Posted on 30 Mar '22

What Do Prospective Postgraduates Want From Open Days?

With life starting to resemble some form of new normal, attention has quickly turned to getting back to in-person physical events. We’ve been on the road with our study fairs in March and have seen how some things have changed and how others definitely haven’t (more on that in the future)… but we wanted to ask how our audience were feeling about getting back onto campus for open days too.

Overall there is certainly the appetite to get back to those in-person events.

We can see that with 52% of potential international Masters students and 55% of potential UK Masters students saying they were comfortable with the idea of going back to physical open days. While some may be surprised at this percentage, we should remember that this survey was open for February 2022 when restrictions were still in place across the UK.

People interested in PhDs were actually a bit more positive, with 55% of prospective international students and 64% of prospective UK students feeling comfortable about getting back on university campuses.

Highlights from this month’s Pulse

  • Being able to talk to admissions and academic staff came out on top across the board.
  • Overall accommodation tours weren’t seen as that useful, regardless of whether they are in-person or virtual.
  • There was very little difference in content preferences for physical and virtual events.

With this in mind, let’s dig a bit deeper into what our audience are saying.

They mainly want to talk to people

We asked prospective students to tell us what they’d find useful when attending a ‘physical’ open day.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most important aspect of these events, or at least the one that our audience finds most useful, is being able to talk to people, face-to-face. There are some very minor differences in the second and third most useful aspects, but essentially, the main elements both Masters and PhD students are looking for is access to academics, students and admissions staff.

Unsurprisingly, after two years of limited contact, they want to be able to actually talk to someone about their specific situation, probably because of the reassurance face-to-face contact brings. This is something we see at our study fairs, especially regarding funding enquiries. It doesn’t matter that they have the guide in front of them, they just want to know that they’ve understood everything correctly.

The key difference is that for PhD students, the value comes from speaking to academic staff (such as prospective supervisors), whereas for Masters, the appeal of speaking to academic, admissions and students is nearly equal.

This isn’t necessarily surprising, with academic support critical to getting a PhD proposal off the ground. The niche nature of PGR work will typically require more one-to-one discussion with an academic, whereas Masters courses are already outlined so students are keener to discuss the application process and learn what sort of experience they might have on the course.

Different students look for different things on campus

The chance to visit campus facilities such as teaching rooms, libraries and labs is very popular for both audiences.

Perhaps counterintuitively, it’s Masters students who tend to find these more useful in an open day setting. There is still a sense of community at PGT level, even if it is sometimes smaller than at undergraduate, so elements such as facilities that they’ll physically be using can help prospective students to visualise where they’ll be based and how they’ll study. This would be especially useful for people who are thinking of changing universities or returning to study after a long gap and perhaps require a bit more encouragement before committing.

The relative lack of interest for PGR students may be surprising – after all, you’d expect research students in certain subjects to be very interested in visiting labs and workshops. And it turns out that’s important. The majority of STEM students do want to visit campus facilities, whereas AHSS applicants are, unsurprisingly, less concerned with this option.

And what about virtual open days?

The main takeaway from what we’re seeing in Pulse is that, actually, there’s very little difference in what people find useful at an open day, regardless of mode.

Although we can’t deny that the switch to virtual made universities more creative in their offerings, and certainly helps to target an international market (our latest Postgrad LIVE Virtual Study Fair saw an 85% international attendance on both days), it seems that, when it comes to our audience, they didn’t really find anything more or less useful whether it was in-person or online.

What we did see was that, overall it would seem that PhD students found the virtual tour elements of the virtual open day offering less useful than Masters, although neither set were particularly excited by them. But the percentages are pretty similar to the in-person open days so it’s not to say that they’re less useful because they’re virtual. It may simply be that they don’t put as much stock into facilities such as the SU or social areas so, whereas at a physical open day they may stumble on them just because they’re there, they wouldn’t be seeking them out at a virtual open day.

Live virtual talks are preferred to recorded webinars

Overall both audiences found live talks more useful than recorded webinars. While talking to someone directly is seen as the most useful element of the events, 49% of Masters students and 51% of PhD students said they found live talks useful versus 40% of Masters and 39% of PhD students finding recordings useful.

We know from a host point of view that having recorded webinars available, especially as teasers before the event or to catch those who were unable to make it/on a different time zone, can save resource but live is still the preferred mode in a virtual setting.

Accommodation isn’t necessarily as big a factor as we think

Neither audiences were really concerned with accommodation or tours of the most social sides of campus such as the Student’s Union, however, unsurprisingly, of those that did find accommodation tours useful, it was considerably more important to international students.

So what does this mean for the open day landscape in 2022 and beyond?

Much of what our Pulse audience is telling us feels predictable, but in some ways, that’s a good thing. It shows that we still have a good understanding of our postgraduate market and universities can hone their messaging and offering based on what’s working and what isn’t.

The area to watch will be the comfort in attending physical events versus still wanting to attend virtual. We can’t deny the appeal of virtual to the international market and we’re still in a transition period where virtual and physical events are both required in order to hit all the different comfort levels of our audience. Going forward, the challenge, and fun, will be making sure that physical and virtual events have their own unique values as part of the overall postgraduate recruitment strategy.

FindAUniversity take pride in being experts in postgraduate education. Follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter for regular insight, comment and case studies.

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