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Open days - what attracts you? What puts you off?

(289 Posts)
shovetheholly Mon 06-Feb-17 12:58:50

I'm interested in hearing about your experiences of open days!

What attracts you and your DS/DD to a course or a place? What puts you off? What kind of information is it good to receive about the course? How much does the city/town of the university matter? How significant are job prospects later on to your decision? Do open days always confirm what you already think, or has one changed your mind (either positively or negatively)?

Am asking because we rarely get honest feedback from parents on the day (for obvious reasons), and I'd love to hear what you REALLY think... and get a sense of what we can do better.

DaphneDeLaFontaine Mon 06-Feb-17 17:44:40

I went to a few last year. The lecturer at Warwick put my DC off, he came across as superior and arrogant and kept flogging Woxbridge, which was a bit odd.

The city was important, as was the accommodation availability. We didn't need much info on the course as they had done so much online research. Job prospectus were important.

Personally I rated Bath as my favourite beacause of the Churros in the main square but alas was not to be grin

Leeds2 Mon 06-Feb-17 19:14:10

I am put off by huge crowds, such that it is difficult to move around and talk to who you want to talk to (DCs). I get irritated when one parent hogs a lecture by asking question after question, and not giving the potential students chance to raise their points. Same parent often spends inordinate amount of time with staff afterwards, with no-one else getting a look in. I appreciate that this sort of behaviour shouldn't put you off a place, but it does create a negative impression with me.

I get irritated if it is so busy that a DC can't attend a lecture they were interested in (albeit they had the opportunity to book a place some weeks previously and didn't do so!).

I personally prefer the accommodation and academic facilities to be within walking distance of the city centre, and not isolated.

I am not particularly bothered about seeing the accommodation, but like to know that student accomodation is confirmed for all first years, be it in halls, student flats etc. I am very unimpressed when the uni assures you that such accommodation is guaranteed, but you then hear from your student guide how s/he knew of several people who ended up with two people in a one person room, or a B&B, because the uni had over offered.

Wandaback Mon 06-Feb-17 19:23:13

I've been to lots.
Different DC have different priorities. Obviously they have researched the course and reputation before the visit. City V Campus is a basic one and nothing the uni can do to sway either way on that.
DS2 was very open minded as he liked the course at several places. Oddly enough Warwick was an early favourite because of the warm welcome in the Department. Lots of academics were greeting and chatting to the prospective students, seeming to be genuinely interested and helpful.
Fine details about the course are useful. How flexible are the modules, how is each year assessed, 3 year v 4 year courses, what is compulsory and what is optional.
Accommodation not remotely a priority, One uni room is much like another and neither DC bothered to look as it wouldn't have affected their choice. I believe they did look at halls when they went back for offer days.
Open days don't confirm what you think. One DC was a bit hmm about one that he only had on the list because it was highly ranked but was so blown away by the facilities and the course that he ended up putting it as first choice.

Twittery Mon 06-Feb-17 19:29:38

Do you work for a Uni?

Open Days
-Not too crowded. (Not always possible I know)
-Proper clear info on the course and course options
-Examples of timetables
-Ability to talk to actual students
-Ability to chat to actual lecturers
-My DC liked proper stats on things i.e. For example you could have info on many students in the previous year did a year in industry, or failed, or went on to do a masters, how many got a first or whatever - some places were very wishy washy.
-accessibility of lecturers once at Uni
-proper info on jobs and opportunities for further study etc
-general friendliness

Accommodation was a bonus if it was good but the course always came first. Poor accommodation didn't put them off.

League tables were important but they studied these at home rather than at an open day.

They said they thought some Open Days were too much of a sales talk without any substance confused. Some open days felt a bit dumbed down.

Some Uni marketing teams really seem to hit a bum note by trying too hard to be 'cool' and 'down with the kids'. It's cringe'y 😂

My four kids put a lot of effort into choosing their Unis and I'm glad they did as they have all ended up at places which they love and where they are well suited. I think the fact that they attended open days really helped.

One of my DCs was nervous about her results and looked at a few middle tariff Unis alongside some high tariff Unis. Some of the middle tariff Unis had excellent open days.

shovetheholly Tue 07-Feb-17 07:56:34

Thank you all for taking time to respond, some REALLY helpful thoughts here and lots of things I hadn't considered before! I'm really grateful. (Also, impressed by how much parents and prospective students clearly know about the courses before they arrive). For background, I work PT on research at a RG university (I am one of the few who really loves and misses teaching!), but DH is a (very) full-time prof who has recently become Head of Department. So he's now in charge of open days, recruitment etc.

