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Sunday, September 27, 2015

What to ask on a university open day

Photo: Liz Lightfoot
"Don’t hold back – grill staff on the details of the course you’re interested in and find out more about future job prospects" summarizes Liz Lightfoot, freelance education correspondent writing for a range of national and specialist publications
Choosing the right course and university is an important decision, so it pays to ask the right questions. 

Quiz staff about your course
The course should be top of your list of things to explore on university open days and a little preparation can make a big difference.

But according to Kevin Betts, acting head of undergraduate recruitment at the University of Sussex, most applicants ask questions about things that are already covered in the provided information available.

So don’t waste time – get in there with a killer question. It’s your chance to interrogate staff and students, and find out exactly what you will be doing for the next three or four years.

Check which modules are compulsory and the options offered for each year of the course because they can change after prospectuses are published. Are there opportunities to study abroad and, if so, will it count towards your degree? How many taught hours will you have? And how are marks split between assignments and exams?

Betts says he has noticed a general lack of preparation by students, which means they do not get the best out of the day. “When it comes to courses,” he says, “90% of the questions asked are whether we do a particular subject and what exactly is on offer – information that is already on our website and in the prospectus. However, some students arrive brilliantly prepared and really interrogate the staff – we enjoy that.

“So try something more searching, such as: ‘All universities offer psychology – so why should I choose Sussex?’ Or: ‘I’m thinking of applying to Bristol and they do x or y – how does that compare?’ We won’t hold it against you, far from it. It shows that you are a serious candidate.”

Once you start to delve you may be surprised at the big differences between subjects with the same name at different universities. Logic and scientific inquiry are central to philosophy courses at the London School of Economics, for example, whereas Durham is known for metaphysics – exploring the nature of being – and linguistics... 

Find out more about your future job prospects 
Studying for a degree is a huge commitment of time and money so knowing what it can offer you in the long term is important. Open days provide a chance to delve behind the university’s published graduate employment figures and find out what leavers on your course go on to do.

Universities know a lot more about the destination of their graduates than they are required to submit to the Higher Education Statistics Agency. While this information only covers the employment of leavers six months after graduation, most universities do longitudinal surveys tracking graduates for three years, says Shaun Harris, acting director of careers at the London School of Economics...

Quick questions to ask on your university tour
  • Are the core and optional modules still as published?
  • Is there a reading list or any past exam papers that could help us understand more about the course?
  • How many taught hours a week do we get?
  • What is the split between teaching hours and self-directed study?
  • How big are the seminars/tutorial groups?
  • How are the marks split between assignments and exams?
  • If we are stuck with an assignment, who can we go
    to for help?
  • How much use is made of information technology in teaching and learning?
  • Lots of universities offer the subject, so why should we
    choose you?
  • How does the subject at your university compare with the way it is taught at others?
  • What are the department’s specialist research areas?
  • Is the course accredited by a professional body?
  • What links does the department have with employers?
  • Do you build employability skills into the syllabus?
  • Are there opportunities for work experience and placements?
  • Do you help find the placements and are they paid?
  • Is study abroad an option and would it count towards the degree?
  • What kind of jobs do your graduates go into?
Source: The Guardian