Supporting Students to Explore University Options
The summer term offers great opportunities for students to explore university options. Attending university talks, open days, summer schools, careers events and subject taster sessions over the next few weeks and months can really help students when the time comes to make decisions on future pathways. Many universities also offer a range of virtual events, which can be particularly useful for students who are interested in studying overseas. This blog aims to provide post-16 leaders with some practical tips and resources to help students get the most out of these opportunities.
- University Talks
Most universities will have specialist school liaison teams who can arrange speakers for your school or college. They will be able to offer a range of talks on topics such as choosing a course, student life, the application process, preparing for interviews and student finance. Sessions can often be delivered virtually, which offers increased flexibility and accessibility to students. Some universities also produce resources that you can use directly in assemblies and tutorial sessions to further engage and inform students.
Although general university talks are a good starting point for students, sessions which focus on specific courses and careers can be particularly effective at sparking students’ interest and supporting them with decision-making. Many universities now offer a range of subject talks and workshops to schools and colleges, which provide excellent opportunities for students to explore subjects and courses that they may not have previously considered.
When working as a post-16 leader, I found talks from former students to be an effective way of raising awareness of different courses and career pathways. Students would often be more inclined to ask questions during these sessions and seeing former students talk enthusiastically about their current courses and career plans was always very inspiring. Keeping in contact with former students and building your own alumni network can have many benefits. Alumni can offer expertise, knowledge and skills that can enhance both your curriculum and careers provision. They are also well-placed to offer practical tips and support to current students and when they share their experiences, they can also motivate students to feel more confident in making decisions about their future.
- Open Days
Attending an open day is a fantastic way for students to find out more about a university and the different courses on offer. At open days, students get the opportunity to talk to teaching staff and current students, explore the campus and facilities, look at the range of student accommodation available and get a feel for what it would be like to study there as an undergraduate. For many students, attending an open day can be a very motivating experience. It gives students the opportunity to experience university life and can support their decision-making on whether a particular university is a good fit for them.
Over the last few years, virtual open days have become an increasingly popular way of exploring university courses. Many of these events provide opportunities for students to view recorded course presentations and to chat live to staff and current students. Virtual open days allow students to learn more about what it might be like to study at a particular university without the expense of travel and accommodation costs. Recorded sessions can be viewed multiple times to support decision-making and online events can be particularly useful for students who live and study overseas.
Attending university open days can be expensive. It is therefore important that students carry out thorough planning and preparation before attending events, to ensure that they get the most out of these experiences. Post-16 leaders can play a key role in supporting students with this and in helping students to overcome barriers to higher education. Many universities will support schools and colleges to arrange group bookings, with some even offering free accommodation and financial support to cover travel costs. Organising a trip to an open day for a group of students can therefore help reduce financial barriers and make university pathways more accessible. It is also important that post-16 leaders work closely with universities to effectively communicate to students the different financial support available to undergraduates, including student loans, grants, scholarships, and bursaries.
When working with post-16 students, it is important to stress the importance of carrying out research well in advance of any open days. Supporting students to make a shortlist of the institutions they are most interested in, along with a narrow list of potential courses can help to ensure time and money is spent most effectively. With so many open days taking place, students will need to plan and prioritise events, especially if they are considering attending multiple open days or need to book travel and accommodation. Planning early, can help students reduce costs and ensure that they are able to attend specific talks and sessions related to the courses and pathways that are of interest to them. For students interested in studying at UK universities, websites such as Opendays.com and the UCAS Open Day Search Tool which list open days months in advance are a fantastic resource.
Universities will usually publish their open day schedules several weeks before the event, alongside a map of the campus. It is important that students study this information carefully and make a list of any specific presentations, tours, or sessions that they want to attend. Some of these will need to be booked prior to the event so it is important research is carried out in advance of the day. Attending sessions related to the course or courses students are interested in studying should be the main priority, however it is also important to find out about the campus, facilities, accommodation, and support services available as well. Encouraging students to prepare questions that they would like answers to in advance of attending an open day can also help them get the most out of the experience.
Attending an open day can feel overwhelming and intimidating for some students. There is often a lot of information to process and therefore it can be incredibly useful to have a parent, guardian, sibling, or friend present for support when exploring options and making decisions. I would also recommend that students take a notepad and record key information. Many students I have worked with previously have found it extremely useful after the event to produce a Pros and Cons list, which they then use later to support them with narrowing down their short list of institutions and courses.
In addition to exploring the campus, facilities, and student accommodation, it is also important students devote time during their visit to check out the surrounding area. Most undergraduate courses take at least three years to complete, so it is vital students are comfortable living in a particular town or city.
- Subject Tasters, Summer Schools, and Super-Curricular Activities
Although open days provide fantastic opportunities for students to get a taste of university life, for many students attending a university summer school or subject taster session can be the best way to find out whether a particular course or university is right for them. Many of these events now take place online and are accessible even if students live and study overseas.
Some summer schools involve students staying in halls of residence, and experiencing university lectures, seminars, workshops etc. These experiences not only provide great material when preparing applications, they also give students a real sense of what it would be like to live and study as an undergraduate student. Most summer schools will contain a good balance of academic and social activities, allowing students opportunities to be challenged academically as well as to develop new friendships and social skills. Some students will be anxious at the thought of leaving home to live in halls of residence, and summer schools can help students build confidence and overcome this.
When looking for suitable summer schools, it is always worth checking out university websites and social media channels. However, a great website which lists many opportunities is Unitasterdays.com.
The Unitasterdays search engine, makes it easy for students and teachers to find details of upcoming summer schools, subject tasters, conferences, workshops, and webinars. The website also contains links to subject guides, podcasts and on-demand webinars which are fantastic resources for schools and colleges.
Attending a summer school or subject taster event can be a major help to students when making decisions about future courses. However, when making a university application, it is important that students demonstrate a genuine interest in a particular subject that goes beyond just attending a one-off university event. They should inspire students to explore subjects in more detail through wider independent reading and further activities. Completing super-curricular activities whether they have been inspired by attending a university event or not, is an excellent way for students to demonstrate to universities that they have a passion for a particular subject and that they are strong independent learners.
A great starting point for students looking to complete super-curricular activities is the University College Oxford website, Staircase 12. This provides a list of podcasts, useful websites, and recommended reading material for a range of subjects.
Another fantastic super-curricular resource is the HE+ website from the University of Cambridge which contains a range of super-curricular resources that have been created by students and academics at the university.
Completing a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) is another super-curricular activity which is excellent preparation for university study. MOOCs are distance learning courses which are run by many universities worldwide. Many websites offer access to free MOOCs, which can help students explore subjects and give them a taste of undergraduate study. Studying a MOOC can also develop students’ independent learning skills and support their decision-making when it comes to university applications. Three fantastic websites that offer a range of MOOCs are edX, FutureLearn and Coursera.
Whatever activity a student undertakes in preparation for undergraduate study, it is important that they are encouraged to reflect on what they have enjoyed and learnt from the experience. Reflecting on each experience and keeping a record of this can be great preparation for writing personal statements and any future interviews.
I hope you have found the tips in this blog useful and that they help you when supporting students with university applications.
About John Roe:
John has worked in education for 22 years as a science teacher, head of department and pastoral lead. John is passionate about creating an aspirational culture and supporting students to achieve their full potential. Prior to joining Alps, John was Director of Radyr Sixth Form in Cardiff for 10 years, where he lead the transformation of the sixth form with student outcomes consistently matching the performance of the top 2% nationally.