University open days are an essential part of the process of shortlisting universities for your UCAS application. They’re also exciting, fun, and a great way to acquire free stationery.
Chances are, you’ll be visiting lots of unis in your quest to narrow down your final five. With so much to see and think about, it’s crucial you prepare for your visits and use your time wisely.
'Make the most of your university open days by being prepared. Check out our top tips'
What are university open days for?
It’s pretty important you answer this question before you visit your first university!
Open days are your chance to compare the universities you’re thinking about applying to and get a sense of whether you want to go there.
Here are the key features you’re assessing:
What kind of layout suits you best? Pick a few locations within the university that you’re likely to use as a student - the department you’re applying to and a likely accommodation block, for example. How long does it take you to get from A to B?
What are you looking for in a university, and does the uni you're visiting fit the bill? Do you find it exciting, relaxing, studious? Can you imagine yourself spending three or more years there?
Check out the library, the cafes, the canteens, classrooms, and any labs or other facilities you might expect to use as part of your course.
Are they well-equipped with all the resources and equipment you think you’re likely to need? If you’re planning on studying history, for example, and have an interest in a particular historical period, find out whether they have the books you’d expect them to hold on that topic.
You could be living in uni digs for three years, although many universities expect students to move into private accommodation in their second year. This means you need to be comfortable with your room and any shared facilities you’ll need to use, such as the kitchen and bathroom. If you’re not willing to share a loo, you need to find out whether it’s actually possible to have a private bathroom.
You should also make sure heating and insulation is adequate to keep you warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Nothing is less conducive to study that being too cold or too hot!
It’s likely there will be teaching staff you’ll work with regularly, such as a director of studies or supervisor. What are they like? Are they approachable and friendly? Would you feel comfortable chatting to them about your subject and other aspects of university life?
Open days are a chance to meet the people who are going to be responsible for your learning over the next three years of your education.
Open days also provide the chance to meet current students and hear their thoughts - good and bad - about the uni. If you’re going to be working with older/more advanced students studying your subject, take the opportunity to find out what they’re like and whether you think you’ll get along with them.
What’s the general student ethos like, and does it match what you’re looking for in your university experience? For example, is it studious and work-orientated, or are students a bit more relaxed and happy to let their hair down as well as work hard?
Tips for the day itself
1. Take someone with you
A second opinion is always valuable. Take a parent or sibling (preferably one who’s already been through the university experience) to give you their own thoughts on the universities you visited - and also how you seemed to take to them on your visit.
2. Take notes
You’ll probably be visiting many universities, which means good notes will be invaluable in coming to your final decision. Note down details about the points we mentioned above, and do so as soon as you can after your visit - preferably while you’re there.
If you’re feeling really proactive, you could even include a rating system so you can compare your thoughts from the day more "scientifically" afterwards. Using this system, you would rate each feature out of (say) 10.
Take plenty of photos as well!
3. Get the unofficial view
Many open days include student-led tours of the campus. Be sure to take a few minutes along the way, or at the end, to ask your guide some penetrating questions about what it’s really like! Ask them about things that are particularly important to you, or about things they think could be better or which they’d improve.
Bear in mind that tour guides have probably volunteered for the role because they’re particularly proud of their uni or involved in university life. If you’re feeling super-brave, talk to other students who aren’t part of the official programme. You’ll probably get the chance when you have lunch in the canteen or while you're exploring the campus on your own.
4. See everything
If there’s anything that doesn’t find its way onto the official tour - particularly if it’s important to you - go and seek it out! This could include lab facilities or libraries - you don’t want to receive a nasty shock when you roll up next September and find that half the resources you need are missing, or that all the lab equipment you need is out of date.
5. Think about practicalities
Practicalities include things like:
- How long it takes you to get home.
- How close the train or bus station is to the campus.
- The distance from typical first-year accommodation to the department, facilities or lecture theatres you’ll be using frequently.
- The cost of living in your area. You probably won’t find much variance in the price of milk, but some costs can vary surprisingly from one area of the country to another.
- Local amenities like supermarkets, stationers and cafes.
In this video from the University of Hull, students sum up their top tips for university open days:
Planning your open days
If you can, start planning university open days at the beginning of the academic year, since there tend to be lots of events during the autumn, especially in September, October and November.
- Check university websites to find out when open days are being held - there will often be a choice.
- You may be able to attend departmental open days for your subject. Check out the department’s website for details on this.
- Some universities, like Oxford, Cambridge and Durham, have different colleges, which hold their own open days, advertised on their own websites. Bear in mind that these universities, as well as music conservatories and medical subject applications, have earlier deadlines than most unis.
- You will often need to book a place on university open days. Make sure you’ve done this before you set out.
- If you’ve missed all the open days for a particular university, don’t worry, they will usually try to accommodate you. Just ring or email the admissions department and let them know what’s happened.
Now you’re ready for all those university open days, make sure you check out our guide to choosing a university to help you narrow down your choices.