Choosing where to study: on UCAS Visit Days

Meeting applicants to study Art History at Nottingham is always a pleasure, because in many ways, it brings back memories of my own search for ‘my’ University. It is inspiring  to meet students who are considering where to spend possibly the most formative years of their educational life to date, and it always feels  quite privileged to be in a department that has made it on to a student’s short list, to the point where they have made the effort to actually come and visit the University on a UCAS Visit Day. It is always fun talking to the applicants, many of whom are accompanied by parents, and it’s a challenge and a joy trying to showcase what studying Art History at Nottingham is like, and working out what are the distinctive strengths of the NottsArtHistory department. It is certainly great to meet students who are considering art history as their  choice of subject because for many students, looking at a subject that may not have been offered as an A-Level choice could be considered risky. But, amongst all the many factors that come into play when thinking about applying for a subject at university,  the importance of visiting ‘your’ potential university can’t be overstated. Why? Quite simply, because for many students, their ultimate choice of place boils down to the intagibility of  a gut feeling.

In preparation for this blog post, I did a bit of crowd sourcing, and asked around amongst colleagues, wanting to know what made them choose a particular university over another one. Very few referred to the details of the degree programme on offer (in fact, one response was  that choosing between the options on offer due to academic merit seemed impossible  for a student at the beginning of their studies). Instead, most respondents either talked of a choice made because of a recommendation (either from a teacher, or from a student at their old school, or even because of a parent’s experience), or a choice inspired by ‘gut feeling’.  Each and every one of the respondents to my impromptu survey had visited their eventual university and all of them emphasised that they were happy with their choice. OK, my survey sample may be not entirely reliable (after all, most of my respondents were either academics, or postgraduate students, that is a constituency so happy at University some have never left the Higher Education context), but the message is clear: don’t make your choice without visiting the places you are considering seriously.

Field Trip to Wollaton Hall

Field Trip to Wollaton Hall (1580-88), Nottingham.

There really is nothing like seeing for yourself, and while a visit day can’t offer more than a glimpse at the workings of a university and a department, it does certainly allow for an impression. Which is where we return to the importance of the ‘gut feeling’ in making a choice. Trust it. I did, and I remember my years as undergraduate with lots of  nostalgia and fondness. For my postgraduate studies I went where there was funding and an excellent supervisor, because ultimately, my research was going to take me to Italy, so my UK home University was just a base. As a postgraduate, my choice of University was pragmatic and instrumental. As an undergraduate though, I spent several years living and working where my University was, and it was there that the student who had arrived with a firmly held conception of studying nineteenth-century literature discovered the Renaissance. It was my time at my undergraduate university that made me into the person I am now.

Canada goose in front of Highfields Lake, University Park, University of Nottingham.

Canada goose in front of Highfields Lake, University Park, University of Nottingham.

The funny thing though is that prior to visiting, it was on the bottom of my list. What made me choose my University was gut feeling, and it started not when I talked to the Department, but when I arrived in the city and made my way to campus. I knew then, that I could study, but more importantly, live in this place for several years. And more than that- I could see and feel challenges and opportunities, and I may even, at first sight, have fallen just a little bit in love with the city that was to become my home for the duration of my studies. What had been my bottom choice became my first choice. And all of this happened on a day when it was snowing, and when, arguably, the city and university didn’t look their best. And still, there was something there that made me convinced that the city and university I had come to ‘check out’, would soon become ‘my’ University (and just for the record, in my case, that place was The University of Aberdeen).

Trust your gut feeling. Ultimately, wherever you go to study your degree, you will have a great time because Universities are, after all, highly professional, student-orientated hubs of excellence, all offering superb courses. What makes them different is whether they are right for you.  Go visit, see for yourself, and the very best of luck for your studies.

Gabriele Neher (@gabrieleneher)

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Our next Open Days will take place on June and September 2014. Book here for a place.
Meanwhile, you might want to learn more about the Department of Art History so please take a look at our website and/or follow us on Twitter @nottsarthistory

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