Trying to choose what you want to do and where you want to go is intimidating – it’s quite a big commitment, so it’s best to know what you’re getting yourself into.
The first step is to figure out what you want (see last week’s post).
Once you’ve figured out what you’re looking for in a course or university, go to open days to see if the reality matches up with what you’re looking for. Don’t be afraid to try some open days that are slightly less relevant – you might find that even more interesting than what you originally had in mind! That is what happened when I tried a materials science summer course; now here I am, doing materials!
Although I’m usually quite shy, when I went on open days to visit universities, I deliberately tried to step out of my shell and ask some questions. Students (or people in general) don’t usually mind getting asked about themselves and are usually there because they want to be helpful to future applicants.
Open days are the perfect opportunity to start to understand what it would be like to study at a specific university. Since universities are mostly closed for the forseeable future (at the time of writing, it’s May 2020), so it’s a lot more difficult to figure out the vibe of a university without visiting it. However, it’s still possible for you to contact university students through facebook pages or access projects.
Here are some questions to help you get started!
Questions About the Course/University
- What is your favourite part of the course/university?
- Why/how did you choose *insert course/university name here*?
- Was the university/course what you expected?
- What does this university’s course specialise in? Is there a particular topic that is emphasised in this course? (for example, I study Materials Science but there is more of an emphasis on metals and alloys at Oxford, compared to an emphasis on composites at MIT or graphene at Manchester)
- How many contact hours a week do you get and do you think that is reasonable?
- How does the university teach your course? How many lectures/classes/tutorials/seminars/labs do you get and are they useful?
- What would you improve about your university/course? (usually a tough question, so only ask this one if you’re friendly with the student, or if you don’t like them heh)
- Is there anything you would’ve liked to know when you were applying to university?
- Which other universities did you apply for?
Questions about Student Life
Student life is a huge part of your experience at university – so try to get a feel of what it would be like to live, socialise and chill at that university!
- What do you do in your spare time?
- What kind of clubs/societies are you involved in? How active/competitive/serious are they?
- Does the university have a *insert your favourite hobby here* club or society? How much does it cost to join?
- What does a typical day look like for you?
- What kind of things are there to do in the city?
- Are there any part-time jobs available at the student union? (providing the university allows part-time employment for students, which Oxford advises against)
- Is it expensive to live here?
- Is it easy to find a house or roommates to live out with?
Questions about Support
Over the years that you’ll be at uni, it’s likely that you or someone you know will need access to support – whether that’s welfare, mental health, physical health, sexual health or financial support. These things can be quite difficult to get hold of if you don’t know where to go, and you might find out some things that will make your university life more enjoyable!
- What welfare resources are available to you?
- Is there any financial support or grants available (for books, travel, extracurricular projects, emergencies etc)?
- How much support is there for students in their studies?
- Who would I be able to talk to if I have any issues?
- Is it be possible to get extensions on work?
Questions about Admissions
This is the juicy one, and probably will yield more actionable answers that you can apply straight away to improve your chances of getting in.
- Do you have any tips for the personal statement?
- What did you find hardest about the application process?
- What did your interviews involve? (if the application process involves interviews)
- Did you have to do any entrance exams or admissions tests?
- What did you do to prepare for interviews/admissions tests?
- Do you recommend doing any work experience or extra reading for the personal statement?
- Was there anything you wish you knew about the application process?
- Is there anything when you applied that you wish you did differently?
Some Extra Things You Could Ask About
Of course, this list is not comprehensive, nor should you rattle them off at some poor unsuspecting student taking you on a tour! I suggest picking some things that are more important to you and making sure you get those things answered.
Other things you could ask about include myths you may have heard about the uni (debunking myths is something I do a lot of, at Oxford – there are so many stereotypes and incorrect assumptions that need correcting!), or more technical/specific questions about your course.
To sum up, asking questions is the best way to figure out if a university or course is right for you – you, as an individual, have your own interests, needs and priorities, and it’s important to find out if your university and course line up with those. I hope these questions will help you choose a university that’s right for you!
Do you have any more questions that you think would be useful to ask? University students or above – what things do you wish you knew before you applied? Let me know in the comments!