Even though the students you talk to when you visit a university are likely to tell you the truth as they see it, do bear in mind that not everybody’s experience of a particular university will be the same. A variety of different viewpoints will be most informative, so make sure you ask several people the same questions.
It’s best to go with a friend who is also considering the particular university. They will help with a second opinion and boost your confidence whilst you look around and meet new people, as well as keeping you company, of course! You might want to stay the night after an Open Day, especially if you have travelled a long way, to get a better feel for the place. This will give you the opportunity to sample the night life and meet other prospective students in a more informal and relaxed setting. Many universities offer overnight accommodation for visiting students.
Questions you might like to consider
Some useful questions to consider are
- What is the work load like?
What is the teaching style? How many lectures a week will you be expected to attend?
How many hours of preparation and course work is there likely to be?
How much time is given to computer work?
Are your lectures available outside of hours and willing to help with difficulties? Some universities have a strong tutorial tradition, where you must meet up with a tutor in small groups to discuss the problems you have been set for the week. These can often be very laborious and intense, but really help you sort things out in your head. If your maths degree is combined with a science is there a heavy load of lab work?
- How is your performance assessed? Do the marks from the weekly assignments contribute to your end-of-year grade? Are there termly tests to check your progress? Is your final grade based almost entirely on examinations, or are there long projects or dissertations, or computing tests?
- What is the social life like? Are there lots of local bars and clubs? What are the prices like? Is the Student Union active in organising parties and other fun events? Is there a termly ball? What is Fresher’s Week like?
- What is the cost of living? Accommodation is likely to be your biggest expense, but also find out about beer/food prices. Does the university offer an accommodation-finding programme for students? Does the accommodation provide cooking facilities so you can eat in on the cheap?
- Any other things that won’t be in the prospectus. Are there Internet access ports or telephone jacks in the rooms, or might you have to pay for an Internet café? Are there enough places to leave a bicycle securely?
This university and college open day directory allows you either to view open days on a well laid-out calendar, with links to the relevant university on each day, or else to search the database for the universities you have in mind. Sign up for their newsletter to receive monthly updates on open days. You can even book places on open days, but you must register (free of charge) first. There is also advice on how to choose a college or university and fill in your UCAS form.