It’s that time of year again: university open day season. Which means for many of us year 12 and 13s, travelling around the country to try and grasp what universities we want to apply to. Pretty overwhelming right? It often feels like sensory and information overload, and somehow through all that organised chaos, you’re meant to decide if this is the uni for you. I’ve been to my fair share of open days, and there are plenty of red and green flags to look out for that help make the decision of where to apply a lot easier.
Red flag 1: you feel uncomfortable or treated unfairly
Let’s start with an obvious one: as a young woman in STEM. Sadly, there will still be some (very wrong) people who will treat you differently for one reason or another. When talking with university staff and students, if there’s anything that jumps out as wrong or you feel uncomfortable for whatever reason, this uni is a hard miss. It happened to me when I walked into a uni’s mechanical engineering department, to be greeted with “sorry I think you want fashion, it’s across the street“. He seemed quite surprised I was there for his course and while he did his best to say ‘we need more girls in STEM’ (he was right on that), let’s say I didn’t stay at that open day for much longer.
Red flag 2: this uni doesn’t seem to value your course
Is your department building shoved in the back corner of campus in a slightly neglected building while the rest of campus is all newly renovated with the latest equipment? Maybe the library has only a minute collection of books for your subject or while other subjects are busy leading talks on the course and tours, information on yours is nowhere to be seen. If you’re really struggling to learn more about your course or feel the university doesn’t value it, look elsewhere. You want a uni that is proud of your course and celebrates it.
Red flag 3: they try to impress you with things that don’t matter
Now I know we all love a freebie, but little factors like these can subconsciously impact your view of a university. Don’t forget, universities are trying to get as many students as possible to apply there, so they’ll often try and win you over with marketing techniques. Make sure you really do your research into the course and what it’s like to live and study there. Talk to students and don’t be afraid to ask those really specific questions you have that maybe only really matter to you. Get as much information as possible, rather than as many tote bags as possible.
Red flag 4: it’s all about the rankings with little substance
University rankings are interesting. Everyone will pay different attention to them and the different factors they list. And while rankings do offer a great guide as to what different universities excel at, it’s important to see the substance behind the stats. If at an open day, you come away knowing they’re ranked really highly for x, y and z but didn’t see or hear much of what makes them so good at that, it may be the case that you’re just looking for something different to what the rankings say. After all, your personal ranking of universities is more important and is induvial to you, everyone puts different levels of significance on different factors.
Red flag 5: it doesn’t seem to offer the study-life balance or support you’re looking for
Everyone is becoming increasingly aware of the importance of good mental health and it’s vital that the university you go to offers the support you need. It’s easy to think everything at uni will be amazing but there will be tough times. STEM courses are intense, and making sure you have the societies, sports, arts, mental health services, and whatever it is that destresses you when you need them is key to a happy university experience. So if at an open day, they’re not offering the fun and support you need, it may be worth looking elsewhere.
But it’s not all bad! There are plenty of signs at university open days that say this is the place for you! If the course is exactly what you’re looking for, with all the modules you’re passionate about and the lecturers are highly educated or have good experience in the industry related to your course, this is a really great sign! Maybe all the students you’ve spoken to highly recommend the course and the university, and you can picture yourself studying in that campus coffee shop, not stressing about affording your next snack. Sometimes you can’t explain it, but a university just feels right. And that’s ok, you don’t have to be able to justify it to others – it just has to be right for you! Ultimately the two key questions you have to ask yourself are: would I be happy studying here, and would I be happy living here? If the answer to both is yes, you’re onto a winner!
This article was written by Grace N, a Stemette Society Member.