Daphne - that sounds completely bizarre with the lecturer telling you about other courses! Seriously?! What was he doing? (As a fellow churros lover, I understand your motivation for Bath!! grin ) I hear you on arrogance being a turn off. Fortunately, the department where we work is surprisingly free of it. There's a rarity in academia!! smile

Leeds - good point about accommodation (sadly, departments don't really have much control over this). And v interesting that it's important not to rush it. I think this is a mistake we make sometimes. I try to make time to walk with students between buildings so they don't get lost and don't feel stressed, but I think we need to allow more time.

wandaback - I hear you on the fine details. When parents and students ask questions, this is the no 1 thing they ask.

Twittery - I'm interested in your point about it being dumbed down. This really hit home. When I remember being an undergraduate, the things I was excited about were the course and the library. But I am a total nerd. I sometimes think that we assume that students are less interested in the 'academic' content than they actually are. One thing I really want them to get is a life-long love of a subject, and sometimes I think we focus on the practicalities over this, and maybe shoot ourselves in the foot!

Also, on a personal note: when a parent asks "What's the nightlife like here?" what are they asking me?! I never know what to say. I don't know if they are genuinely asking whether their DC will have the clubs/pubs they want or whether they will be distracted by, ahem, too much extra-curricular activity. grin Not being an all-night raver type myself, I don't feel very qualified to answer. smile

senua Tue 07-Feb-17 09:08:16

I appreciate that it's difficult to get the balance right. It's probably a mistake to try to be all things to all people.

Both DC did mainstream subjects that were offered at lots of places so we had to cull the list. They went for upper RG and found those that wanted to go up the league tables (and be mentioned in the same breath as Oxbridge) to be a bit up themselves. They had a snooty attitude of "why should we let you in, we're not sure you're worthy of our time." To which DS's attitude in reply was "who'd want to go to a pretentious place like this, I'm not sure that you are worthy of my time". Both ended up at Red Bricks: an established and known quantity, comfortable in their skin and not needing to justify themselves (but not complacent).

I didn't like the really huge Open Days where you are shunted around like cattle. You want to feel that, when you get to University, you will be treated like a human being, not a statistic.

I think visiting the place is really important because you can't tell everything from a prospectus and a website. You need to meet the people you will be spending the next three years with and get a 'feel' for the department and your fellow students.

Needmoresleep Tue 07-Feb-17 09:14:49

DD went to two. At the first she thought she was the only one without parents, and in several cases, extended family. Only parents asked questions and the talk seemed aimed at them. More of the "we are as academic as Oxbridge", nothing on student life. She decided not to apply.

The second struck her as dumbed down. She decided not to apply as it did not seem academic enough. Perhaps the other extreme.

DS went to three. One on his own, which left him enthused. He was always going to prioritise course over anything else, and had already spent time researching academics etc. He was particularly pleased to have had the chance to chat to an academic, specifically on entrance requirements, but presumably other things. (Interestingly they gave different information than the admissions office, about the eligibility of one of his subjects. The academic encouraged him to apply and his offer allowed that subject.)

I went with him to the other two and liked the way students were separated for key subject talks, so students did not have to sit through parent-type questions. (I am sure there is a man in a tweed jacket who does nothing else but attend open days and hurrumph about anti-public school prejudice.) There was so much going on on one campus that we only met up at the car park, but could then compare our impressions. It also meant I could attend peripheral talks, say on taking a year abroad, that DS would not have had time to cover. It was useful to have gone, as DS was not completely sold on living on a campus but might not have had a choice, and I could have reminded him of the upsides.

Almost as useful were self guided tours, though the knowledge of basic facts, entrance requirements, options, of the people designated to answer questions was very variable, and in one case off-putting. "We take anything, General Studies, critical thinking..." and "students used to be able to take options in other departments, but other departments have now decided not to take our students." In contrast, at another University the academic responsible for admissions was free, and in a chat that seemed to include some information gathering from him, he advised which courses at other Universities might suit DS better. (His course, with a year out on a work placement, though highly ranked, was more vocational.) It was useful for DS to gain a better understanding of what he wanted, by considering something he ultimately did not want.

blueskyinmarch Tue 07-Feb-17 09:18:32

I didn’t go to open days with either DD’s. They went themselves as it was their choice not mine. DD2 is at Bristol which, as a city, i am not fond off but she loves it.

