Written by Alice McLeod on 04 / 06 / 2023
Gap Year Advice
It's getting to the time of the year when all of you in lower sixth are starting to think about universities… what you're going to study and where you might want to go. That only means one thing: open days. This is your chance to come face to face with the people who will decide your fate and have all the answers, so make the most of it. So think about it in advance, make a list so nothing slips your mind when you're there among the buzz of it all. Here are our top 17 questions to ask on a University Open Day.
Let's be honest this is the most important question... A deferred place means you can go on a gap year knowing your uni place is in the bag, you can travel, relax and enjoy yourself. At an open day be sure to ask how you go about deferring, UCAS has information but each uni is different. Ask what percent of students defer, if there is a limit to how many deferrals they offer and if there is a deadline to apply by.
You'll find that all universities will support you taking a constructive gap year. The main exceptions are if you're going on to study maths or physics where they like you to keep your head in the game. Open days are your time to ask the university what they would most like you to do. Are there any areas of personal development they are really looking for? Does your course want any particular work or volunteer experience? This will help tailor your gap year and therefore boost your application.
You might have the chance to meet some of the admissions team so it's your chance to make an impression and ask what they are looking for in an application. You can never go wrong with a few tips from the horses mouth.
It's important to know how the application process works and how it is weighted. Will the decision just be based on your application? Will there be an admissions test or an interview? Some people are better suited to interviews than others so this might affect where you apply and even the way you write your personal statement.
It's important that you are employable after the degree, so take this opportunity to ask how employable the degree makes you. Are there any unique skills you will gain from going to this university over others? If you can find alumni to chat to, ask what they think about this.
Track down either a current student or recent alumni and ask them if there is anything that they know now that they wish they knew about the course/university before applying. Also, a good idea is to ask them for an honest answer on what they see as the worst aspect of the course. This will give you a good idea of what to expect and if the worst they can come up with is 'the early mornings' then you know you're on to a winner.
Often the university as a whole or your specific course will offer scholarships or bursaries for things ranging from sports to academic qualities. This extra funding can make a huge help to your finances so it's worth applying for every penny you can. It's much easier to learn about these kinds of opportunities when you can ask someone directly rather than having to search around online.
It's common that the first year is pass or fail and then your final degree is weighted with your results from the last 2 years. It's important you ask what percent of the marks are split across the years and how the assessments are done. Different methods of assessment suit different people. If you are a person that hates exams but is great at research projects then this will affect your choices and vice versa. Speak to course advisors at the open day and find out how it works for that particular course.
Some courses allow you to take a year out in the industry in the 3rd year. This is a great way to get industry experience which will be hugely beneficial when it comes to job applications. When you're at the open day ask if it's an option on your course. If they say yes, ask how much assistance will they give you in organising it and what parameters there are. For example, if you can do it abroad or if you will be restricted to the UK.
It's all well and good reading about the accommodation in a prospectus speak to someone directly about it and get your questions answered... Is accommodation guaranteed to all first years? Can you live off campus and if so, what are the benefits? What is the accommodation actually like? What would alumni recommend?
This one is particularly key if you have certain interests or skills that you want to carry on at the university. This could be anything from burlesque to chess or squash. Joining clubs and societies are also a really great way to meet people with common interests.
This will very between arts, humanities and science courses but it's an important thing to know. Ask your course advisor how many contact hours you can expect to have and how much self-study is required. Individual people learn best in different ways so think about how you learn best and chose the course that suits your needs.
Ask detailed questions about your course. Questions like what's the focus of the lecturers, is there a theme in the research, what's the core information you'll learn. You'll find that the research focus and interests of the course leaders will be a running theme through the lectures. Line up your interests with those of the key course staff.
Usually, you won't get much flexibility in your first year but then as you progress through your degree you will start getting more module choices each semester. This allows you to tailor the course to your interests. Ask how this is broken down, what modules are fixed and what are optional so you get an idea of what direction you can go in.
The importance of this varies depending on what course you will be doing so it's important to ask. Things to focus on are research facilities, laboratories, and equipment if you're in the sciences, what's the library like etc.
It can be stressful moving away from home... meeting new people, living in a new place, tougher assignments with new expectations. It's good to know what pastoral support the university has to offer and an open day is a perfect time to ask.
So far you've been thinking about how you can sell yourself to the university but you have the power of choice too so get them to make a sales pitch to you too. It's worth looking at things like univeristy rankings but you'll get a much better feel for the place if you can ask them directly.
Be prepared... read up on the university or college you are going to visit and study the course prospectus before you go. This will enable you to make the most out of the day and not waste time asking questions that are answered in the blurb. Bring someone with you for a second opinion, they might ask things you hadn't thought of because they are looking from a different perspective and make sure you have a notepad. You might think you will remember everything but writing it down is foolproof.
It's also important to take some time to walk around the town/city to get a feel for the place. It could be your home for at least 3 years so it's important that you think it might be somewhere you would like to live.
Most of all good luck! It's an exciting time of your life so make the best most of it! Didn't get into your dream uni first time around? Not to worry, this is simply the perfect excuse to take a gap year. You can join one of our team programmes to gain valuable skills and life experience before reapplying to unis. Not only does this mean you'll have the chance to retake exams and modules to boost your grades, but your personal statement will look even better once you add the elements of volunteering and contribution that you've done on your gap year. As long as you make the time productive then universities will be even more keen to snap you up. If you're plans end up suddenly changing then get in touch and we can help you plan the best possible gap year.
on 04 / 06 / 2023