Getting The Most Out Of A University Virtual Open Day

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As a prospective 2021 uni student who is very undecided about which universities to apply for, I’ve been attending lots of different open days to figure out the best fit for me. As we are where we are this year pandemic-wise, all of the open days I’ve gone to have been virtual, meaning I’ve attended them remotely from home via Microsoft Teams, Zoom, or some other uni-specific conferencing / virtual fair software. Last weekend I went to my fourth virtual open day and realised I keep seeing the same kinds of things coming up again and again, so I thought I’d write a quick post today about how to get the most out of these events. Yes they’re a different animal than going to the campus in person, but I don’t think that necessarily means that they’re worse or that you’re being put at a disadvantage.

Firstly, figure out if the university you are looking at is running more than one open day event and choose the earliest one that is also the most convenient for you. You should pick a time and date where you won’t be disturbed or have any distractions. Register for your chosen date in plenty of time and pick as many subject areas as they’ll let you, for example I attended an open day where you could drop in on as many subjects as you were interested in, yet for another you could only pick two subject sessions to attend.

In the lead up to the day of the event, look up anything which is easily accessible on the university’s website and in their online prospectus. This means information like entry requirements for each course and the kinds of modules on offer, similarly there will be plenty about the course structure and what campus you would be on if you were to get a place on the course. You wouldn’t believe how many people ask these super basic questions, often more than once per session, so if you’re wanting to stand out then showing you’ve done the background work by asking questions that are a little more in depth should help.

When the day itself comes around you should be well prepared, armed with a bunch of considered questions, and know roughly what courses you’re interested in. Get up, eat, wash and dress, set up your workspace – just like you would for a standard day of remote college or school – then log into the online event about 10 minutes early. Unless they’ve specifically said to log in earlier, any more than 10 minutes just leads to nerves. Put your camera on if it’s an option and you can stand it; in all the open days I’ve attended barely anyone does this but the university staff and professors are always visibly grateful to have a human face to speak to. However, I get that the thought of having the camera feels way too much for some, in which case consider uploading a photo to your event profile.

Every virtual open day looks a little different, but most start with a welcome talk by the vice chancellor so go to that – it’s always good to put a face to the person in charge. After that, check in with the timetable or itinerary for the day to familiarise yourself with how this is all going to run. Outwith your subject sessions, try and make time to pop in to talks / sessions with admissions or student ambassadors. Funding sessions are always incredibly useful, as are anything the student unions put on. Keep an eye out for personal statement writing information, 75% of the virtual open days I’ve been to have run a separate personal statement session by an admissions officer who reads hundreds every year.

If you have additional support needs there should be a session / drop in stand to ask questions, also non-traditional students i.e. coming from college or SWAP / Access, will have their own sessions too. Write down the name and email address of lecturers, course leaders… basically anyone you interact with. If you need to go back and clarify anything at a later date it’s extremely helpful to have a direct point of contact, especially if your question is subject or course specific. It doesn’t hurt to put your name in front of these people again after the open day with an intelligent or thoughtful question.

In your subject sessions, whilst it helps to keep an open mind, you also want to be thinking about how you can make the course work for you. Does it align with your own areas of interest? As an example, if you want to study ancient history does the course offer that, or are they more specialised in modern history? When questions are fielded at the end of the talk, make sure you ask at least one from the list you should have already prepared. If you can ask it early then do, without exception every single one of these sessions has the most awkward of silences hanging in the air until someone plucks up the courage to go first. If you can spare the presenter that experience then it can only be a good thing.

Top Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Next Virtual Open Day

  • Book the earliest event you can for a time you’re sure you won’t be disturbed.
  • Read the relevant sections of the online prospectus first to answer any basic questions you may have and for specific course content.
  • Prepare 2 or 3 considered questions per subject you are interested in.
  • Put your camera on to allow presenters to see you, or if that’s too daunting at least consider uploading a photo to your profile.
  • Attend everything you can: funding, admissions, accommodation, library sessions etc. are always available and have tons of resources.
  • Record names and contact details of everyone you encounter, email addresses are usually given out at the beginning or end of presentations for example.
  • Ask questions first if you can to help mitigate any awkward silences.
  • Ask follow up questions via email if you need to.
  • WILDCARD: if there is spare time at the end of the day and sessions are still running, why not drop in on something unplanned but you are curious about?

I’d like to close with a more general point, the situation we find ourselves in is new to all of us. Lecturers and university staff are as thrown as you are and I think that alters the power dynamic a bit. You’ll come across the most intelligent and esteemed professors making an absolute dogs dinner of their virtual sessions just like a normal human being, and to me that really brought home just how equal everyone involved in this process is. You see, ultimately the university needs 2021 students just as much as 2021 students need a university to go to. I know it’s easy to say but try not to let the remote open days throw you off, you can still make an impression. Don’t let it intimidate you either, make sure you get what you need from the day.

The accessibility of these remote open days is incredible, I’ve attended events that I would have been too unwell to get to otherwise, I was signed into one from my sickbed (albeit with my camera turned firmly off!). Many of the presentations have subtitles or can be replayed later, and there’s a huge saving of paper as all leaflets and brochures are delivered digitally.

Lastly, it’s important to note that I’ve based this advice on my own experiences in attending a ton of remote and virtual open days for 2021 entry. This has been from early September through to October 2020, and I still have more to attend. As with all advice on the internet, don’t take mine as gospel as it is – by its very nature – subjective, look up some other sources for advice too. This situation is alien to all of us, and we’re all doing the best we can, so good luck out there and know that what is meant for you won’t pass you by.

Images in this post by Prateek Katyal on Unsplash

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