Exploring the hidden costs of attending a university open day

Based on previous research, we gathered to discuss the costs of attending a university open day in further detail and invite you to put forward your thoughts on the matter as well!

Above, you can listen to the audio recorded or we have transcribed the discussion below for your reading:


Nathan Monk
Hello, and welcome to this week’s dose of insight on digital experience and innovation for the education sector from SMILE. So, Elliott, over the last week, you’ve been looking at the cost of attending open days. I know that you didn’t necessarily go to university so I guess this is probably as unbiased as you can get without finding a real prospect. Am I right in thinking that you looked at the three different locations for this?

Elliott Barnicle
So yeah, so looked at a few cases and kind of differences in though so like, travelling, you know, public transport, driving and staying overnight, all these kind of aspects of an open day that people don’t really consider, but you don’t think about it upfront, I guess. And kind of the associated costs with all of those things. So one of the cases was that we kind of chose that living in Birmingham was kind of the same across all of them because we are based in Birmingham, and it’s quite central in the country. In case one was that you were travelling with your parents to, I think it was Durham or Newcastle, you know, up north. And that none of them drove, so you’d be on public transport, and it’s kind of considering all of those costs.

So I kind of looked into them, taking the coach, which was about I’m looking at my graph here, and I think it was about £35. Have the three of them return. And then on top of that was like hotel, which comes out at about £115, which is quite expensive for the one night I guess. I think it was one room.

Nathan Monk
Saying that, you know you’ve cheapskates not nice, but it’s probably this is doing it as cheap as possible, realistically, isn’t it?

Elliott Barnicle
And then obviously things like food while you’re there, and then like breakfast in the morning, whether they want that and kind of all together. That kind of came to about £225 ish. Which is quite a lot of money? And so then if you think about that, kind of multiply that by three or four, because how many do you have to choose when you apply?

Nathan Monk
I think there might even be limitations on the number of open days that you can attend, at least physically and you got to remember that these prospects that at college or sixth form so that they potentially might even have to take time off from that. So I think the moment you know, there’s not many kids taking 10 days off just to go to, you know, I think he’s like these three, you probably visited two or three. But even at that, two or three at £200 a pop.

Elliott Barnicle
Yeah, I know, my mom would not have let me take time off to go to university open days, she would have been like no, go back to college!

Nathan Monk
And I think though, the thing here is yes, okay, sure, there’s a financial implication. But, Jon, I mean, you did go to university right. And I assume that you probably did go to two or three open days. What about the expectations around time on that for you?

Jon Bates
Yeah, well, I actually ended up going around five or six open days, didn’t take any time off to do that. But I think this kind of feeds into the point I think I was making before we started, which is the kind of implicit the time that it takes to plan going, and to actually, to attend the open days. And I guess we, me and my mom and my dad, in some instances, we travelled around on weekends. So didn’t have to take time off out of studying at all. But still, that was like a weekend gone kind of thing like six weekends gone over the course of the year. And I think that sometimes you will go to quite a few because it’s kind of a major choice, especially when you’re like terrified 18 year old, that’s going to be the place where you’re going to live for the next three years and you automatically want to get it right. And I think there’s quite a lot of stress that goes into planning which weekend, you’re going to be free to travel that far that kind of thing. So aside from the monetary costs, I know we’re going to compare this to sort of online open days moving forward. There’s also like, a fair chunk of time and planning that takes this obviously different online open days and there won’t be so much of that. But yeah, definitely remember the kind of hidden non-monetary costs.

Nathan Monk
So, Elliott in your desk research, did you do anything that was a little bit closer to home because I mean I’ve done the kind of the trek from Birmingham up Newcastle way and I’ve done that in the car and it’s a serious investment of time, but there are, of course, local universities for prospects. Did you do any research into that?

Elliott Barnicle
So yeah, so I did the two that were kind of far afield. Is that right? Yeah. And then I did two that are a little bit closer. So I looked at attending one of the Birmingham universities, and I think it was gonna Keele which is about an hour away, maybe. And the costs were massively reduced, I must admit. So with everything kind of, you know, travel for the kind of the hour away so Keele kind of area was about £60/£70 I think and the case was they wanted to go with the parents and the parents do drive. So it was kind of, thinking about like petrol and then again, you forget that you need to like eat during the day, it’s like, I’m going to need to spend some money on food and same with the one a bit closer to home so if they went to maybe, Aston University for example. You know, there’s one cost for a train to get into Birmingham. And then again like food was always like a, maybe I just like food.

Nathan Monk
Food cost the same everywhere, right? So whether you’re travelling, you know, five minutes away or an hour away that sandwich is still gonna cost.

Elliott Barnicle
As well when you’re in like a train station, like, food is more expensive in a train station than it is anywhere else. I think. I don’t actually know if that’s true, but the cost was massively reduced. So, in comparison to the £225, to Newcastle, I think the cost came down to £25. Which is still, it’s not cheap.

Nathan Monk
Yeah, I guess what we’re kind of looking at here is that there’s the time investment we all know exists, as Jon’s quite rightly pointing today, but there’s essentially a hidden expectation somewhat around having to spend money and actual financial burden on attending open days as well. And I find that particularly interesting. We’ve been doing a lot of work on online open days recently. And clearly, it’s a different kettle of fish with that. And we’ll take a look at that in future versions of these chats and stuff. But, Jon, do you think that there is a good reason here to utilise online open days in a post-pandemic sense as well?

Jon Bates
Yeah, definitely. I think the situation forced a lot of events that would normally take place physically online. But I think it’s sort of making people realise that moving forward even without a global pandemic going on now, there are huge advantages to holding events online. All the reason we’ve discussed already with attending open days and the things we’re going to discuss in future episodes. It’s, a lot cheaper and a lot more convenient to hold these things online. And I guess we’re looking at maybe getting some feedback from people who are listening to this. I think I know we’re going to be posting this on lots of different platforms. I think our blog, especially which we’re going to enable comments on and is going to be a really good opportunity to get some feedback from all the people listening. So if you’ve got anything to input on what you’ve heard today, like any challenges that maybe you discovered on your open day treks or whether you work in higher education and further education, and you sort of you hear anecdotally from a lot of students. We’d love to hear from you see what your struggles were or what your students struggles were, and can give us some content to talk more about that on future episodes.

Nathan Monk
My mom and dad would definitely challenge Elliott’s food purchasing habits. They would 100% be packing packed lunches for their days out.

Elliott Barnicle
So would I but I know a lot of people that don’t do that. Like, and I think you forget that, like, that is part of the open day.

Nathan Monk
It’s all part of the kind of the luxury of that experience, I think, isn’t it? Well, that’s brilliant, thanks for that everybody. Next week, we’ll take a look at the cost of attending an online Open Day, and probably some comparison in the types of value and contrast between physical and online. And you know, we’ve talked about hidden costs today with physical ones, but there are definitely some hidden costs in online open days too. We’ll be sure to take a look at that. If you’re interested in finding out more about what we do at SMILE, you can find us on wearesmile.com.

Take a listen to the transcription alongside the audio!

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