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Unis- how to avoid the hard sell?

(26 Posts)
alfreddo Tue 27-Feb-18 10:52:58

My Yr12 DD will be going to a higher education exhibition run by UCAS for sixth formers next week.
I looked on the UCAS page to see who would be there and found this, written by UCAS, on the "Why exhibit?"

We’ve pulled together everything you need to know to raise your brand profile and help you find out more about how you can benefit from exhibiting at events. Afterwards, our unique audience reach means you can keep the conversation flowing. Early engagement with your target audience will help maximise your conversion rates when the time is right. UCAS

Is it only me who feels shock at how universities have changed since I went 30 years ago, when it was a real achievement to get to one.

This makes it so clear that universities are chasing our children's (and our) money. I find it quite depressing and wonder how on earth 16-17 year olds are supposed to choose when they are up against this.
If my DD doesn't get her first choice, which is a no-brainer for quality, I really don't know how to advise her to choose (Arts degree).

Beyond the gloss, freebies (best from the low ranking unis apparently) and respected league tables how can you be sure what you're getting? Do unis have to be honest about the contact hours/ modules / employment stats they give?

The whole higher ed thing seems like a big mis-selling racket for a significant proportion of the courses and I am dreading next year when DD applies.

Any advice on how to select a degree which will actually be worth the money?
DD has looked at apprenticeships but they are mainly business/ law/ accountancy/ IT/ engineering which she doesn't unfortunately have any interest in.

OP’s posts: |
strawberrysparkle Tue 27-Feb-18 10:55:36

Honestly I would advise her to just pick someone she thinks she will feel comfortable at. If she feels like she likes the city and the campus then that's the most important thing.

titchy Tue 27-Feb-18 11:02:45

* Do unis have to be honest about the contact hours/ modules / employment stats they give?*

Yes absolutely. In terms of how to pick she needs to visit - city/town/rural? Accommodation - offsite/campus/catered? Modules - choices/core/relevant to her interests. Opportunity for year abroad/Masters/placement. Entry requirements. Large multi-disciplinary vs small specialist.

Yes it's a very sharp market these days. But your dd holds the cards.

senua Tue 27-Feb-18 11:07:30

Do unis have to be honest about the contact hours/ modules / employment stats they give?

Ha! I was going to say the opposite to titchy.
They can't be 'honest' i.e. give guarantees about modules because it depends upon staff and their pet subjects. They can tell you what courses are running (or have run recently) but if that member of staff moves to another University / gets pregnant / goes on sabbatical then the course may not run by the time your DD gets there.

senua Tue 27-Feb-18 11:08:43

sorry: then the module may not run by the time your DD gets there.

PilarTernera Tue 27-Feb-18 11:38:20

Any advice on how to select a degree which will actually be worth the money?

'Worth the money' will mean different things to different people. My advice would be for dd to have a think about what she wants from the university experience. Those factors tichy mentions are a good start. It's not only about the degree itself, it will be how she spends 3+ years of her life.

For my dd, the courses she was looking at seemed quite similar. She chose her uni because when she visited she loved the city.

titchy Tue 27-Feb-18 12:44:35

Ok fair point re modules - but most first and a half of second and third year modules are core so they won't change. True though the options might change if only one academic can deliver and they leave, although being blunt most undergraduate modules can be taught by any academic in the subject. It's more of an issue at PG.

lulusayshello Tue 27-Feb-18 13:03:25

My dd went to a higher ed fair recently and I had fairly low expectations for similar reasons. It actually turned out to be quite worthwhile, with a good range of unis from Oxbridge/Russell Group to lower ranked unis and specialist colleges like art schools. There were also some professional organisations with stands, plus subject talks and talks/advice on things like personal statements. She found it very useful.

I do find it depressing that education has become so focused on marketing and pulling in the cash, but I suspect at HE fairs this is mainly apparent in the bagful of free pens, notebooks and bags for life your dd will come home with.

If you have a Which? subscription, we've found their university guide quite useful in getting info about courses, student satisfaction broken down into a few smaller issues (like IT, library service, etc), average salary after 6 months, and a few other things. I think they offer either a free or £1 trial so maybe worth joining for a month? Also studentroom.com is quite useful - a bit like MN for school and uni students - search previous posts there to find what students say about their uni or course.

lulusayshello Tue 27-Feb-18 13:05:53

I meant to say, your dd could join Studentroom and ask on there about contact hours, etc.

TwitterQueen1 Tue 27-Feb-18 13:13:45

OP, I think you're over thinking this. The blurb is no different to any other company trying to get other companies (universities) agreeing to pay to exhibit at a fair/show. The students get a feel for the unis, they talk to the students, they come back with about 30 bags and even more leaflets to read at home.

