I was bemused that The Guardian published its guide to university open days today. Aren’t most of them over? We’ve spent the summer trailing from hall of residence to library to lecture theatre up and down the country. I’m quite good at it now – so here, in no particular order, are things to remember when it’s my son’s turn:
- The course your child wants to study is crucial. But if he or she has researched this properly (and this is something only they can do) you will only visit places offering courses they’re happy with. This makes everything else about the university really important. Final choices are likely to be made on things as seemingly inconsequential as the width of the corridors in the accommodation blocks.
- You need to know what you’re looking for before you go. Think about what’s really important to you before you arrive and cast a beady eye over those particular aspects of the university: Course content and teaching? Nightlife? Proximity to home? Quality/cost of accommodation? Whatever it is, you need to know you’re choosing somewhere that delivers what you want.
- Attention parents! It’s not our choice. It’s not our future or our debt. It’s theirs. You are a sounding board for their impressions, you shouldn’t try to impose your own. (It will be to no-one’s surprise that I didn’t always manage this.)
- It’s worth visiting the town as well as mooching round the student union. If your child is used to the rattle and hum of a big city, will they be happy to move to a small, provincial town? A friend of my niece’s is applying to the university closest to her home so she can visit her family as often as possible (hmm). My daughter refuses to think about anywhere in London because she wants something different and can’t think of anything worse than living at home (I completely understand and am buttoning my lip about the fact that she’s discounting some of the best colleges in the world. Note to self, see 3 above and read repeatedly).
- Make notes, take photos. Universities are surprisingly similar. After a while they blur into one. Oh, and wear comfortable shoes and take bottles of water. You are going to be walking a LONG way.
The challenge for university communications departments
All five of the universities we’ve visited offer great courses and opportunities to study abroad. They all have active student unions with more scope to sing/dance/play sport/climb mountains/be political or play tiddlywinks than one person could realistically fit into a lifetime. They have broadly similar accommodation, costing roughly the same amount per week. What they offered was, frankly, much of a muchness. Small differences in presentation take on huge significance when that’s what separates one from another. A cry of “this website is RUBBISH” from my daughter, meant that the university in question had some catching-up to do when we got there. A good website is essential; apps are de rigueur; maps need to be helpful to people with no sense of direction (ahem).
More than anything else it’s been a joy to spend uninterrupted time with my daughter and realise again what good company she is. Some of her friends started their university careers this week. I’m both looking forward to and dreading her making the move next year. But at least now I know that, wherever she goes, we’ve researched the hell out of the kitchen arrangements.