in response to my point 1 (good list). Although there is a limit with facilities she says having endured too many years of portacabins

I guess that if they have seen two very strong departments with excellent lecturers and great courses, then the facilities / accommodation/ extra curricular activities might come in as deciding factors. It is a bit like the process you go through in admissions deciding between candidates, but in reverse.

PiratePanda Thu 26-Feb-15 18:37:18

If you're presenting on open days for the STEM subjects, do NOT produce a presentation where the 'study' shows 4 guys peering intently through a microscope and the 'social' shows a blonde with big boobs and a low cut top! It's a clear indication of how the department is gender biased and was very offputting to my maths orientated DD!

God that sounds AWFUL! Oh dear lord. So sorry to hear a number of you have had to put up with sneering/sarcasm.

Arts and Humanities here, in a subject that has a lot of diversity of approaches, so state-of-the-art facilities matter more to some applicants than others.

OP’s posts: |
lalsy Thu 26-Feb-15 19:07:31

Lots of very nice, helpful people too Panda smile.

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