Mini Open Days: Maximising Your Subject’s Appeal

     
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Mini Open Days often come at the busiest time of year for academics – just when they are in the middle of a semester, knee-deep in teaching, mid-term assessments, heavy admin roles, and trying to keep abreast of their research at the same time. But these brief open day visits (sometimes just an afternoon or even an hour or two, organised by just department or school at a time) offer a fantastic opportunity for subject areas to really get ahead of the game when it comes to recruitment.

So here are five suggestions about how you might make a big splash in a short period of time.

Go for high-energy

The decision about who should staff mini-open days should be made not just on the basis of availability, and sound grasp of the subject offer, but also, where possible, with an eye to putting staff who are excellent communicators with high energy levels in front of your audience. Time is short at mini open days, and applicants (and parents) may be visiting multiple subjects in a very short period of time. So make sure whoever you have as presenters will be the best people to enthuse the audience and to make a lasting impression on the day.

Go for tasters

You need to convey the facts about a course, but where possible, put on a short, engaging taster session or two about your subject. Run these at set points throughout the day to maximise exposure. It’s impossible to do justice to a subject in such a short period of time, of course, but if you can send your applicant (and parent) with a new bit of knowledge (able to exchange a greeting in Mandarin, for instance, or armed with 3 little-known facts about ancient Sparta, for instance, or having seen an up-close demonstration of the properties of graphene) there is a good chance that they will remember your course favourably when it comes to making application decisions.

Involve your students

The fastest and most effective way to make an impression on a school leaver is to get someone close to them in age and experience to talk to them. Look to your existing student body for help. Most universities now actively recruit undergraduate helpers to work on open days, so make sure you avail yourself of this invaluable opportunity. Students will be able to say things about the course that will be viewed as authentic, and more importantly, applicants will be able to ask them questions that they might not dare to ask academics.

Follow-up

It’s all very well putting on a good show on the day, but it will count for nothing if you or your department/school don’t have some means of following up with applicants. Make sure that there is a system in place to contact students after their visit to invite them to ask further questions, to comment on their experience, and of course, to invite them back for more in-depth open days later in the year. Enable follow-ups not just by collecting email addresses, but by inviting applicants to follow your social media outlets. A quick tweet from a taster session, for instance, can make a big impression. If you make this part of the day, you can then start to engage them immediately by posting photos, videos and comments about the open day online that they can then follow up on themselves.

Work with your institution

These days, most HE institutions organise university-wide open days centrally. If your mini open days are organised at school level, make sure you approach your registry or central recruitment office for advice and to ask for support (administrative, financial, or marketing). They will be able to supply you with generic printed materials such as campus maps, advice on getting to the university, and general financial information – all of which it will be important to have on the day to distribute to visitors.

So while mini open days may come at busy times of the year, remember that they can be extremely worthwhile, laying the ground early for the recruitment cycle, and enabling you to stand out from the crowd with minimal time investment on your part.

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