By Ruth Round, Senior Education Guidance Adviser (Finance)
It is important to visit any University you are thinking of applying to. It is hard to get the feel for a university just by looking in a prospectus or browsing the website. Open days are designed for applicants to have a look around the facilities, talk to academic, support staff and students, and to get to know what the University is really like. You want to spend the next 3 or 4 years living, studying and socialising somewhere that you feel happy and supported.
The best way to find out what the University is like is to ask lots of questions – about everything! There is no such thing as a silly question so if it matters to you then ask it. Most Universities employ current students to help out at Open Days so ask them what life as a student is really like.
You will get a chance to go on tours of the facilities and attend talks on the subjects you want to study, accommodation, student finance etc. So find out as much as you can about what is on offer. Have a look at the library and sports facilities and also the cost and range of food on campus.
It is particularly important to find out more detail on the content of the course you wish to study. You may have decided are interested in History but if you have a passion for modern History and the course turns out to be all ancient History then it probably isn’t the right place for you.
Have a look at the student accommodation and find out how much it costs and what is included in the price. If you really want a room with an ensuite bathroom then you will have to pay a bit more – which leaves less money for socialising! Most students live in University Halls for the first year but live in shared houses in the second and third year. Ask questions about the availability and cost of local houses and how far they are away from the campus. Find out whether there is a supermarket nearby as you will need to buy all your food and carry it back to your room.
What is actually studied on the course, how is it assessed and how much contact time will there be? What percentage of the contact time will be in lectures and how much in tutorials, seminars, practicals, field trips, placements etc? Are resits allowed (just in case something goes wrong)?
Is there an opportunity to do work experience either as a sandwich placement or as part of the individual modules?
What academic support is offered, will there be a personal tutor or other specific person who can help with any issues?
How much does it cost and what is included in the price? How far is it from the campus? What facilities are available and what is security like? How many people share a kitchen and a bathroom? How near is it to shops and places to socialise? Is there a guaranteed Hall place for first years? Where do people live in their second and third years? What is the cost of renting shared houses in the area, and how many properties are available?
What clubs and societies are available? Are there support services provided by the SU? Do they help students if they have any issues with the University? Do they help students to find volunteering placements to enhance their CVs?
Is it open 24/7 at key times? Can books be reserved in advance and can this be done online? Are there plenty of copies of key texts? Does the library provide support with academic writing, referencing etc? Are there computers students can use and charging points for lap tops? Are there quiet areas as well as social spaces for group work?
How much does the course cost and what is included? Is there an instalment plan for students (or their parents) who are paying their own fees? Are there scholarships and bursaries and do you have to apply or are eligible students automatically notified? Is there a hardship fund for student in financial hardship? Does the University help students to find part time jobs that fit in with their studies?