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3 Essential Open Day Tips

3 essential ways to use open days

University open days are fantastic for potential students to get a feel for where they are applying for.

As a teacher, how much do you promote the importance of visiting higher education institutions for getting a flavour of what’s on offer? To get pupils thinking about their educational future beyond school or college, here are three ways of using open days as a driver:

1. Asking what is important when choosing a university

From vocational concerns to social interests, from the quality of facilities to the distance from the family home, there is a lot to consider beyond simply choosing a degree.

Find out what your pupils want to know to help them choose the most relevant universities for them. Get a group discussion going if you can.

Have separate themes to build ideas based on accommodation, finances, extra-curricular activities and entertainments, personal requirements, geographical location, and so on.

Suggest some ideas that may be have been overlooked. For inspiration, I’ve listed 50 considerations at TheUniversityBlog. There are no right or wrong answers, but everybody has their own set of issues close to their heart that should be explored in detail before making any definitive choices.

Once these lists have been made, ask each individual in your group to choose a handful of items that are most important to their applications. At this point, you’ve helped to arm each group member with a set of thoughts that they can focus on at the open days they attend.

Encourage attendence to open days as a fact-finding mission so each pupil can go with a clear mind over what is important to them. Advance attention like this will help them make the most of their visit and feel a little less lost when they hit campus for the first time ever.

2. Find out what’s holding pupils back from going to open days

Nerves can get the better of all of us. You may be happy to address a class at school, but you may hate the idea of making a professional presentation because you might forget what to say or make mistakes. You may shudder at the idea of going to a conference because you’re going alone and don’t feel comfortable around a bunch of strangers.
It’s the same for people going to an open day. Even when children go with their parents, the experience of an open day can still feel overwhelming.

In fact, sometimes it’s having parents tagging along that makes applicants clam up. Here’s a tip you can give your students: get them to give their parents specific tasks on the day, like jotting down information on finances and other ‘boring’ admin stuff, or checking out the state stuff like of security and medical facilities. These ideas may keep parents involved in ‘peace of mind’ missions while their children can get acquainted with other aspects of the place.

That’s just one example. If you know anyone who seems apprehensive about checking out a university in person, have a conversation about what can help them. You can probably empathise with most of their worries and offer solutions to help them see the day from a different perspective. So much is about awareness and preparation.

To avoid feeling overcome with confusion, it helps to have questions in advance. If the group task above hasn’t given the pupil a set of relevant questions, point them toward the Which? article of top questions to ask at a university open day.

And don’t forget to support all the good reasons for visiting in person that can make the difference between a good choice and a brilliant one. This isn’t about a one-day visit, it’s about the long-term future.

3. Open up to more than just open days

If anyone is unable to attend an open day for a particular institution, that shouldn’t stop people from visiting.

Most universities will arrange to show people around on a standard day on campus, so nobody should feel like they have lost their chance of checking out their choices just because of bad scheduling.

In fact, applicants can get a lot out of visiting on a ‘normal’ day even when they have managed to attend the official open day:

  • They provide a more natural atmosphere on campus;
  • Student ambassadors and senior students are sometimes asked to show applicants around, which can have a more personal feel to a much bigger open day event;
  • It may be possible to arrange brief one-to-one meetings with relevant members of staff
  • Some pupils may feel that a standard day helps them feel more at ease than if they went to a specific open day.

There are pros and cons to both, which is why it can be great to check out an institution more than once.

What other ways do you use open days to help get your pupils thinking about their HE choices?

Posted by Martin Hughes on Thu, 9 Feb 2017

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Martin Hughes is a writer specialising in higher education policy and the student experience. He has been writing for students at TheUniversityBlog since 2007, and has appeared in various industry sources, including Times Higher Education and The Guardian. Find Martin on Twitter @universityboy.

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