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University open days explained

Find out everything you need to know about open days - what to ask, who to take, when to go and how to make the most out of them.

In this article
How to get the most out of university open days Open days: five things to do Open days: five mistakes to avoid
What do I ask at a university open day? University open day calendar 2020

How to get the most out of university open days

The first thing to do is to create a shortlist of university open days you want to go to.

Once you’ve decided which universities you want to see in person, sign up without delay as places can go fast.

That said, universities tend to host events of some form all year round. 

These include taster days, summer residentials and special open days the weekend after results day if you're applying in Clearing.

We've spoken to students, parents and university staff to pull together the following tips if you've got an open day coming up soon.

 

How do I prepare for uni open days?

 

A successful open day trip is all about the preparation. Plan ahead by: 

  • Getting a feel for the layout of the campus – bookmark, download, save offline or print out a map.
  • Seeing where the uni is in relation to the town or city – if you're getting the train, how far is it from the station? If you're parking, will there be enough at the university, or will you need to arrive early to find a spot?
  • Getting a rough plan together for your day – book anything you need to in advance eg accommodation put on by the uni if you're staying overnight.
  • Pre-booking train tickets if you’re going by train – buying on the day is often more expensive. Check out our guide to buying cheap train tickets if you'll be doing a few trips.
  • Getting in touch with the uni if you have any special requirements or disabilities so they can be prepared to accommodate you.
  • Drafting questions you need answers to – see our top questions to ask below for some ideas.
  • Find things to do – if you have time, try to explore the local area to get a feel for what it would be like to live there for three years.

 

​​​​​​What should I bring on an open day?

 
  • open day pack – the uni may send you everything you'll need (by post or email) including agenda, directions, parking permit and address/building to go to.
  • portable charger
  • a bag for carrying any extra prospectuses, documents or items you pick up along the way
  • someone else! A second opinion can be helpful. See more on who to bring to an open day, below.

 

What to do on the day

 

Maximise your time by attending:

  • at least one or two subject talks, sample lectures, taster sessions or department visits
  • finance talks or workshop
  • tours of a couple accommodation options, ranging in price and standard
  • student union venues and other communal areas
  • tours of the town/city itself

 

 

 

What to do after an open day

 
  • Things don’t end when you leave the campus. Make sure those memories don’t fade and get caught together with other university open days.
  • Look through your photos and videos.
  • Consider booking another visit. If you’re on the fence, this could help you make a decision either way.
  • Follow up with anyone you met. Whether they were an admissions tutor or fellow student, it could help you maintain a connection with the uni.

Who to take to an open day

 

Parents

It's pretty standard for students to bring one or both parents, or guardians, to an open day. More than half of the of parents we spoke to in the Which? University Parents Survey 2019 said they had attended one or more open days with their child.

They know you best and it comes with their job description to have your best interests at heart.

And while you're busy asking how popular the union bar is, their practical questioning on things like security on campus or how far you'll need to travel to and from your accommodation will come in handy when you're weighing up your options later on.

If they're going to support you financially at uni, they're probably going to want to be involved in your research in some way (although ultimately you should have the final say on what and where you study).

And while several hours in the car with mum and dad might sound like a nightmare, consider it a free lift there and back.

Siblings

If you have an older sibling currently studying at university (or who has recently graduated), they'll have a strong grasp of what to look out for based on their experience; whether that's the number of contact hours through to the abundance, or lack, of union services.

They should strike a nice balance between asking about the serious and fun stuff.

Younger brothers and sisters are also welcome at open days. Just keep in mind that these are long days with lots of talks and walking around, which might not be ideal for very young children. 

Friends

You shouldn't consider a university just because your friend is going there too.

But if you're both genuinely interested in the same place, consider turning your open day into a road trip adventure. Their parents might be taking them, and could give you a lift.

It's the perfect opportunity to share some quality time together, especially if you end up in opposite ends of the country next year.

Make sure you take in everything on the day and that you're not distracted taking selfies or chatting among yourselves.

If you're applying to different courses or have different priorities, avoid compromising just to spare each other's feelings – you don't want to waste the trip. Split up if necessary so you both get what you want from the day.

Grandparents

Nans and grandads can be full of wisdom, too. That said, their way of thinking will probably be very different given the generational gap.

We found that many students receive regular financial help from grandparents.

