Deal with the best and worst of university open days

Open days provide a fantastic way to find out about each university.  You get a direct feel for the place, to see how it suits you as an individual.

photo by Toni Blay

photo by Toni Blay

In 2009, The Student Room asked over a thousand students about the best and worst things about open days.  Using the top answers given, let’s explore how to make the best use of what you’re likely to encounter:

Best things

  • The friendly atmosphere. The universities obviously want to make the visit as beneficial as possible.

So…Don’t hold back.

Find out as much as you can. Ask questions, speak to as many people as possible, explore as much of the place as you can.  Don’t worry about relaxing; you can chill out later.

Each presentation and tour is designed to look as good as possible.  You needn’t be overly sceptical, but do expect an over-emphasis on what they want you to see.  Nobody is going to highlight how awful a particular aspect of the uni is.  Just remember that nowhere is perfect.

The Student Room is a useful forum for speaking to current students about what you’re most interested in.  If it still gets the thumbs up, that’s a good thing.

  • Freebies!

So…Take what you can, but don’t let it influence your choice.

Free stuff will make you feel good, but it’s not a sign of a good establishment.  The goodies are great, but unrelated to how the university will actually be.

  • Being able to get a feel for the place.

So…Explore as much as you can.

Go beyond the official tour route if you can.  And visit the surrounding area too.  Because you won’t spend all your life on campus!

  • Meeting new people and feeling more independent.

So…Don’t hold back.

It’s great to experience this type of thing on your own, because you’re not being drawn into other people’s opinions.  While it’s great to hear what parents think about the place, the only person needing a solid opinion is YOU.

  • Getting to talk to students and lecturers there.

So…Ask important and relevant questions to you.

Leave basic points and anything you can check in information packs later.  You can always email or call up if you still need a specific answer to something.

If possible, be armed with one or two big questions you want answered over everything else.  That way, you have your priorities clear.


photo by Goodimages

photo by Goodimages

Worst things

  • Being alone and with people you don’t know!

Solution…Treat the day like a fact-finding mission, not a social experience.

You’re going there to make notes, not friends.

That said, if you do get chatting with other potential students, it’s all good!  Getting to know new people is something all new students have to become accustomed to once they hit campus for the first time.  Unless you end up attending uni in your home town, a move away forces you to make new friends.  And that’s a good thing.

  • Events do not give you much time to explore the university yourself.

Solution…Get there early or stay a bit late.

Consider staying nearby overnight if you can stretch that far.  If you’re serious about the place you’re visiting, spend enough time to cover all you want to know, including about the surrounding area. Nothing beats first hand experience of a place.

  • Limited access to the full range of accommodation.

Solution…Check brochures, the prospectus, the university website, and so on.

Email the uni to ask for more information.  Ask current students (via The Student Room again…hurrah!) what the accommodation is like.

  • Being nervous, not having enough time to find out everything you want to know, forgetting questions you want to ask.

Solution…Prepare questions in advance.

And if you’re too worried to speak up, note the names of people you want to speak to and try getting in touch with them after the open day itself.  Email addresses, Twitter accounts, and so on, for staff and student reps aren’t difficult to find or ask for.

  • Travelling – “Driving with the parents”.

Solution…Discuss with parents what you want out of the day beforehand.

If you want to prepare in silence or with headphones on, tell them in advance and explain why that way of preparing is important for you. But remember it’s natural for parents to get excited about your future, nervous about your future, pushy about your future, etc.

Alternatively, you could go alone.  I know that’s not always possible.  Your parents may not even allow you to go alone…

But it’s no big deal.  There will be more than enough independent time once you *are* at uni. You can look forward to that. And then you may just start to miss your parents a bit. 🙂

  • It gets crowded and there are long queues.

Soultion… Look for a less crowded route.

People tend to follow each other in a set route, even when a route hasn’t been set out.  If there’s no route, don’t act like you’re in a crowd.  Move out somewhere else and check out the crowded bit once it has died down.

Failing that, you may be able to hang back until people move on.  It doesn’t matter if you’re the first or last person to see the information.

