This week, Dr Jonathan Padley, Widening Participation Officer at Churchill College, Cambridge, gives his insight on how you can make the most of the Seren Network and university open days.
So, you’ve been to your Seren hub launch, you’re doing some reading, and you’ve got some academic extension activities in your calendar. Good! What’s next? The short answer is, be inquisitive. One of the best things about Seren is that it’ll help you explore, with support from experts and friends. You should embrace this fully because it’ll open doors for you, some of which may already be obvious but others of which you won’t even know exist yet.
As an inquisitive explorer, you should visit the universities that you want to apply to. Prospectuses and websites are all well and good but there’s no substitute for going to a new place, entering new buildings, and meeting new people. When I taught in Swansea a few years ago, I was amazed every year that some students would finish their A levels then head off to a uni that they’d never visited. Literally, the first time they went there was to start their course, which struck me as brave… amongst other adjectives! Of course, years 12 and 13 are busy, particularly in terms of work, so you can’t spend all of them on tour. However, if you’re seriously proposing to spend at least three years of your life studying and living somewhere, wouldn’t you at least want to check it out before you arrive?
There’re lots of ways to visit potential unis: you can look around them informally, arrange a private meeting, participate in a taster event, or attend an open day. Of these, open days are a particularly good bet because they typically involve a range of staff and students, departments and faculties. They’re our – universities’ – opportunities to make ourselves totally available to you and to answer your questions. For example, at Churchill College in Cambridge, where I work, a typical open day involves:
- a detailed explanation of our admissions process, so you can learn how we’ll review your application;
- Q&As and informal chats with our students, so you can find out about the sort of people you might live with;
- a meeting with a subject specialist – a Director of Studies – so you can speak with the person who might become responsible for your learning;
- tours of College, especially accommodation, so you can get a feel for our environment and facilities;
- lunch (free and considerable!).
After attending a day like this, you’ll hopefully be in a good position to make an informed choice about whether you want to apply to the university or college you’ve visited. Sure, open days won’t always be completely representative – the weather might be great (or not) and you might meet people you really like (or not) – so you’ll need to receive them intelligently and discriminatingly. However, you should leave them with a sense of how your target course is structured and taught, and with a broad feel for the place you’ve been. Did you like it? Did you feel inspired? Do you think you’d enjoy and do well on the course you’re considering? Can you meet its entry requirements? If yes then great. If no then don’t worry – not everywhere will be for you but somewhere undoubtedly will be.
So – one more time – be inquisitive, explore, and enjoy Seren!