In less than a week, the University of Tartu will hold its annual Open Doors Day on 28 Feb. Now, some type of visitation events aren’t exactly rare at schools or universities and usually play an important part in marketing for new students, but why exactly are we doing this? Why these types of events? Why not just an online lecture for each programme? Well, we can’t speak for everyone, but we can speak for the University of Tartu. So here goes.
Firstly, there are the most obvious reasons, of course – marketing practices for the universities and information for the students. We, just like our global competition, need to impress newcomers or those potentially returning in order for all of you to choose us. There are several ways in which to accomplish this, but visitation events offer somewhat of a glimpse into university life, provide information in bulk, and accomplish all this in a relatively short amount of time. It’s just an optimal use of time and resource for the university, plain and simple. The same goes for the recipients, the students. A lot of information, all in one place. It’s a foolproof plan, really!
Except… Not really. Anyone who has ever hosted a large-ish event can confirm that it is not easy putting together something aimed at several thousand people, especially when the organising involves another 50 or so. The stakes are high, and if the operation is not running smoothly, it’s all too easy to give off a bad impression for the same several thousand and have them leave empty handed and disappointed. There are definite cons and pros to this on both sides.
However, there’s more to the equation. Open Doors Day gives us an opportunity to self-reflect in a way that’s most important – what DO we offer the students? In preparing for the event, and talking to hundreds of newcomers a day, every single employee presenting their unit and programme really has to think about the information they are giving out. Why SHOULD someone be interested in us? What are the strengths of our programmes and our university, and what are the weaknesses? Leadership decisions are often made high up in institutes and councils, and it’s easy to lose touch with the actual work done by actual students. On Open Doors Day, we are forced to face it all, and that is both welcome and necessary. Often, the people who have come to talk from the institute level have access to the decision-makers, and all these reflections have a good chance of making it to the higher levels and having an actual impact. Additionally, your questions are invaluable, and we love you for asking them. They let us know what you need from us, and provide the outside point of view which we, by definition, cannot have.
Information can be acquired in a multitude of ways these days, including online, without ever having to leave your home or your bed. We are well aware and do our best to give you this option as well. However, not to sound like a smarty-pants, university does at least periodically require you to leave anyway, and depending on how and what you study, those periods spent at the university may very soon be far longer than those spent anywhere else. For you to feel comfortable with the workload, the responsibilities, and your decisions as well, it really is vital to know that you are indeed studying what you want to study, but also that the vibe of the place is right. Don’t underestimate that. Sure, a lot of that comes from the people in your course and in your lectures, but the vibe of a building, of the people working there, are a really good first indicator as well. And that is something you can’t get anywhere else but on the spot.
In short, we all know the drill when people are coming over: clean the place up a bit, make sure you are hospitable, and leave a good impression. Surely, we can all remember our parents from our childhood, demanding the place look like Disney On Ice for some really important guests. We will definitely be bringing out the nice silverware and are eagerly hoping to impress you all next week, but we promise to keep things looking real as well. And we hope our “real” will be bringing you back here in September.
Maria Kristiina Prass is a Specialist for Public Relations at the University of Tartu.