Should I go to university? Is it for me? If you are thinking about applying to university later this year, I’m sure that these are just some of the questions you have been asking yourself. It is a big and difficult choice to make, which can often seem overwhelming. The best way to make an informed decision is to do as much research as possible. The upcoming summer break is a great opportunity to visit different universities, and think about whether this is somewhere you can imagine spending the next three years or so.
Where should I start?
Before you start looking, have a chat to a teacher or careers advisor at your sixth form or college. Ask them any questions you have about what it actually means to go to university, and anything else you want to know before starting your search. They can also offer guidance as to what subject may be best suited to you.
As a starting point, visit websites such as ‘Which? University’. Have a browse of the different universities and courses on offer, looking at factors such as student satisfaction scores and employability ratings. This will help narrow down course types and locations.
Once you have found some courses you are interested in, look at the websites of specific universities to get some more detailed information. Look closely at how the course is assessed, does this suit you? Do the modules interest you? What employment opportunities are there for you after you graduate?
If you find some courses you think might be for you, look on the university website for open days and book! Make sure you work out the practicalities of getting there and back, and maybe see if any of your friends are interested in visiting the same university so you can travel together.
What can I expect?
Whichever university you visit, there will be lots of people there to help you throughout the day. It can be very overwhelming knowing where you should be, and making sure you don’t get lost in this new environment. Student stewards will be on hand to direct and help you, so don’t let this put you off.
In every case, it is all about making the most of your day. Before you head off, have a think about what it is that you want to know more about. What is most important for you to see?
You are usually given a ‘programme’ of the day upon arrival, which will tell you where important talks will be held and at what times. These cover topics such as applications, the student union and finance, as well as subject-specific talks. You are also given a map of the university telling you where all the different buildings are. I would strongly recommend visiting the building of the course you are interested in, and talking to different lecturers and students who will be there during the day.
Most universities offer tours of different accommodations; this is particularly important for your first year, where you will most likely be in halls. Accommodations differ in styles and prices, so make sure you take the time to look around all that is on offer. While you can look at photos of what the bedrooms and kitchen/ living areas look like online, you can only get a real feel for it by looking in person. Make sure that this is somewhere you would be comfortable living for a year.
What questions should I be asking?
The most important thing you can do is ask questions. Do not be afraid to talk to members of staff and students; this is what they are there for. If anything has not been made clear to you online, make sure you ask for clarification as this could be an important factor influencing your final decision.
Ask other students what they like about the university. What is the nightlife like? Where are the closest shops and amenities? Which is the best accommodation? These are the people who have been in your exact position, who can provide you with the best insight into what day-to-day life at that university is like.
Make sure you are also asking yourself questions during the day. Do I like it here? Can I imagine myself living here? Do I feel comfortable? Does this city/campus style of university suit me? How does this compare to the other places I’ve visited?
Remember, this is your decision. You need to be happy with the choice that you make. Open days are there to help and inform you, by giving you as much information as possible about the university and course you are interested in. So make the most of them!
Ellie has just finished her second year at Cardiff University, studying English Language. She also writes a blog ‘Forget the World’ about lifestyle and university experiences.
Note: 'Student Blog' pieces highlight the student perspective on issues relating to ProtectED. Consequently, this article reflects the views of the author and not ProtectED.