The Art Student's Survival Guide to: Open Days

by Cass Art Student Ambassador

Megan Archibald studies Painting at Gray's School of Art. Not just an artist, but a keen writer too - she has offered to share her first year of university with us. She'll be taking us through some of the key elements of studying at art school in the modern day - from applications through to end of year assessments - and will be offering her advice to budding art students. Read on for Issue #1...


Open Days and Applicant’s Days are a necessary evil of applying to university, like your personal statement, or photographing your work; some people take to it like a duck to water, and others- well- more like a cat to a bath. But fear not! The Art Student Survival Guide is here to ease your Open Day woes.

Open days VS applicants days - whats the difference?

Open days are public events hosted by each art school/ university for potential applicants and their families. They happen all year round, and are generally well advertised, but you do have to take responsibility for finding out dates and signing yourself up for tours. Social media is your friend here - most establishments have Facebook, Instagram or Twitter pages and they often post about upcoming events, so give them a like or a follow and keep a close eye on what they're posting.

Applicant's days tend to be invite-only events, and happen later than open days. Once you’ve sent in your application, an art school might contact you via email or post and invite you to visit the campus for a second time. Normally you’ll be required to confirm your attendance, and make sure you do, or you might not get to join in! Applicant's days often offer more course-specific information than general open days, and can be a great opportunity to ask questions about what the portfolio and interview expectations are. It’s also a good chance to chat with your potential future tutors, so make sure you say hello and introduce yourself.


What should I expect from open days?

I found getting to explore different art schools and university campuses really good fun! I’d recommend wearing comfy shoes, because most open days offer tours of the art school buildings, libraries and sometimes even the accommodation, so be kind to your feet!

I remember being a little overwhelmed by how much information my brain was being fed in one day, so do your best to ease this - take a friend or a parent along with you for second opinions, bring a notebook to jot down any thoughts, and remember your camera for photographic momentos. Also, if they offer flyers or booklets, take them!

Remember that open days are there to help you make an informed decision about your university. Choosing where to study is a really personal choice, and one that shouldn't be rushed, so increase the chances of finding your perfect art school and attend as many open days as possible.


What should I expect from applicants days?

Applicant’s days are not as scary as they sound – the day I visited my university I got the chance to meet and chat with technicians, lecturers and tutors, and enjoyed a buffet in the canteen (yes, there was pizza). Maybe I was incredibly lucky, but remember applicant’s days are there to help you. They offer the opportunity to find out more about how the course will be taught and how the modules are laid out and weighted. Tutors are often able to talk to you in more depth than they can during open days, so if you’ve got any niggling questions it's the perfect time to ask. 

However, it's important to note that applicant’s days are not (I repeat, NOT) an interview - if you show up with a sketchbook or portfolio and try to get critique from a potential tutor don’t be surprised if they are less than impressed!

It’s also worth remembering that applicant’s days are the university’s opportunity to impress you - they want you to pick their school if they offer you a place, and will be trying to sell themselves in the best possible light. If you get the opportunity, have a chat with a few current students and ask about their experience at the art school so far- they will have less reason to embellish the truth, and may be able to offer a more realistic insight.

Advice for parents about open days and applicants days?

It’s likely that your parents will be just as interested as you are in the application process, and of course they’ll want to know where you’re going once you move out. Offer to take them to open days, as this is where they (and you) can get information about what funding is available, accommodation, student support opportunities and other practical aspects of the move to university. As for applicant’s days, if your invite says you can bring a plus-one, and you feel you’d be more comfortable with your parent there, then of course take them along.

However, it's important to remember that while your parents blessings and opinions are important, it is a personal decision that will affect you for the next 3/4 years, and you have to make the best decision you can for yourself.

All in all... 

Open days and applicant's days offer you a brilliant opportunity to snoop around a number of different art schools, and by meeting tutors, chatting with students, scouting the facilities and taking in the atmosphere of the studios you'll be able to make a more informed decision about which is the right university for you. Remember to have fun with it and keep an open mind - your final choice may just end up surprising you. Happy exploring!


Feeling inspired?

Keep an eye on the Cass Art blog, for the next installment of The Art Student’s Survival Guide.

Find more of Megan's work here

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