It's the uni visits that are really important. Actually going to the unis and seeing the accommodation, listening to taster lectures - this is the really crucial part.

I speak as a three times veteran of choosing unis for DCs.

titchy Tue 27-Feb-18 14:43:10

* If you have a Which? subscription, we've found their university guide quite useful in getting info about courses, student satisfaction broken down into a few smaller issues (like IT, library service,*

Or look at the Unistats website for free! (Beware of relying on student satisfaction scores though. And employment data come to that...)

alfreddo Tue 27-Feb-18 14:54:07

Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience everyone. Titchy that's the issue- DD knows there are lots of league tables around but it's hard to know which ones, or which bits of one, she can rely on.

It was obviously a lot easier in the dark ages of the 1980s when I went as there were hardly any to choose from and they would considered 'marketing' a dirty word.

Will look at trial Which subscription and tell DD about student room.

The only problem with visits is that they cost a lot of time and money, especially from where we live, so I'm hoping she'll only do a couple having narrowed her choices right down.

Would you say the Unistats table has the most accurate ranking for traditional single subject honours courses?

OP’s posts: |
titchy Tue 27-Feb-18 15:21:13

Unistats isn't a ranking. It just has all the data on student satisfaction etc that Which and others provide.

There aren't any more institutions now than there were in the 80's by the way!

There's a certain amount of desk work you can do beforehand as I said earlier which should enable you to get a shortlist of half a dozen which she can then visit to get a feel. But I do think it's important to visit and see the actual department where she'd be studying, does it inspire or not?

You said Arts earlier - do you mean creative art? In which case as a very sweeping generalisation I don't think you can beat the specialists. Employment stats will be often poor though - artists tend to be freelance whilst waiting tables! But doing what they love. On the other hand if Art is a route to something else - teaching, curating, a larger multi-disciplinary place might be better so she can draw upon other disciplines. Again a visit should help.

BubblesBuddy Tue 27-Feb-18 21:47:35

I was wondering which art. Specialist course is best for most arts and world ranked university is best. We have some! The content of the course is important and often what’s worth something to one student doesn’t feature for another student. Therefore decide what is important to your DD and you can draw up a shortlist.

alfreddo Tue 27-Feb-18 23:19:10

Actually I think I might have the terminology wrong, it is History that she wants to study, so not a creative art subject. At the moment she would like a career in museums, education or historical research. You make a good point about multi-disciplinary Titchy.
Bubbles - what exactly do you mean by specialist course?

OP’s posts: |
AvocadosBeforeMortgages Wed 28-Feb-18 00:31:15

I work for a university, and I will be one of the members of staff at various UCAS events speaking to people like your daughter.

A few things to note
- We're bound by the regs of our professional organisation (HELOA) not to say anything that's negative or biased against other institutions or courses. So, we're not going to sit there and slag off alternatives in favour of our own.
- Saying anything incorrect is a big no-no; technically your daughter could sue us. So, yes we do have to be honest about everything we say. This does come with disclaimers as it's possible that factors beyond our control (e.g. academic leaving) will mean that certain modules can change, but we can't make radical changes for no good reason. Certainly we have to give out information that is correct to the best of our knowledge. I always tell my junior members of staff that if they don't know, don't guess, and they can always grab a senior member of staff (like me) to check.
- We know that there's no point getting the 'wrong' students through the doors under false pretences; they'll only drop out and that's worse for all concerned. While we do want to promote the university we work for, we're also very keen on helping students make informed decisions. I tell at least half the students I speak to that we're not going to be the right university for them and wherever possible I point them towards more suitable alternative institutions.
- Most of us wouldn't sleep at night if we thought we were doing prospective students a disservice. We're humans too. We've got targets to hit for how many email addresses we have to get from students, but we're human too and are very conscious that we're helping people choose their futures.

Think of it as an opportunity for your DD to find out more about institutions she knows exists, but also some she might not yet be aware of, and to consider all her options and then decide which open days to visit.

Do encourage your DD to do some research before she goes. So many students seem to think I'm a walking prospectus, when I can be so much more than that. "Do you offer X subject" and "what are your entry requirements" are not particularly insightful questions to ask; answers can easily be found on the website. Occasionally I meet a student clutching a clipboard who has researched in advance and knows exactly what they want to ask and gives me a good grilling. I love talking to those students (they're interesting!) and they clearly get a lot more out of the day than their peers do. This document has a good list of questions to ask www.nbp16c.org.uk/docs/student_info/201314/ucas-prep-2014-download_small.pdf

TerfyMcTerface Wed 28-Feb-18 08:07:35

she would like a career in museums, education or historical research.

