7 questions to make the most of college and 6th form open days


Autumn is college open day time! I cannot stress enough how useful these events are for teens to find the right college or 6th form. It’s a chance to look around the buildings and grounds, check specialist facilities and meet some of the staff and students. And everyone is different and will have a different view. I regularly see teenagers attend the same event, and one person will hate it, and the other love it. Hence why they should always go themselves and not just rely on others’ opinions.

One of the best things about these events is, that they can ask questions and get answers “from the horse’s mouth”. But sometimes our minds go a little blank when we are excited or nervous, so here are some ideas for questions to ask to give your teen a good insight into the college and courses.

Great questions to ask to get a good insight into the college and courses

1. What does a typical timetable look like?

This can actually vary a lot between colleges. For a start, some colleges have started to move their first lessons back (in line with research that shows teens’ brains are better later in the day.). Some have timetables quite similar to schools, particularly if it’s a 6th form. Others may have fewer but longer teaching slots per day, so students don’t change topics as often. Also check when tutorial slots are, how long the lunch break is and how enrichment sessions fit around timetables lessons.

2. What enrichment options are available?

Most colleges offer a wide range of extra-curricular options. In general, the larger the college the more options students have. But the key thing is of course, if they offer the things your teen is interested in. It is also worth checking if there are options to set up something new.

And it is a good idea to ask if the college expects students to take part in enrichment or if it is entirely optional. There may also be limits, e.g. some will only allow students to join one sports team per term, while others don’t limit it.

3. What are the study facilities like?

Your teen will be expected to do a lot more independent studying for their courses, so it is worth finding out about the dedicated study spaces. How many computers/laptops are available? Where are they located? Do they need to be booked? What are the opening times for the library/study centre? Are there dedicated quiet study areas as well as spaces to work in groups?

Asking about these things is particularly important if your teen is going to a college a little further away and isn’t likely to just pop home for an hour’s work between lessons.

4. What financial support is available?

Most colleges do offer some kind of financial support, and if money is a concern, it is really worth asking about this before ruling out a college or course due to costs. You will not be the only one feeling the pinch, believe me. Typically you can expect your teen to get discounted travel to college, but it is also worth asking the college if there are additional travel bursaries available.

There may also be help available for additional course costs for things like materials, special tools, trips, uniforms, and so on.

5. How are the courses taught, what topics are covered and how will your teen be assessed?

This can vary a lot between qualifications and subjects. It pays not to make assumptions here. It might all be classroom based, but there may be some practical work involved too. This might be lab experiments, work experience, or field trips for example. Some will be 100% exams; others will include a lot of courses work or practical assessments.

And the topics covered may vary a lot between qualifications (e.g. a BTEC or A-level Business course) or college (e.g. there are different pathways for history, so it’s worth comparing between colleges. Some even offer two or three history pathways to pick from).

And of course, most subjects can only focus on a small part of the topics related to them. So your teen should check if the course actually covers the things they are interested in.

6. What have previous students gone on to do?

This is a great question to ask. If your teen has specific plans, this can help them check they are on the right track. E.g. have students gone into the degree area they are interested in or got into a drama school?

If your teen doesn’t have set plans yet, it can be a nice way of getting some suggestions of areas to explore or simply to see that a course keeps lots of options open. This might also be quite reassuring for you as a parent.

It can also be helpful if your teen is unsure if a course they like is suitable. A quite common concern is if qualifications other than A-levels are acceptable for university. In general qualifications like BTECS, CTECs and others are well accepted. But it can be reassuring to hear from the college what students have gone into. And in a minority of cases, it may be worth considering an alternative (e.g. an applied health and social care course isn’t usually acceptable for a medical degree, even so, the topic is of course relevant).

7. What support is available if they have questions or start to struggle?

Ask about things like the student support team and how your teen would get in touch with them. Can they drop in or book an appointment? If your teen has additional needs of any kind, what support can the college offer before term actually starts and on an ongoing basis?

How often do they have contact with their tutor and what can they expect from them? Is there access to a college counsellor?

What is the careers support like and are they able to meet with a qualified careers adviser one-to-one? What support is there if they struggle with their studies? Do the different departments offer additional sessions to answer questions or extend their learning?

Help them prepare their own questions.

Finally, make a list of their own questions.

Hopefully, the list above has given you some useful starting points to put together your own list. It is really worth having a chat with your teen before the college visit and noting down which courses and facilities they definitely want to see, and what questions they want to ask. Otherwise, they may forget in the heat of the moment.

Go compare

Encourage your teen to visit a few different places. I would recommend at least three if that is feasible. This way they really can compare different places and find the one that suits them best.

And if they don’t get all their questions answered…

Sometimes not all questions can be answered on the day. If that’s the case, just ask who would be the best person to speak to and how to contact them. Many colleges actually publish department or staff contact details on their websites, so you can send your questions to the right person. Emails are usually the easiest, but if you would like to speak to someone just ask how you can make an appointment.

So, now you know what to ask, double-check the next open day dates and get ready for the visits.

And if you would like more tips and free training, come and join my free Facebook group for parents here.

If you would like your teen to be able to talk through their ideas and questions with a qualified careers adviser, you can find out about the individual guidance meetings I offer here.

Hi, I’m Theresa!

I’m here to help you and your teen find their Cheerful Career!

Looking for more?