Researching universities when you can’t visit

by Catherine Brabin

Hi, I’m Catherine, a first-year Theatre student here at Lancaster. Seeing as visiting the universities you’re interested in isn’t possible at the moment, I thought I’d advise you on how you can get a feel for a uni without attending the open days. I’m hoping this article will be particularly useful for those of you in Year 12, as these are some of the methods I used and found helpful when I was doing my initial research!

Prospectuses

Most of this article is going to address how you can research different universities using online resources, but I thought I’d start with the good old-fashioned method: ordering a prospectus. This is a booklet created by the university which tells you everything you’ll need to know about it. You can order these through the uni website for free, and you’ll receive it through the post. If you’re looking to order the Lancaster prospectus, here’s the link!

360 tours and online open days

Something I’ve seen universities providing on their websites over the last few years is 360 tours, which are essentially campus and/or accommodation tours that you can access virtually. With current travel restrictions, many universities are developing these 360 tours to provide more insight and information to prospective students than ever before. A lot of universities are now running online open days, where you can do more than just have a look around. General presentations, subject information talks, tutor discussions and live Q&As are just some of the things I’ve seen on offer. Researching the unis you’re interested in and checking out what’s on offer online is a great place to start.

Webinars and online events

Webinars are essentially seminars or workshops hosted online, where you can learn more about a university and gain new skills in the same way that you would in person. Sessions might include addressing what life is like at your university of interest, how to apply, how to write a personal statement and much more. I’ve also seen some universities running subject-specific events and taster sessions, so there’s plenty of readily available information out there! Here’s the link to Lancaster’s scheduled webinars, and you should definitely look into what other unis have to offer.

University websites

University websites are a great place to get a more detailed rundown on accommodation. Lancaster, for instance, has a page listing all of the accommodation types on offer, including pictures and breakdowns of the different facilities and prices. You will be able to find similar information for other unis on their websites, and you can likely ask for this information to be sent to you via post too. I’d also recommend emailing the accommodation teams of the universities that you’re interested in with any questions.

YouTube content

Another tip is to check out university YouTube channels. Lancaster has accommodation tours and interviews with students living on campus online, and other universities might have similar content. This is a great way for you to view the accommodation on offer, as well as gain further insight into what it’s like to live at the uni from the personal accounts of current students. I also watched loads of student vlogs when I was doing my research, which I found useful for gaining a good and unbiased sense of different universities. Watching others going about their day as a student was also really exciting and had me looking forward to first year. The Lancaster YouTube channel has loads of content, ranging from day in the life videos to exploring the vegan meals on campus!

Where to ask questions

Asking questions is vital for getting to know a university. Whether you’re asking about the big things – courses, accommodation, societies – or something more specific to you, there are loads of online sites where you can find the answers. The Student Room is one of these, where you can voice your questions and concerns and get responses from current or past students. I used TSR quite a bit when I was doing my research in sixth form, and it’s a brilliant site for getting honest answers and good advice. Lancaster also have a chat function, where you can talk to staff and students from many different courses, and join live chats hosted throughout the week.

Final words

If you’re currently in Year 12, I hope that this article has been of some use and reassurance to you. Although attending open days isn’t possible right now, universities are doing as much as they can to provide you with the resources that you need to make informed decisions. There are plenty of ways that you can find out what you need to and get your questions answered online, so try not to panic!

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