If yours will be sending a little something to help you get by each month, it might not be the worst thing to make them feel involved in your university research. 

Again, open days can be quite taxing; so think carefully about going with grandparents who aren't so sprightly on their feet.

Going alone

If you're not intimidated by visiting a campus for the first time alone, go for it.

This might be simpler than trying to work around others' schedules.

If you feel like you've had your ear chewed off about what and where you should study, going alone can give you the space to really form your own opinion on a university.

Plus, initiative and independence are qualities well worth practicing now for once you move to uni.

And that's not to say you can't find a buddy when you get there - they might be your first university friend.

Without someone by your side, you do lose a valuable sounding board on the day though.

Open days: five things to do

Make the most of the trip and don't go home until you've done the following at your open day.

1. Take pictures (lots of them)

There's a lot more to see than the glossy shots in the official prospectus, as you'll discover at an open day.

As you walk around, don't be afraid to take pictures or videos (someone will say if you're not allowed at any point).

Free up space on your phone before you arrive to fit more pics.

Taking photos will help jog your memory when you're reflecting on what you saw (especially if you're attending several open days in a short space of time – things can blur together).

Beware, your phone battery might die quickly at an open day. As well as taking pictures, you may also use it to find where you're going, stream music on the long journey there, and look up things you’re told about. 

Take a portable power bank charger with you (or conserve your battery and put your phone away).

2. Go on your own private tour (if allowed)

While the university will have most of your day planned, sneak away and see some of the campus yourself.

This way, you're more likely to get a better all-round picture of the university, including those parts that the university may want to steer you away from which you should know about.

The official tour is likely to show you the very best facilities and accommodation on offer, which might not be representative of the actual student experience.

3. Ask yourself: ‘Would I be happy here?’

Take a moment during the day to stop, look around and ask yourself this question.

Try to picture yourself as a student there. We get that it's not easy to look so far into the future, but that gut feeling might tell you a lot.

If it helps, wander away from your mum or dad (or who you've gone with), to gather your own thoughts.

Remember, this is where you'll be living, studying and socialising for at least three years.

4. Talk to 'other' students

If you can, try to grab a word with students around campus who aren’t necessarily taking you on your tour or actively helping out that day.

While they probably won't reveal anything too shocking, they will provide a somewhat alternative take on the university compared to what the official helpers and guides will – the latter will have probably led the same tours several times and may be stuck in a pattern of reciting similar points.

All the students you encounter should recognise that you're a visitor and be open to answering any questions – don't worry, they'll remember being in your shoes at one time. 

5. Visit the local area

Depending on the day's schedule and where the campus is located, you may or may not get a chance to see the local area during the day itself. 

If you can, push back your journey home by a few hours so you can grab a bite to eat in the city or town centre and have a wander.

This way you can see what the area has to offer should you choose to study there – after all, you won't spend every minute in lectures, and you'll likely live off-campus after your first year.

Try and get a sense of how costly it might be to live there, what transport links are like and what there is to do for fun, from shopping and nightlife to the local culture and community.

Our student budget calculator shows you an average monthly breakdown of how much money you'll need per month, based on which university you're considering.

Open days: five mistakes to avoid

1. Don't wear something inappropriate

While there's no need to dress formally (though smart is advisable if you attend a university interview), we'd suggest going for something that gives off a good impression and feels appropriate to the type of event you're attending. 

Think about comfort. Open days usually involve lots of walking around, so wear appropriate footwear for those campus tours.

Check the weather forecast of your destination before you leave, especially if the university is further afield.

2. Don't be late

With hundreds of students and their families attending any given open day, universities put in a lot of work to organise a schedule so the day runs smoothly.

They'll let you know where you need to be and when, with some idea about the activities.

This way you can plan your journey properly, ideally with a little bit of spare time in case of delays.

Make sure you know which campus you're going to – many universities have more than one, some of which are in the same town (and others which aren't) which can confuse things.

3. Don't be shy

An open day isn’t just a lot of people talking at you.

It’s a chance to meet those within the university community face-to-face and ask any questions you have.

They won’t remember every name and face; but if you have a good question and establish a rapport, you might just stick out which will be helpful if you get in touch with them later on. 

Even if you’re shy or even a little intimidated by your surroundings, try your best to be outgoing and friendly, rather than stick exclusively to your family.

