November 20, 2019, by Dr. Meghan Gray

UCAS visit days – what to expect

As I write this, there’s less than an hour to go before I put on my “Admission Tutor” lanyard — having recently taken over the role from my colleague Prof Philip Moriarty, who has left some big shoes to fill — and prepare to kick off another UCAS Visit day. We hold over a dozen of these events each year during the UCAS cycle from November to April: we invite students who have applied to us and to whom we intend to make an offer to come to visit us in person. (These are separate from the big university-wide Open Days that are held each year in June and September, where we greet thousands of people coming through our doors who are at an earlier stage in their hunt for the right university and course.)

So what’s the point of these visit days? We appreciate that students often have to take time out of their studies — and frequently are accompanied by friends and family, who come from all over the country (and beyond) to attend. It’s a lot to ask in terms of time, cost, and energy, not forgetting that we are one of many institutions they may be visiting. We want to make sure it’s worth their while.

Our primary aim is to ensure that prospective students have all the information they need to make an informed choice about where they want to attend university. This may not end up being Nottingham — and that’s fine. Everyone’s criteria for “the right” place is different. We’d much rather fill our places with students who are happy to be here than watch a student struggle because this course or university wasn’t quite the right fit for them.  So the day is not about being a sales pitch…our goal is to present an honest and transparent account about who we are and what we do, and crucially to give our applicants a realistic view of what it’s like to be a student in the School of Physics and Astronomy that goes well beyond the somewhat dodgy rankings found in university league tables.

The schedule of the day generally includes an optional campus and accommodation tour, then kicks off with an information-heavy talk from me about the research, teaching, and support offered to students in the School. There’s plenty of time to chat over lunch with our student ambassadors (where they will give you the unvarnished truth about being a student here), followed by my favourite part of the day: a series of talks from some of our current students about the extraordinarily wide variety of experiences they’ve had as Nottingham physics students.  Our ambassadors also lead tours of the research and teaching facilities in the School, and deliver our applicants to another important part of the day: a chat with a member of academic staff, which is a friendly way of saying “interview”.

Now the word “interview” may cause more than a little anxiety, so we try to be very clear about the purpose of this part of the day. There are no trick questions, no derivations on the white board, no grilling of detailed physics problems. It will not affect the offer, which will be communicated via UCAS shortly after the visit day.  But it does play a very important role when August rolls around and A-level exam results are released. Each year we have the opportunity to fill a limited number of places with those who did not quite make their offer grades. We would much rather make a decision on how to fill those spots with “near miss” candidates based on a full understanding of their situation, not just three A-level grades.

How to prepare for your interview? That’s easy. Just make sure you can answer one key question:  “Why do you want to study physics at university?”  What follows from your answer is generally a relaxed chat about your interests, motivations, and aspirations for studying physics. We enjoy reading your personal statements and asking you about the books that have inspired you, the projects you’ve done, or the really big questions that have sparked your interest in physics. We’d like to know about your personal circumstances and answer any questions you might have about the course or how the School might support you once you arrive.  It’s really that simple!

So that’s what it boils down to: the Visit Days are a huge organisational challenge for us but we put so much effort into them because we think they are genuinely worthwhile to ensure the students who come here will feel confident they are in the right place, and will be able to work hard and thrive. Working within a university application system that means there’s a lot of stress and uncertainty riding on exam results, we want to give our applicants some reassurance that we aim to treat them as individuals — not just ID numbers attached to some exam results.

I look forward to meeting all our offer holders over the next few months. Best of luck to you all!


A few final notes:

For those students applying for Mathematical Physics or Physics and Philosophy, the general idea above still applies but some of the details of the day will be different, including a bespoke talk from a member of staff responsible for those specific courses and a visit to our partner schools.  

We also appreciate that some students may not be able to attend due to financial or logistical reasons – in that case we are more than happy to arrange a skype or phone chat with a member of staff in place of a face-to-face interview.

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