Back in July, I wrote about four university open-days that I’d been to with Poppy. I shared our experiences of Durham, Liverpool, York and Sheffield and included my tips on how to make the most of these days. Since then, we’ve been to three more. I can’t emphasize how important it is to visit as many universities as possible. A course with the same title will often vary from institution to institution. It goes without saying that the course is what matters the most. But, I believe that the university itself is really just as important. I need to know that wherever Poppy goes, she’ll be happy. I want her to feel comfortable with the location and type of uni. It needs to “be her.” Fundamentally, it comes down to the size and type of city and whether it is a campus or a civic university. Poppy favours a small city and a campus university.
Bristol University Open Day
Our first visit this term was to the Bristol University Open Day. We drove down on the Friday afternoon ahead of the open-day on Saturday. Time away with Poppy is very precious and incredibly enjoyable, so it always feels like a special occasion. It took over five hours, without any stops to get there, mainly because we were thwarted by frustrating 50mph speed restriction on much of the motorway. However, we got there safe and well, checked into our hotel, got changed and headed out for dinner.
Our first post of call on the Saturday morning was the “Welcome to Bristol” talk. Such a beautiful building.
After that we went to chat to the student ambassadors and lecturers at the anthropology stand, (Poppy wants to study anthropology). The admissions tutor was there so we asked if there was anything specific she looks for on the personal statement. She gave Poppy some excellent advice which she has utilised in her drafts. If you’re in a similar position, don’t be afraid to ask directly. They may be able to give some very useful guidance.
Finally, we went to a talk about the anthropology course. Poppy liked the sound of the course so we left feeling quite excited and happy. Bristol is a civic university and the buildings are relatively spread out. The anthropology building is gorgeous, but quite a way from the majority of student accommodation, so this is something Poppy will need to weigh up, because she really would prefer to live and study on campus.
Birmingham University Open Day
A week later we went to the Birmingham University Open Day. We had high hopes because we know a lot of people who’ve visited and sung its praises. Again we drove down, but on the Saturday morning.
It was a gorgeous autumn day and the campus looked spectacular.
The welcome talk was in the music hall, a fabulous building and we learned of a huge upcoming “refurbishment” of the campus. We were very, very impressed and we both had a very good feeling about Birmingham University.
After a coffee and a sit in the deck chairs, we went to a talk about the course.
And here the day changed.
I have never, in all of Poppy’s 17 years, seen her so deflated. I can tell you too that I felt every bit as disappointed. The course turned out to be very different from what we anticipated from the prospectus. The degree she was looking at was at most 25% anthropology. The rest was African Studies. Now Poppy went to Tanzania over summer. She spent time with the Maasai and learned about their culture. She was fascinated and has a particular anthropological interest, which is why this course, on paper at least, appealed. However, it transpired that the majority of the content was about African literature, African language and so on. It just wasn’t what she wanted. She was devastated because she’d fallen in love with the campus.
So, with heavy hearts and more than a few tears, we went home.
St Andrews University Open Day
I have the best parents, both of whom are wonderfully supportive in every imaginable way. My dad, for example, goes to watch Harry’s goalkeeper training session at every possible opportunity. My mum has researched every anthropology department in the country and she and my dad went to St Andrews over summer to do a recce. Because of that, Poppy really wanted her granny to come with us to the St Andrews Open Day, so we had a three-generation girls’ day out.
We travelled by train and the first leg, Preston to Edinburgh was fine. But, our connection to Leuchars was cancelled for reasons still unknown. Not only that, the subsequent one was too, so we arrived over an hour later than planned. It meant we had barely any time to do anything other than have a very quick look around the main quad, before it was time for the subject talks.
It is a stunningly beautiful site, adjacent to the beach and the glorious autumn day made St Andrews shine even more.
As always, there were plenty of excellent student ambassadors, easily identifiable by their red gowns.
We went to talks about social anthropology and philosophy. Both were excellent and Poppy is now considering a joint honours degree. I can’t tell you how relieved I am. I was beginning to worry that she wouldn’t find anything that appealed to her as much as the course at Durham.
She has one more open day left in Edinburgh, (my mum will take her because I’ll be away in Stuttgart), and then she’ll submit her UCAS form.
Be Like Goldilocks…
So this second round of open days has been just as useful as the first. Poppy liked the course at Bristol but felt the city wasn’t for her. She loved the campus at Birmingham University but the course wasn’t right.
But St Andrews? Well that was just right.
It’s so important that both students and parents feel this way. If needs be, I would have looked at seven more universities with Poppy to be sure that wherever she goes, she will be happy both socially and intellectually.
I know that Poppy will continue to work incredibly hard on her A-levels to give herself the best possible chances of going to the university of her dreams, but some aspects will be out of her hands. It depends on which universities offer her a place and what the exact entry requirements are. But, I can say, hand on heart, that we have done everything we can to find the best place for her to spend the next three or four years of her life.
A university open day is a long one which involves travelling and a lot of walking. I can’t emphasise how important it is to wear comfortable clothing. I’ll do a separate blog post about the outfit I wore to St Andrews because most of it is current. In the meantime, everything below is still available or current from these outfits.
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