Open days are possibly the best way to get a real feel for the universities on your shortlist. These seven tips will help you to get the most out of them.
Before you get there
1. Research the university
To save yourself a wasted journey, make sure the university is a real contender. Here are some questions to research before booking an open day:
- Does the university offer my course?
- What is a typical offer for my course?
- Is there a university campus or are the buildings spread across a town/city?
- Are there any particular qualifications that my course requires?
- Does this department require applicants to take an admissions test / sit an interview / provide a portfolio?
- How long is my course?
- How well is this university ranked for my course?
- How far away is this university from my hometown?
2. Prepare questions
Most open days will give you the opportunity to ask questions to staff and students, and having them written down means you’re more likely to remember them. Consider what is most important to you in your university experience - access to sport facilities, cost of living, career services, nightlife, pastoral care, extracurricular activities, travel, accommodation - these are all things that will have an immense impact on your student experience and could be a deciding factor in whether you attend the university.
Tip: There is little point asking questions that can easily be answered through online research in advance of your visit. Spending time on the university’s site beforehand will allow you to use your time at the university to ask questions that are otherwise hard to answer.
3. Plan your day
Once you have registered your interest for an open day, you will normally receive information from the university by post or email. Use the timetables and maps provided to carefully plan your day. Sometimes, more than one lecture or tour will be happening at once, so make a schedule to make sure you don’t miss anything that could be relevant to your subject.
Book your transport and find directions to the university buildings well in advance of your trip. It can also be useful to print out a map of the campus if one has not already been sent to you.
When you arrive
4. Ask questions
Ideally, you want to leave the open day with all your questions answered. Don’t be shy when approaching university staff; they are there to give you as much information as possible. If you are shown around by current students, take the opportunity to ask their opinions on the student experience. Listen to what other students ask in Q&A sessions as you may hear something you hadn’t thought of asking.
Example questions to ask:
On student life:
- Is it expensive to live here?
- How much does accommodation / a night out / travel cost?
- What’s the workload like in a typical week? How does it change across each year of study?
- How have you found the teaching / facilities / course so far?
On the course:
- How many hours of teacher contact time do you receive?
- How is the subject examined? Coursework or written tests?
- What are the career prospects after finishing this degree?
- Are any particular subjects or qualifications favoured in applications?
- What do admissions tutors look for in an application?
- What is the university policy on gap years and deferred entry?
- Am I at an advantage if I send in my application early?
Avoid camping out in one university building all day; try to see as many parts of the campus as possible. Don’t be afraid to walk around shared spaces, such as common rooms or student cafes, to get a feel for where you’ll be spending your time.
Not only is this your chance to see the university itself, but also the town/city in which it’s situated. If there’s a break or lunch hour timetabled into your day, take the opportunity to explore nearby.
6. Take notes
On an open day you will be given a lot of information in a short space of time, which can be quite overwhelming. Note down all your findings throughout the day so you can refer back to the experience later on in the application process.
7. Don’t be afraid to go alone
It’s possible that you’ll get just as much out of the open day, if not more, by attending alone. It means you’ll be able to follow your own schedule and explore the places you’re really interested in.
Some students are accompanied by their parents on open days. If your parents do decide to come along, make sure you’re the one to plan the day and ask the questions as ultimately it will be you who attends the university.