The beginner’s guide to…. Open Days!

Saturday 15 June 2019

Today my eldest and I head South for a University Open Day. But it’s not any old ‘South’, it’s the city where the children were born and I lived for over 10 years. So I am confident, I am calm, I am pretty ad hoc with my planning … and I learn the error of my ways!

We are on the road by 6:30 am and soon cruising down the motorway. It’s a familiar route I’ve driven many times but, as there are several ‘Queue Likely’ warnings, I boldly decide to experiment with a slightly altered course. Not my wisest move, as it turns out. I miss several key junctions and, even with my eldest using her navigation skills to get us back on track, we probably lose half an hour. (It suddenly strikes me that all my kids are pretty impressive with a map. I fear that with my sense of direction it’s become one of life’s necessities!) Despite the detour delays, we make time for a coffee stop, turn the volume up loud on the radio and sing our way merrily down South … until we hit the traffic!

We are about 2 miles from our destination when we grind to a complete halt, and we are still sitting in the jam as the time for our first Talk comes, and goes. Several packed buses, speed past us, in their designated bus lane, mocking us with their ‘Main Campus’ destination signs. My eldest chooses this moment to remind me that there had been a ‘Park and Ride’ option. I now regret waiving aside the regular emails the University sent me, trusting instead to the claim that “I know this town”!

Still I do know my way around and remember a pretty handy place to park, when we eventually clear the traffic. And then we dive into the throngs and the cut and thrust of the modern University Open Day. Blimey, a lot has changed since I trundled around my Universities of choice, back in the 1980s! In my decade, it was a day off college, eating marmalade sandwiches on the train, meeting a student, having a quick tour of the lecture halls and accommodation before heading back home for tea. Absolutely no-one came with their parents! Today, the entire city centre is taken over by Open Day visitees and their attached families. Student guides, in brightly coloured T-shirts, congregate on every street corner, handing our maps and giving directions. There are traffic wardens, stopping the traffic to shepherd the crowds across the road, pop-up food stalls and drinks stations. It’s insane! It’s bewildering!

But, whilst I am a chaos of dis-organisation, frantically failing to make sense of a University map, made soggy and dog-eared by the torrential rain, my eldest has done her homework. She waves her phone expertly at student guides, to register us for a terrific schedule of pre-booked talks and lectures. We have an amazing tour of some Science labs, where lecturers, passionate about their subjects, actually blow out minds with their knowledge, brilliance and enthusiasm. Suddenly I know that this is the world for my girl. She has had the sense to prepare as well for the Open Day as she does for everything, and that why, despite a slightly delayed start, we get so much out of it and she will get so much out of a University Education. I feel super-proud to be her mum.

We sing our way back up the motorway and finally arrive home at 8 pm. I have had plenty of time to learn some lessons. Here they are, as my tips for other beginners to the Open Day carousel:

  1. Do book overnight accommodation if you can: our 14 hour day was a bit of a killer!
  2. Do have a look at the road map and plan your route in advance.
  3. Do read the emails the Unis send you and follow their advice on parking: I am first in the queue for any future Park and Rides on offer!
  4. Do think about what your child wants to get our of University life and book the tours and talks to match
  5. Definitely do look forward to some fun quality time with your brilliant child and enjoy every minute, including the road trip itself!

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