How to make the most of university open days

Attending an open day
University open days are a fantastic way of finding out about the universities that you are thinking of studying at and the courses you might want to take. Here are our tips on getting the most out of your visit.

Whether you’re considering applying or have already received an offer, open days give you the opportunity to find out about all aspects of university life, with activities ranging from tours to presentations. Some even offer you the chance to stay in student accommodation overnight.

While these visits are certainly a fun day out, remember that you’re there to see whether the university is suited to you; after all, it’ll be your home for at least three years. Make sure you know what sort of things you’re looking for and how to find them out.

Types of open day

Pre-offer open days: you attend these before finalising your UCAS choices. Usually every subject is represented, so you can visit as many departments as you have time for if you’re not yet sure what to study. Programmes vary, but most include welcome talks, campus/accommodation/city tours, subject lectures/seminars/Q&As, talks on finance, student societies etc, and the opportunity to chat to tutors and current students at departmental ‘drop-ins’.

Post-offer open days: these are held after you have received an offer. There is a greater focus on the degree course itself, with more detailed tours of and talks about your chosen department(s). However, it can be a good opportunity to visit accommodation and parts of campus you didn’t get to see before, though the number of buildings open to the public may be limited.

Interview-oriented open days: if the course at a particular university you’ve applied to requires an interview, the uni generally offers guided tours and the chance to chat to current students during the rest of the day.

Residential/overnight open days: a few universities offer the chance to stay in uni accommodation overnight, where you eat, socialise and sleep in college/halls and then attend sample lectures or seminars the following day.

Campus tours: if you can’t attend a full open day, most unis offer guided or self-guided tours with the chance to chat to current students. These usually last a couple of hours, and don’t include department-specific tours, although you can usually contact departments individually and enquire. These tours are a good option if you need to apply through Clearing and have missed the main open days.

When are university open days held?

It’s worth considering your university preferences at the end of year 11. Pre-offer open days are often held in September/October and June/July, so you can visit at the beginning and end of year 12 and the start of year 13. Read TARGETcareers’ university profiles and our advice on choosing the most suitable university and course to help you narrow down your options. It is worth visiting as many unis as possible so you really get a feel for whether you’d be happy there.

How to prepare for university open days

Forward planning is vital. It’s worth making a ‘priority list’ of what to visit to cut down the time you might waste wandering around. Create a flexible schedule beforehand of all the important activities you can fit in. Do attend subject talks/demonstrations to get detailed admissions and course information, and drop-ins and Q&As are important for getting specific questions answered. Guided tours are useful too, though it can be better to find your own way to avoid a biased representation. However, it’s not crucial to attend introductory, finance and accommodation talks since you can find this info out elsewhere.

To maximise your time, make sure you know where your preferred subject(s) are based. Decide a shortlist of accommodation in advance using the university website, because you won’t have time to see all the options. If you find yourself with spare time, it’s worth checking out the city.

If you’re attending an interview, read our tips for university interviews.

Talking to students and academics

Talk to absolutely everyone – current students, lecturers, admissions staff, administrators. The official student representatives hold a wealth of information and will be more informed about student life than staff. However, it’s worth talking to any other students you see on campus, because they’re going to be the most honest. Ask about societies, accommodation, their course, anything: they’ll most likely enjoy talking about themselves!

It’s important to talk to academics, because they could become your tutors. They can tell you all sorts about the course that the websites don’t. This is especially true if you have questions about specific modules or a specific research interest; online information might be out of date, and modules can be a key factor in your university choice. For example, will a module you’re particularly interested in still be running when you enrol, and are you guaranteed a place on it? Also note how staff act: are they welcoming? Are they interesting and passionate about their subject? If the answer is yes, then chances are you’ll really enjoy what they have to teach.

It’s worth chatting to heads of departments, too, and asking for their email address. If you miss the required grades, this personal contact could help you get in through the side door. Ensure you make a good impression on them and show your enthusiasm.

If you’re short on time

Don’t worry if you can’t visit everything. There are always information points where departments and societies have stands and can answer your questions. You can also go back for campus tours and to explore the city, and if after you’ve applied you need more info before choosing your final two options, post-offer days always incorporate tours and talks, too.

Should you bring your parents to university open days?

It’s worth bringing your parents, and not just because they’ll pay for lunch – they’re useful for practical advice if you’re caught up in the excitement of it all. There are usually parent-specific talks, particularly at post-offer days, so you can send them off when you want time to explore, or if the talk you’re attending is student-only.

Make sure they’re not doing all the talking, though. You’ll come across much better if you’re confident enough to take the lead with questions, and it shows you’re genuinely interested. Also, don’t let your parents make decisions for you about which unis to visit and apply to: it’s ultimately your choice.

How much do open days cost?

Standard open days are usually free, except for food and travel. However, many unis offer free public transport within the city for the day, and some allow you to claim back for travel costs getting there under certain conditions, such as if you’re receiving funding from the 16 to 19 bursary scheme at school.

Overnight stays at a uni do cost money, so make sure you’re definitely interested in applying there.

What to wear at an open day

Wear comfy shoes because you’ll have to do lots of walking. Casual clothes are advisable, but nothing too extreme or dirty. If you’re attending an interview, wear appropriately smart clothes.

What to take to an open day

Remember your ticket or confirmation email, and your parking permit where appropriate. Check parking availability beforehand; many unis don’t have space for everyone on site.

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