Potential university and college students often approach educational institutions with the hope that they will be kind enough to let them attend, but experts say would-be students should use open days to carefully decide where to invest thousands of dollars.

Kathy Armstrong, a counsellor for students at Halifax West High School, likens open houses to test-driving a car.

“It’s really important for students to be educated consumers. If you’re going to buy a new car, you’re going to test drive a bunch of cars. It’s the same thing with university: You’re going to spend between $60,000 and $80,000. It makes really good sense to take it for a test drive,” she says.


Attend open houses with a list of questions and don’t leave until you get the answers. How flexible is the institution? Can you do a dual degree? Can you combine degrees or take extra courses at other universities? What about summer or part-time classes? How successful are graduates at finding jobs in their chosen fields? What is the student residence like? Can you get a single room?

Armstrong urges students to pay attention when universities and colleges offer information sessions at their high school.

“A lot of times, students don’t know what questions to ask, so going to presentations, they learn more about what questions they should be asking,” Armstrong says. “The good open houses offer opportunities for students to talk to students who are currently at the campus to discuss the pros and cons of being there.”

She says students often change their minds about a university or college after a campus visit.

Sherry Ross, an occupational therapist who works with Roth Associates in Psychology in Halifax, says open houses can broaden a student’s career horizons.

“High school students tend to gravitate toward careers they know about,” she explains.

But just because it’s the right job for a student’s family or friends, that doesn’t mean it’s right for them.

“There may be other career options that are well-suited to them, but they’re not aware of them,” she said.

For that reason, Ross urges students to visit as many open houses and information sessions as possible. Students can see different academic approaches and find the best fit for them. Meeting students and people who work in the field can be invaluable.

“It gives the person a good feel for what’s actually involved in that specific occupation, and they may not have considered that.”

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