RoughBeast Tue 07-Feb-17 09:28:33

I'm an academic who's going to be admissions tutor for the first time next year. What a useful thread!

Can I ask whether your offspring would have found 'taster sessions' (in the shape of typical workshops/lectures) attractive/interesting or off-putting at an open day? My department is under pressure from the university to offer them at all open days, but we're far from convinced the average OD student wants to find him or herself wrangling with a poem or listening to a lecture...?

senua Tue 07-Feb-17 09:35:07

Also, on a personal note: when a parent asks "What's the nightlife like here?" what are they asking me?! I never know what to say.

Swerve the question: refer them to one of the helpers. Surely the applicant would prefer a student's answer, rather than your take on it!

senua Tue 07-Feb-17 09:48:06

Can I ask whether your offspring would have found 'taster sessions' (in the shape of typical workshops/lectures) attractive/interesting or off-putting at an open day?

Open Days are very busy - you have to travel up, sign in, tramp from building to building, look at departments, look at facilities, look at accommodation, get a feel for the town, fit in food and drink, attend presentations, ask questions, travel back home. Despite this, some people even manage to squeeze in two OD on the same day!
Trying to fit a lecture into all that is just more pressure for everyone involved. What started out as a helpful gesture (this is what a typical lecture is like) might backfire into an onerous duty (nervous applicant thinks that you have a Big Brother list of Non-Attendees so they must turn up).

bigmouthstrikesagain Tue 07-Feb-17 09:48:20

I went to all my open days for Universities on my own and by train. Parents did not tend to come, back in the prehistoric era early 90's but we still had grants and fees were paid by the govt, so perhaps that made it more my decision than a family one.

I think more parents must mean more crowds, so a series of open days to manage the crowds would help. The main interest will be the accommodation, facilities, student union and the social life for most students. And obviously a good overview of the course they are interested in, book lists (or online support), lecture schedule and the weighting of coursework/ exams.

My ds is likely to go to uni, he also has HF ASD so will probably need more support. A separate tour for prospective students with autism to avoid crowds and to introduce the tutors and level of pastoral support available, alongside the course structure will be very helpful.

TheSecondOfHerName Tue 07-Feb-17 09:53:21

A separate tour for prospective students with autism to avoid crowds and to introduce the tutors and level of pastoral support available, alongside the course structure will be very helpful.

Totally agree with this.

bojorojo Tue 07-Feb-17 09:54:52

Yes to asking a student. Quite frankly most savvy students know the nightlife in Newcastle will beat the nightlife at Bangor! If they have to ask, they are in the wrong place!

The main thing that annoyed me was the crowds and legions of parents trying to get into talks - at Exeter. A 60 minute wait for a bus to the campus from the designated park and ride. The cafe outlets running out of food. No chance to talk to a lecturer for DD as sessions overcrowded and hogged by parents. Huge crowds in the subject areas. All at Exeter. We gave up and walked out. Control numbers!

Most students have shortlisted your university. At least ensure they get a chance to hear about the course and get a chance to ask questions! Have more open days if you are ludicrously popular .

Best ones had informative and plentiful student helpers. Have videos of accommodation if it is a bus journey away and not on campus - thinking of Bristol here.

Do booking in advance for popular events. Make sure you do not have the same open day as other popular universities. Tell local restaurants you are having an open day or get a food village on site if you cannot cope with in house catering on campus.

Consider subject days. Oxford do them. So why not elsewhere? Why not ask students to sign up to a university and send them details about events like shops and other businesses do? Think Trump on twitter!

shovetheholly Tue 07-Feb-17 09:57:53

senua - I hear you on that snobby attitude. I remember that from back in the day when I applied (and how very offputting it was). Fortunately I think I can honestly say we don't have that issue. However, your other point about personalisation is, I think, something we could do more on!

needmoresleep - your comment about the man in the tweed jacket made me guffaw. You're spot on!

You know, I've noticed more and more that I'm dealing with parents more than students at open days. Because they are older, more self-possessed, and infinitely more confident they tend to try to proxy in for their kids, and sometimes I feel like the kids themselves aren't getting a shout in. I love your idea of separating parent/student groups. Sometimes I think there are questions students want to ask without their parents listening too!! smile

I think that information on contrasting courses is useful too. Ultimately, it's in everybody's interests to get students to the right place for them. No-one wants young people who are unhappy and dissatisfied.

