Researching Your HE Choices Online

The effects of the pandemic and social distancing did mean that opportunities to visit universities or meet university staff were limited. Universities worked hard to provide a range of online opportunities to find out more about and engage with universities. Many of these opportunities continue, which means that you can undertake much of your research online. While it’s always a good idea, whenever possible, to actually visit a university in person, being able to do find out more about what universities offer, undertake virtual tours, listen in on sample lectures and speak to current university students online, will certainly help when deciding what to study and where.

Virtual university open days and tours

Many universities continue to hold virtual open days or hybrid (where you can choose to attend or tune in online) events, and while you can’t beat going in person, this is the next best thing. Virtual open days typically include the chance to hear from academics on a range of subject areas, as well as find out about things like accommodation, support services and admissions processes and entry requirements. They usually include information and advice on how to apply including making a strong application, HE finance and provide opportunities to speak to academics, support staff and current students through online platforms. One advantage is that students can “visit” a number of universities from their own home, saving time and money.

Pre recorded virtual tours are also available at the vast majority of universities so you can see what it’s like on campus and what facilities are available, whenever you want. Some universities are also broadcasting live tours on Youtube or Instagram, allowing viewers to ask questions during the virtual tour.

Have a look at the following websites which list forthcoming online open days and virtual tours:

Uni Taster Days have a search function to find forthcoming virtual open days and events:

Linking London’s HE in London website lists forthcoming online open days and events offered by London universities and colleges:

University webinars and masterclasses

Many universities delivered live webinars on a variety of subjects during the pandemic and continue to do so. Typically lasting between 1-2 hours they can cover a wide range of topics, including how to choose the right course for you, how to apply, writing an effective personal statement, HE finance, while others focus on providing an overview of what it’s like to study a particular subject. Live webinars often give students the opportunity to post questions to university students and staff. You will usually need to register in advance to attend. There is no cost to attend webinars. If you miss a webinar they are usually posted on the university website, while some have their own dedicated youtube channel. Have a look on the websites of the institutions you are interested in applying to, to see what webinars are coming up. You can also visit the following websites which list forthcoming webinars

A number of universities have added pre-recorded masterclasses/lectures to their websites, as well as live lectures, which are open to all. These are delivered by academics who might be world leaders in their subject area so are well worth a listen as they will give you a taste of what it would be like to study a particular subject. Some provide an overview of the subject while others focus in on a particular topic. They can also provide a good opportunity to evidence your understanding and commitment to your chosen subject when you fill in your personal statement. You could look at Gresham College’s site which currently has nearly 3000 lectures which can be viewed, at no charge in your own time:

Online chats and advice sessions and support

A number of universities provide opportunities to contact them for information and advice. Many offer online advice drop-in sessions, or clinics staffed by advisers. These are sometimes referred to as live chats and can also provide an opportunity to speak with current university students. These are usually open to any students not just those planning to go to that particular university. These might be held on a weekly basis or more infrequently. Other organisations, for example UCAS via their Facebook page, provide regular opportunities to speak to staff trained to answer a wide range of questions about applying and going to university. UCAS have also set up Unibuddy, which gives students an opportunity to speak online to current university undergraduates studying in a wide range of universities on a variety of courses. The Student Room also host a very popular forum with discussion items on a wide range of HE topics

Online work experience

Undertaking work experience can give you a clearer understanding of a particular career and can strengthen your application. For some courses, e.g. social work, it is a pre-requisite. While its always preferable if possible to undertake work experience in person, they are not always easy to obtain. An increasing number of employers and organisations are developing online work experience opportunities aimed at school and college students, which can usually be undertaken in your own time.

Prospects give a helpful overview of what virtual work experience is and the pros and cons of undertaking it, while the Brighton & Sussex Medical School have a free virtual work experience course students can sign up for here. This is relevant for all students interested in allied health professions not just medicine. While many are relatively short, obviously you need to weigh up the amount of time you would need to commit to if you found a relevant opportunity as you don’t want it to interfere in any way with the demands of your Access course.

Other useful websites to look for work experience include:

There are a wide range of free online courses, many of which are relatively short and can be undertaken in your own time. They include courses which introduce you to a university subject, as well as courses aimed at developing your own skills in, for example presentation skills or writing a CV or personal statement or preparing for an interview. You may feel you have enough on your plate studying your Access course but if you would like to find out more about what you could study in your free time one well established organisation is Futurelearn, set up by The Open University.

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