Live Life, Study Hard – Free Book

Today, I’m happy to give you my free ebook on how to get the best out of your time at university.  Live Life, Study Hard [744Kb PDF]:

Would you like to enjoy your experience at uni because of your degree work, not despite of it?  Life shouldn’t stop when you study.  If you want to enjoy the best of both worlds, then “Live Life, Study Hard” is a good starting point.

Working toward a degree needn’t be a chore.  But it’s hard to know where to start.  The first year of uni gives you plenty to think about.  And not much of that thought is necessarily on your study…

Before you know it, you’ve got a small forest of books to read, lectures to comprehend, tutorials to attend, deadlines on the horizon, and all manner of practical work to complete.

Live Life, Study Hard” is a guide to prepare you for this work and get into the right mindset without breaking into a sweat.  Part 1 helps you gear up for what’s happening and what’s ahead.  Part 2 forms the beginnings of study, giving the lowdown on lectures, writing without worrying, and getting to grips with essays.

Here’s the contents:


  • Your first year DOES count
  • Get serious about university
  • The downside to benefits of uni life
  • Five ways you don’t get the most from your degree
  • Make your own decision exactly that!
  • Achieving balance
  • The importance of paying attention
  • 20 ways to cut down & free up time
  • Study traps you need to know


  • Perfectly prepared for lectures
  • How seminars & tutorials take you beyond the lecture
  • Shifting states: Make writing work for you
  • From “Essay Hell” to “Essay Hello”
  • Escape from Essay Writer’s Block
  • Wonders of the weekend
  • Mental necessities of timetabling
  • More pushes to get you working
  • What next? Getting through your degree

The book is absolutely free to download and you’re free to share it with others.

Hope that has whet your appetite.  If you do only one thing toward your degree this weekend, do the work you need for the following week, no arguments.

If you do only two things toward your degree this weekend, make the second thing a thorough read-through of this book. 🙂

University admissions and the difficulties students face

Earlier this month, The Independent published a piece in which the author complained that her daughter couldn’t get into university.  This was not down to academic underachievement.

The daughter’s current and predicted grades were both credible and she applied to several top universities.  Despite clear potential, she was rejected by them all.  Too many candidates applied for too few positions.

Admissions teams are unable to cope with so many students achieving high grades and they can’t easily distinguish between them.

The sheer number of people vying for a place at uni now results in otherwise worthy students getting turned away.  It happened last year, it’ll happen this year, and it may happen for some years to come.

photo by pasotraspaso

photo by pasotraspaso

The author states:

“I naturally assumed that hard work would pay off and the world would be her oyster. In some ways, it stands against her. Friends of hers who are predicted Bs and Cs in their final A2 exams have had no problem getting places at universities with lower entry requirements.”

Now, I assume those predicted Bs and Cs have been offered conditional places.  While better than rejection, the grades still need to be achieved.  And who says those students are not working as hard as the author’s daughter?  Lower predicted grades aren’t automatically due to a lack of trying.

Whatever the case, I do agree that there are students getting left by the wayside despite consistently good results.

Even worse, for those students offered a place, there are now suggestions that some conditional offers are not being honoured.  Apparently UCAS don’t have a rule that prevents institutions from changing their offer.  I’m not criticising UCAS, but I am concerned that unis could begin ‘moving the goalposts’ as Mike Baker calls it.  That practice is scary, inappropriate and unreasonable.

Where would students be left then?  Would the pressure ever end?  How damaging would it be for a student to get the grades originally required, only to be slapped in the face with the news that it’s still not good enough?

I hope this behaviour isn’t commonplace and I’d like to see a ruling to stop the possibility altogether.

I stick by my thought that waiting until the next year to go to uni isn’t the end of the world.  But it’s a further fudge to a system that’s already facing great difficulty.  At what point does the system collapse entirely?  Woe betide potential students if problems escalate further.

Whatever grades and results a student is predicted, it’s a risk to choose only universities that want those grades or better.  This is especially true if some institutions change their mind over an offer later.  At least one agreeable institution could be chosen with slightly less demanding grades.  It gives more scope for movement at a time when it’s so difficult to find a place through clearing.