RoughBeast Tue 07-Feb-17 09:59:10

Thanks, senua - that's fits my own thinking...

FordPerfect Tue 07-Feb-17 09:59:36

A well-delivered lecture/taster session can be a bonus. When DS and I went to Bristol we went to a Philosophy lecture which was very engaging - the lecturer seemed to pitch it perfectly.

My pet peeve is talks crammed full of parents/other hangers on with no space for applicants. Perhaps the presumption should be that parents don't attend a talk unless and until it is known that there is enough space for prospective students?

shovetheholly Tue 07-Feb-17 10:03:00

bigmouth - that's a really useful suggestion about separate tracks, thank you.

bojo - that's a good idea to have videos. Our accommodation is a little bit further from town, but there are very regular (and late) buses. And catering is one thing that we have covered - we provide it so we can have a chat to people over lunch. There's nothing worse than being stuck in the middle of somewhere unfamiliar, starving hungry, is there?

bojorojo Tue 07-Feb-17 10:16:54

You are spot on shove. Nightmare day and all we could get was a bag of crisps!

Definity stress buses and safety in getting home to the accommodation . Dd and friends used taxis if necessary and never walked.

Of course students have differing priorities. You will never please everyone but stressing some events are not for over invested parents would be a start. I dropped off DD and went shopping! Except at Exeter where they banned cars so we did the park and ride. With hindsight I would have kept away. Not that the food situation would hav improved. Very many of DDs friends visited without parents. Train fares are expensive though for long journeys (and are sometimes impossible) and the young people have to travel at peak time. Consider evening events maybe?

Twittery Tue 07-Feb-17 10:22:57

I think taster sessions can be useful but maybe it depends on the subject. I'm not sure. I know my DC did attend some but I don't think for their subjects they found them massively useful. They study STEM subjects and one does medicine but that's a whole other story shock

I think you don't have much choice but to embrace the parents. They are going to come and I don't think there is anything you can do to dissuade them. Student only talks are a good idea if space is limited.

OP, Does your DHs dept also runs offer holder days? My DC found those were really useful.

How about letting us know either the uni or the subject wink so not too identifying - I bet we could give you some better more detailed feedback. I've 4 DC currently at Uni so I am temporarily considering myself an open day expert 😂

shovetheholly Tue 07-Feb-17 10:26:13

It's actually really useful to hear that there is some sharp-elbowed stuff going on. We tend not to see that - we are, of course, aware when one person is taking up a bit of time, but sometimes people sort of hover in the background and you're genuinely not sure if they want to grab you or whether they're just enjoying a particularly nice canape and a moment of peace. grin I wonder if we could have some kind of ticketing system for questions...

roughbeast - we are struggling with the same thing, wrt 'taster sessions'. I think for us they could be useful because students don't do the subject at A-level, but I also totally take the point that it can feel like additional pressure for students on an already packed day.

Evening events might be an idea...

RoughBeast Tue 07-Feb-17 10:31:00

I think it's possible that in part the taster sessions, which are billed as 'student only', are a way of getting the potential applicants away from their parents! Thanks for everyone's thoughts, and apologies to shove for hijacking part of the thread. Our numbers are down this past year and the Powers That Be are putting huge emphasis on the importance of open days, and I'm interested in how other places conduct them, as I'm new to UK academia as well as to admissions.

shovetheholly Tue 07-Feb-17 10:33:56

roughbeast - no, please feel free to hijack away! It's useful. Numbers are a little down in most places I think, and not sure that open days are quite the fix the top brass think wink

Helenluvsrob Tue 07-Feb-17 10:43:22

Taster sessions are really helpful for courses not offered or courses that are new ish. My kids did most open days alone but I went on psychology taster lecture at Newcastle (some years ago, dry beyond belief with an element of " trying to engage the crowd" that was so fake!) - compared to one that was part of the liberal arts course at Leeds that made me want to do the course too! ( as did the history summary talk at Nottingham years ago with eldest).

Doing this the 3rd time round I'm not that worried about accommodation, except to find out that you do have basic places and it's not all ultra expensive en suite. ( beware and look for the dreaded " partial on suite" that we met, which meant converted old accommodation. Rooms with the corner chopped off an already small box, and a shower put it. If you are pAying for a bathroom and don't get your own loo ..... just no! Also you were responsible for cleaning your en suite in many places. If shared facilities they were cleaned daily.

Talking to students is the best thing really. Almost all the fact stuff is on line.

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