Get the most out of a postgraduate open day

If you visited an open day for your undergraduate course you might think there’s not much that would surprise you about a postgraduate open day. But you would be wrong. This guide is to show you how to get the most out of a postgraduate open day because your needs will be different this time around.

University open days for Masters and PhD students give you the chance to be a fly on the wall. You can see for yourself exactly what life as a postgraduate student would be like. And with the big changes we have all been though recently, a virtual version of an on-campus open day can be just as illuminating.

Tip one: Decide in advance what you need to get out of the event

If you are making the effort to visit an open day in person or attend online then you will have questions that need to be answered so you can compare the choices on offer.

It could have been a while since you were last in a university, or perhaps this is your first time. The open day is ideal for showing what life as a postgraduate student would be like. You should prepare in advance so you can get the most out of a postgraduate open day.

A masters level course is a big commitment, both in time and money. You won’t know yet if the course is going to meet your expectations, or if you are emotionally prepared for the challenge. An open day will help you understand what is needed and put your mind at rest if you are worried about academic study.

If a masters is a stopgap while you decide on your career then use the open day to decide if that is a good choice of action.

Tip two: Narrow down your list of questions to the most important ones

Prepare any questions that you need answers to – the academic staff and admissions team may not have all the answers available at that moment so use the event as a pretext to get back in touch in case something needs answering. It might seem obvious, but example such as these should get you thinking:

  • How much preparation will I need to do before I start the course? Do I need to submit any examples of my writing or research?
  • How much should I know about the specific subject if my undergraduate degree was more general?
  • What are the recommended reading lists for this course? Do I need to get these in advance?
  • How much time will I need to set aside for study?
  • How will you mark my assignments? Can I challenge my results?
  • What happens if I fail a core module - can I retake it?
  • Can I change my mind about optional modules once I have started them?
  • What opportunities are there for work placements?
  • Can I switch to another course if I have completed a core module?
  • What happens if the course is full or if the course is merged with another programme?
  • How much feedback will I get in person or in tutorials?
  • If I am struggling with managing my workload will I get any support?
  • When do I have to pay the fees?

Taking time with your preparation before the event means you won’t be confused about details that could make a big difference to your enjoyment of the course. You can view course details on Masters Compare and compare different universities offering the same subject.

If you are looking for a scholarship to support your course then Postgraduate Studentships lists these according to study level. A scholarship could make all the difference to your choice of university.

If you are studying online then ask questions about one-to-one access to your programme leader. Find out about student forums for sharing advice and information. Your internet connection is going to be very important, so ask about support for the VLE (Virtual Learning Environment).

Tip three: Look out for ways to enrich your study experience

During the open day ask about opportunities for research, training and conferences if they are available. Remember that a masters can lead directly onto a PhD if that is a route you want to follow.

Question the student careers advisors and talk to any alumni that are part of the event to check if the course they did met their expectations as far as career progression.

If a feature of your programme is strong links to industry or business then enquire about work placements. We recommend that you identify a handful of employers you would like to work for before you visit.

If you want to use the qualification as a career stepping stone then that must inform your decision regarding the programme or the institution.

Tip four: Consider if the environment is right for you

The four key physical features common to all universities can be summarised under these headings:-

  • Facilities
  • Accommodation
  • Campus design
  • Student support

Postgraduate open days are geared to present you with the most relevant details that relate to these features. As a masters level student you will focus the majority of your time on facilities and support that are related to your course. If you are offered the chance to visit the library or PG common room then do take up the offer.

If you plan to study 100% online for your masters then make sure you can access all the study materials virtually.

Work through each of these in turn to make sure the university meets your requirements satisfactorily. If you have issues with mobility or need additional learning support then the resources available from the university must match your needs.

Tip five: Remember to include your living environment while you are learning

How you live while you study is equally important. If you are in a position to study full time, then the environment where you will be living has to be right for you. Many universities offer dedicated accommodation for masters level students, so look out for these on accommodation tours.

As a full time student you are likely to be living off campus in private rented accommodation, so this has to be comfortable, secure and affordable. The university will offer a list of approved private providers. Try and visit a couple of these if you can.

Tip six: Ask about other modes of study, and travel arrangements

If you intend to study part-time or via distance/ blended or fully online then the same work/study principals apply.

You are probably considering how to commute to campus, or fit work and family commitments around your study obligations. Use the open day to check for bus timetables or the nearest train station. Parking on campus is rare but worth checking to see if permits can be offered to masters students.

Work out these priorities before you schedule your open day. Think of the day like you are looking around a flat share or viewing somewhere to buy: The same requirements for location, facilities, convenience, cost etc. apply to choosing a university. Use the open day to answer these questions.

And finally: Don’t ignore the leisure and fun side

If your undergraduate years passed in a blur of big nights at the union bar then you probably want to focus time on the more leisurely activities. However, don’t forget all the excellent sports and entertainment facilities that will be open to you. These will cost you a lot more once you have left university so make the most of them.

If there were any clubs or societies you really wanted to get involved in as an undergraduate then check these out to see if they welcome PG students. Student discounts are really valuable, and your student ID is worth its weight with shopping and travel concessions.

Follow these tips to help you get the most out of a postgraduate open day. Have a great time!