It wouldn’t take long for someone with commitment and talent to secure a place somewhere, even if it’s not quite the establishment they wanted.  They may even be able to secure an unconditional place at their preferred place the following year based on the grades they already have.  Always worth pushing for.

Despite all this concern, an unwanted change in plans shouldn’t be viewed as a disaster.  It should be viewed as a compromise.  Live with future hope, not past regrets.

No More Fees Please

A new study into the future of HE funding is calling for tuition fees to rise above £5,000 a year.

The report by Policy Exchange, More Fees Please?, states:

“It is clear that if the cap is set at £5,000 or lower, once again the majority of institutions will charge the maximum fee and no real market will be activated.”

Sadly, rather than look to alternative models of funding, the call is simply to raise fees and get students to pay more.  Specific caps are not discussed in the report as, “we do not think it is appropriate to stick our fingers in the air and specify a level for the cap here”.  However, it does not go as far to suggest a removal of the cap.

photo by benrybobenry

photo by benrybobenry

As this new study is released, Times Higher Education reports of a survey that suggests more than half of students would be willing to pay fees of £5,000.  Students were asked how low fees could go until they were so low that it would make them doubt the quality of their course, and how high fees could go before they would not pay it.

I don’t like the questioning here.  Tuition fees are not the only source of funding for universities and the reality is more complex.  To ask if a lower tuition fee would make students doubt the quality of a course seems the wrong question to ask.  If taken out of that context, I’m sure students would not consider fees in the same way.

Nevertheless, the survey does suggest that widening participation will be disturbed if fees are raised.

The Policy Exchange report argues that poorer students will not suffer from higher fees.  It states:

“There is clear evidence that top-up fees have not deterred poorer students from going to university, as the anti-fees lobby predicted they would. In fact in the second and third years of top-up fees applications soared in England, much more so than in the years preceding the introduction of top-up fees. Most crucially, the increase in applications was not just from middle-class students. In the 2007-08 academic year applications in England for students from the three lowest socioeconomic groups rose by nearly 10%, and in 2008-09 climbed by a further 27%.”

Firstly, applications in the higher socioeconomic groups rose even higher.  Secondly, it’s no surprise that so many students and parents have pushed toward degree study as greater belief is put on the thought that a university education is the only way to secure a bright future.  At some point, the game will change.  Along with it, poorer students will be deterred by higher fees and applications are bound to suffer.  This is bad news.

Universities group million+ agrees:

“The simplistic approach of this report, which proposes changes to the contributions made by students whilst at university, could have an immensely damaging impact on participation. […] It’s nonsense to suggest that there aren’t thousands of people from lower and modest incomes being denied places at university. This year alone up to a quarter of a million well-qualified applicants could miss out. This report’s proposals would simply serve to put yet more barriers in their way.”

The University and College Union (UCU) say that the call to simply charge students higher fees is an “astonishingly weak” solution.

The 1994 Group does give its support to higher fees, calling it “the only feasible option”. However:

“an increase should only be introduced if it is coupled with two fundamental guarantees. Firstly, a guarantee that a targeted and robust student support system is in place that ensures that no student is unable to attend university because of cost. Higher education should continue to be free at the point of delivery with repayments contingent on income after graduation. Secondly, a commitment from universities to continue to enhance the student experience on offer to all students.”

Raising tuition fees is not the way forward, no matter how much support is given to widening participation.  The state of HE is rapidly changing and the full effects of those changes haven’t been felt yet. Nobody can truly understand the impact of recent, and upcoming, alterations in HE.

Given this uncertainty, the ‘solution’ to HE funding by raising fees could prove costly not just to students, but to everyone involved.  To base so many future plans on past situations that no longer represent the true state of HE is unwise.

Last year, I hoped for more discussion on the future of HE funding.  Now tongues are wagging, it’s time to make our opinions heard.  One fantastic way of doing that is to visit Vote For Students and pledge to use your vote in the next general election to support candidates who would vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament.

Higher fees? No thanks!

Further Reading