As I’m currently in my last year at school, I’m on the hunt for the perfect uni for me. University open days are an essential part of the move from school to college and every year hundreds of thousands of families hit the road to explore the options. With a ‘shortlist’ of five needed for the UCAS form, my mum and I were committed to looking at as many unis as we could – but we certainly didn’t realise what a big undertaking this would be!
Since I’m planning on starting at university in September 2019, our journey started in June 2018 with a list of seven open day visits that we wanted to attend. Many universities have open days on the same weekends, so it’s a case of prioritising, then getting the calendar and map out to make sure you can see all the places on the list.
Once we’d agreed our targets, and I had signed up for each of them, it was down to my mum to plan the journeys. Seven weekends were given up and a combination of early starts and cheap hotel stays were planned. With destinations ranging from the South West to the North East, this turned into the biggest road trip that we’ve ever done together – driving more than 2000 miles in total, the same distance as going from London to Cairo. It was also probably the most time that we’ve spent in each other’s company for several years!
We’ve survived, and now know a bit more about the universities than before. So here are our tips on university visiting:
It’s all in the planning
Plan well in advance, register as soon as you can and if you need to book trains or hotels, do it quickly – some uni towns are small and hotels get booked up quickly.
Timing is everything
Check the schedules and arrange your timings around the key talks that you want to go to. The campuses are usually quieter first thing in the morning, so that can be a good time to look around the student accommodation or go to busy talks (if you’re willing to sacrifice a nice weekend lie in).
Where to park
Allow time once you get onto campus. Some of them are huge and you may have quite a hike to get to the places you need to be. Check out the parking arrangements if you’re driving – one uni that we went to put on a shuttle bus from a local park and ride.
Take in the town
While it’s important to look at the accommodation, the chances are that you’ll be living off campus for two of the three years, so have a drive through the town to have a look at the popular areas for student houses. That way you’ll get a feel for local facilities and safety.
Don’t break down
Prep the car! You’re going to be doing more miles than usual, so make sure your oil levels, tyres and water etc are up to it. Doing this together provided good practice for when you’ll have to be doing it solo.
Food glorious food
Stock the car with food and snacks. Seven long journeys can be really costly if you rely on motorway food, and if you want to make the most of the time you have on campus you don’t want to spend it all eating.
This is the greatest show!
Try to agree on a playlist, or at least take turns in choosing in-car entertainment! (Comedy podcasts and songs from musicals have kept us giggling and singing along the way!)
Get a good night’s sleep
Look at cheap hotels as an alternative to very long days. You need to have enough energy to take in and make sense of what you’re seeing. A £30 room with a good night’s sleep could help with that. It also gives you chance to explore the town or city the night before.
Watch and learn
Finally, chances are that as you’re busy looking at colleges you will also be learning to drive. While you might not be ready to share the driving responsibility yet, you can pick up some tips purely from being in the passenger seat. If necessary, relegate your non-driving parent to the back seat, and sit up front yourself. Then you can chat about driving challenges, the behaviour of other drivers and potential risks as you go along. This is a great way to work on motorway driving skills before you get to try it in the flesh. As long as your parent is setting a good example all the way!
My uni shortlist is finally ready. Good luck with yours!