The problem with university open days

A huge emphasis is placed on university open days. Every year, hundreds of thousands of students visit their chosen institutions to get a better feel of what they’re really like.

The idea is that they’re a fantastic opportunity to learn about the university, accommodation and the local area, as well as to meet potential future professors.

But, as an open day ambassador for my own university, I’ve always been perplexed by the vast number of people who attend these days.

Peter Dunn, director of press and policy at the University of Warwick, says open days play a crucial role in student recruitment and that demand for them has increased over the last decade.

“We have just had an open day, and we can still see prospective students eulogising Warwick and their visit on social media,” he says.

“Students, parents and carers value getting a real life experience of the university, particularly a campus university such as Warwick where everything from residences to study facilities are together and easy to visit on an open day.”

All of that is true, and open days can be eye-opening. But equally, they can be a facade, dressing up the university to look its best, and covering up the cracks in the walls.

Oliver Albert, an engineering student at the University of Cambridge, says: “Attending the open day was a great way of getting a feel for the city, meeting professors and talking to people applying for the same course.

“But nothing can compare to actually studying at university. The experience is extremely difficult to replicate.”

At a typical open day you’ll get a warm welcome talk, some freebies, then a campus tour conducted by a current student whom the university has carefully selected and trained to be a bright and enthusiastic ambassador.

The tour will conveniently ignore the less picturesque places on campus and you’ll be taken to see the most pristine hotel-like en-suites – shunning the closet-sized rooms the majority of freshers are staying in.

When I’m giving tours around campus or showing visitors the accommodation, students and parents tend to ask the same questions – none of which are likely to enhance their understanding of what studying at the university is like.

Christopher Stephens, an accountancy and finance student at Cardiff University, says: “We usually have our open days in the summer – and the atmosphere is really different among students once exams have finished.

“The day is actually really enjoyable and we do our best to show the university in a positive light.”

Despite providing the opportunity to look at the university for an entire day, open days aren’t generally good for getting a grasp of what attending the institution is actually like.

As a result, many students are misled into choosing universities based on false impressions.

“I chose my university after being very impressed on the open day and was really excited to start once I had my offer,” says Amrita Kaur, a politics, philosophy and economics student at the University of Warwick.

“But the university is nothing like how it was on that day and I didn’t really experience what studying here would be like until I came to visit my friend during term.”

I would argue that if you really want to see what life at a university is like, the best thing to do is to come for a visit in the middle of term.

When classes and lectures are in full flow, you get a proper feel for the atmosphere and day-to-day life at the university.

Most universities are more than happy for you to come in during term and have a look around. They often ask current students to accompany you too, so any questions you have can be answered.

It’s also a lot more personal, as you aren’t one of 10,000 visitors and there isn’t a huge planned show that has been put on just for you.

There really isn’t a better way of making an informed decision than seeing the university during term time.

(Source: TheGuardian)


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