The University College Dublin (UCD) Open Day takes place from 10 am to 4 pm on Saturday, November 14. It, like all university open days, will be taking place virtually this year.

Alongside a full schedule of programme and subject talks, visitors will be able to talk to student advisers and tune into live Q&A sessions with academics, and can explore virtual stands manned by students who will be there to give insight into societies, sports facilities and the campus in general.

Open days are meant to help those seeking to answer those all important questions, such as: is this place for me? Do I really want to commit the next three, or four years of my life to this place in particular?

This first glimpse into University life is usually a tell-all about the direction your life will soon take, but this is a new environment in which to hold these events.

The Bright Side

The unique format of a virtual open day offers some advantages. A particular benefit is the recording of every session and event held throughout the day will remain available for 90 days after November 14. This lets prospective students, parents and any other interested parties access and re-evaluate all the information given until mid-January 2021.

Other colleges, such as University College Cork (UCC) and the National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG) in particular, have taken a similar route, offering downloadable programmes and leaflets alongside informational videos and live discussions on their respective days.

These measures allow students to take their time to absorb the barrage of information given during these events and gives them a chance to revisit and re-evaluate otherwise fleeting presentations which will surely give them greater confidence in their decisions.

The challenge of virtual tours

Despite these measures, virtual open days face an unfortunate and immovable difficulty in their sales pitch: the campus.

Like other Irish universities, UCD will be offering a virtual tour of the Belfield campus, conducted by student ambassadors, but this pales in comparison to the hands-on experience students usually receive every year.

The on-site element cannot be downplayed. The experience of setting foot on a University campus for the first time can elicit every emotion from wonder and excitement, to nervousness and uncertainty. It is often the very first time the door to university life is opened, and the first time some see the campus in full. The campus is often the lynch pin in making the decision to choose one university, or course, over another.

Without the ability to walk around and see the buildings students invariably spend most of their degree in, university open days lose one of their strongest selling points. It will be a lot harder for prospective students to imagine themselves in this new environment when it is impossible for them to truly access it and comprehend it. Virtual spaces and tours are a great step but cannot replace the physical element. How detrimental this will be is yet to be seen.

Observations

UCD has a beautiful, sprawling campus that has seen a lot of time, care, and investment over the years. The facilities alone attract so many students every year. UCD will have to put together a sales pitch without being able to use these facilities to their advantage.

UCD recently announced that the entire 2020/21 academic year will be held online. This was after representing to undergraduate students a ballpark of 20-60% in-person lectures in September; giving students time to secure expensive on-campus and near-campus accommodation for the whole year, before that promise was promptly, yet incrementally, rolled back.

It will be interesting whether UCD will try the same bait-and-switch tactics in the coming year, and whether prospective students will fall into the same, expensive trap. Without their campus, the lure is bound to have less pull. The College Tribune curiously awaits these developments.

Oisin Magfhogartaigh – Reporter

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