Oxford University’s two summer open days have taken place online for the first time this year as a result of Covid-19. Oxford usually welcomes thousands of prospective students every summer, but this year they have had to navigate their way around Oxford via virtual college tours and social media.

While there were events put on by student service teams, such as the Disability Advisory Service and Fees and Funding, the bulk of the activities were organised by individual colleges and departments. Colleges put together virtual tours and held meet the tutor Q&As, while departments put together videos on both the course structure and application tips, including how to prepare for the admissions exams and examples of practice interviews.

As is the case every year, current Oxford students were key to the success of these virtual open days, participating in student Q&As, but also engaging with prospective students through society and JCR social media sites.

Class Act, a society for people from under-represented socioeconomic groups at Oxford, was one of many student societies who tried to reach out to students on the open days. Their communications officer, Ella Street, told Cherwell that one positive of a virtual open day was that it gave “students exposure to not just the different colleges and departments, but also to different extra-curricular activities and campaigns, which normally they might not have been aware of.”

Street also said: “An online Open Day is more accessible for many prospective students than an in person Open Day, especially for applicants who do not live in the South East.”

Prospective applicants did not seem to be put off by this new virtual process, with over 3,000 questions being asked on Brasenose’s ask-the-students chat room. Moreover, the online format does have the added advantage of allowing for continued engagement, with most events staying online after the 1st and 2nd of July.

A spokesperson from the University told Cherwell that they welcomed over 35,000 visitors across the two days and answered over 24,000 questions. They said: “This was more people than we would expect to attend a physical Open Day in Oxford.”

The open days are just one of a series of admissions events which will need to be held online this year. UNIQ, the University’s flagship state school access programme which supports 1,350 students annually, will also run exclusively online this year.

Samina Khan, Director of Undergraduate Admissions and Outreach at Oxford University said: “Expanding our digital resources has been a major priority for the University in recent weeks. Many young people are in the process of making important decisions about their higher education future in the midst of a crisis, and I think it would be deeply unfair for talented students of all backgrounds to lose sight of their ambitions because of the education disruption caused during this time. Particularly those experiencing socio-economic disadvantage.”

“We want to support these students wherever possible and we hope our online resources arm them with the details they need to make an informed decision around whether Oxford is the right choice for them and make competitive applications for entry.”

It was announced last week that Oxford’s December interviews will be conducted remotely, and it has also been confirmed that the Open Day in September will be virtual. A spokesperson from the University told Cherwell: “We will be taking on board the feedback we receive from visitors and staff and student volunteers from July to make sure these are as positive, useful and engaging as possible.”

Article updated at 09.55 on 08/07/2020 to include comment from the University of Oxford.