Be warned, all of those will involve postgraduate study: a Masters at a minimum (or PGCE) and, for the latter, a PhD (some museums also want a PhD now for certain roles). They are competitive careers, so best to look at the courses which have the best reputation.

titchy Wed 28-Feb-18 08:56:10

Bubbles was referring, as was I, to specialist art colleges as you'd mentioned art. History is actually quite an easy subject to choose a university from - on top of the suggestions I and others made earlier, she need to think about what sort of history she's interested in. Courses vary massively! Modern - is there a decent Politics dept she can take modules from, Victorian? Medieval? Can she do Archaeology or Literature modules? What period or type do the academics do, anyone world class? Lots of desk research she can do!

HesMyLobster Wed 28-Feb-18 19:42:28

My DD has applied this year for a similar subject. She did a LOT of research and, based purely on course structure and subject content, got her choices narrowed down to 5/6 before we started open days etc.
It helps of course if they are completely clear about what they do/don't want to study.

BubblesBuddy Thu 01-Mar-18 09:01:54

I assumed you mean a practical art course. Thee are some very specific courses at arts universities. Ignore what I said earlier if your DD wants History, which is of course a BA!

Regarding the hard sell - neither of my DDs encountered this but it has ramped up recently, especially where universities are competing for the better students. To avoid hard sell, aim high. The universities who choose are not pushing so hard. We didn’t encounter hard sell at Durham, Leeds, Exeter, Bristol, Oxford, UCL, etc. It is perfectly possible to ignore it and make up your own mind on what you want.

BubblesBuddy Thu 01-Mar-18 09:10:10

Subject content can change. Always remember with History that employment prospects are better when it’s studied at a top flight university. A lower ranked university might have an appealing course but what are job prospects like? Does this matter? In contrast my dd who did MFL didn’t look much at course content because there was little variation in the courses at the universities she liked. Her long list was only 5 and she was only really interested in 3. So we visited 3. Most students also want a “type” of university. City, countryside, campus, town, London. They all have a different feel so the best course in a place you would never go to may have to drop off the shortlist.

SaffyMcDonut Fri 02-Mar-18 22:21:13

I went to university when you did, but 'in those days' there was no internet to find out about it!

Any university wants the best people and so many people apply to university now that they will want and need to attract the best - and the best tend to be engaged early and with focus. The alternative is that you pay £9K+ for your child to be on a course with people who are demotivated and scraped A levels.

alfreddo Sat 03-Mar-18 10:36:55

Avocados - that's really useful and reassuring to know, thanks.

HesMyLobster thanks. DD has used some of her two snow days to do quite a bit of online research. It turns out that she has a pretty solid idea of what kinds of history she wants to study, though I can see the danger of choosing her perfect module combination at a lower ranking uni over a slightly less-than-perfect one at a higher ranking one, particularly if the modules could change by the time she gets there.

Terfy - you said " They are competitive careers, so best to look at the courses which have the best reputation."
sorry if this is obvious but how can DD find out which have the best reputation for getting work in her chosen sector? Do you mean league tables (in which case, which ones should she be looking at they vary quite a bit? Or finding out from prospective employers in the sector by writing e-mails or letters? Or some other avenue she can research?

She is still 16 so despite writing numerous letters has not managed to get work as a volunteer in our area (not SouthEast) as they won't consider under 18s for anything. It's the same with archaeological digs. She has done some work experience in a museum in our nearest city though. She did ask the people she was working with what their background was and it seemed pretty variable, but the museum is not that high-profile so may not be typical.

Titchy how can she find out whether departments have world-class academics? A lot of the websites seem to say "world-class research" but that seems a bit vague.

Saffy- yes I remember pretty low quality prospectuses- no glossy pages- that I sent off for by post. And I know nothing about Arts/ Humanities (as you can see by the fact I thought that History was an Arts degree- sorry for the confusion bubbles!) so am not much help to DD.

This is after all a £50,000 decision she will be making within the next few months and I want her to feel happy with it when she is job-hunting at 21 as well as the three years she is there.

OP’s posts: |
titchy Sat 03-Mar-18 16:24:43

Most universities will put brief CVs of their academics on their websites. The REF score (research) will also guide. This might be interesting reading: http://results.ref.ac.uk/Results/ByUoa/30

Slightlyperturbedowlagain Sat 03-Mar-18 16:30:23

One thing I haven’t noticed in previous posts is to research the student union for the places that become ‘likely’ choices too- these vary enormously, but if looking to move away from home can make an enormous difference in terms of finding friends, meeting places, activities, support and advice and extra facilities for day to day life.

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