4. Don't arrive without a clue

Think beforehand about what you want to get out of the day: what are the things to find out that could help you decide if this is the right university, and course, for you? 

Look up the university and course to find out what other students have to say about everything from the facilities to the nightlife, as well as building up a picture of the content and modules offered on the course. 

5. Don't leave early

By the afternoon, it will have felt like a very long day: the early start to get there in time, all those talks, the walking tours of campus.

But resist the temptation to skip the last few activities of the day and stay until the very end.

This may be the only time you’ll get to see the university in person before you apply (or even move there).

The same goes for the local area; it might help you figure out what you want in a university city.

If you're going by public transport, try to book an open ticket so you don’t have to rush for a specific train or bus and miss something.

What do I ask at a university open day?

 

Your qualifications

 
  • What grades do you need – and can you still get a place if you don't quite get the grades?
  • Which qualifications and combinations of qualifications do they accept/prefer?
  • If they use the Ucas tariff, will they count all your qualifications?
  • Is it worth applying for more than one course?
  • How do they select which candidates to make offers to?

 

Your personal statement

 
  • What do they look for in your application and personal statement?
  • Can they recommend any reading or activities to inform your personal statement? 

 

Your Ucas application

 
  • Do they hold interviews or is selection based on your Ucas application?
  • How do they feel about gap years and deferred entry applications?
  • Is it an advantage to get your application in early?

 

What the course will be like

 
  • What the course will be like when you’re there – suggestions from a careers adviser
  • What does the course cover?
  • How many hours a week will I be in timetabled teaching?
  • How much flexibility is there?
  • What assessment methods are used?
  • What demands will it make on you?
  • How will you learn?
  • What’s the split between lectures, tutorials and self-directed study?
  • What size are tutorial groups?
  • What deadlines will you have to meet?
  • Does it have the facilities you expect?
  • What opportunities are there for you to broaden and deepen your understanding of the subject?
  • Are placements or study abroad on offer, where are they, how are they organised, are they paid, how do they affect tuition fees?
  • What are the pros and cons of taking a joint or combined course?

 

Your career prospects – what happens after

 
  • How will the course make you more employable? Do they offer or arrange placements?
  • What have previous students gone on to do after graduating?
  • What proportion go on to postgraduate study? Do you need to a postgraduate course to get a job?
  • Do they know what past students are doing two or three years later?
  • What careers guidance facilities are there?
  • Do they run job fairs?

 

Accommodation

 
  • Is a place in halls guaranteed? What accommodation is available off-campus?
  • Would a place still be guaranteed if you made the uni your insurance choice?
  • What does it cost – and what’s included in that cost?
  • Will you have to move in and out each term?
  • What are the pros and cons of catered versus self-catered?
  • How big are the rooms – are some bigger than others?
  • How quiet are they?
  • Can you put stuff on the walls?
  • How secure is it?
  • Do most students stay on campus at weekends?
  • What happens in years two and three?
  • How far will you have to travel to get into uni and around town? Can you bring a car?
  • What are the options if I don't get into halls?

Learn more about the different types of uni housing.

 

Campus activities

 
  • What's on offer here that will provide opportunities for you to develop your employability skills? Are there any connections with local employers?
  • Are there any jobs on campus available for students?
  • Are there any volunteering opportunities?
  • What academic support is available?
  • What sports and societies are available?
  • What are the transport links like? Are most things available on campus?

 

Everyday costs

 

This is another area that could be useful to discuss with current students who are already managing their finances.

  • How do the costs actually break down? How much money will you need to survive?
  • To what extent will you need/be able to find part-time work?
  • What bursaries, scholarships or fee waivers are there and how do you apply?
  • How do placements or a year abroad or a year in the industry affect your costs or tuition fees?
  • What's on offer in terms of cheap student deals/nights out /places to eat?

Check out our full advice area to budgeting at university, including the best student bank accounts and how to slash your living costs.

See living costs for your university and get a personalised breakdown, try our student budget calculator.

University open day calendar 2020

Find open day dates from the universities or colleges you want to study at in our full A-Z directory.

This list of universities and colleges is in alphabetical order. Use the search bar to find your university of choice and when its open days are happening. 

PLEASE NOTE:  This list was updated on the 18/11/2019. If there are no dates listed for a university this means that the open day information was unavailable at this time.  University open dates are subject to change, so please always check with the university's website.

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