How much do you really know about the Universities you're applying to?
Sure, you can read the prospectus from cover to cover and do all the research you like on their website. That will give you some idea of what a Uni is like, but remember this is 'marketing' - it will always preent the Uni in the best possible light and the reality may be quite different. You don't what to discover this on the first day of term in October
That's the whole point of University Days. All Universities will hold at least one Open Day a year, where they open their doors to prospective students. It is the University's opportunity to woo you and your chance to decide whether it is a place you wish to spend the next few years of your life.
You can find out what University Open Days are happening when by visiting our open day calendar.
A quick guide to University Open Days
On a University Open Day, you'll get the chance to
- look at the relevant academic Department
- look at other facilities like the library, sports facilities, students' union
- usually see some University housing
- generally gain a deeper insight into 'the flavour' of that university.
Prospectuses will always show a University in the best light - often literally when the photos are taken in the sunshine and feature the nicest places and prettiest smiling students. Visiting a University on an ordinary day in November is completely different.
You'll also get the chance to uncover those little day-to-day nuggets of information, such as how big the department's common room actually is, and how far your potential accommodation is from Sainsburys.
And you'll be able to attend important face-to-face stuff like talks on your chosen subject plus things like accommodation, finance and student life, as well as going on a walking tour of relevant areas. Tours are usually led by a current student and this gives you a good opportunity to hear what life at that Uni really is like.
When do University Open Days happen?
- There will be Open Days spaced throughout the academic year at a variety of different Universities. Its a good idea to go to a least one in your AS year to get a general idea of what 'being at Uni' might be like. Some schools organise a group visit to a local Uni for exactly this purpose.
- After this you can target your visits to Unis you either intend to apply to - or you can wait until later in the year and just visit potential Firm/Insurance choices. Remember most Unis have multiple Open Days throughout the year in June/July, March and September/October.
- For all Open Days you need to book a place in advance. They fill up quickly so plan ahead and don't leave this bit to the last minute.
Our interactive uni open day calendar lists those coming up soon - or you can search by location by using our uni open days map. To find out about each individual university's open days, you can either check their website or go to opendays.com. Some universities will also require booking for an open day, which is generally done through their website.
If you are doing a lot of rail travel to open days, get a 16-25 Railcard.
This video from the University of Exeter gives an idea of what a uni open day is like.
Decide if you are going alone or with someone
You don't have to go to Open Days on your own - you can go with a friend or a parent. What's best for you depends on the type of person you are.
- Having someone with you - parent or a friend - can be reassuring if you are a bit shy, makes travel easier (mum's car?), means you have someone to prompt questions and remember some of the details you might forget etc.
- On the other hand, a parent can be embarrassing, ask the 'wrong' questions, or just get in the way.
- Its also worth thinking about what 'independence' means. If you really are too scared to go to Open Days on your own, it might indicate you aren't really ready to leave home and go to Uni on your own.
- A good compromise can be that a parent drives you there but doesn't trail round after you all day, just coming back to pick you up at the end of the day.
Remember, the whole day will be designed for people just like you. There will be lots of helpful staff, and student volunteers, to give directions, show you how to sign up for 'talks', answer questions and just chat to you. You aren't expected to know how a University works and the atmosphere is always very relaxed and informal.
Know what the day will consist of
Most Uni Open Days will follow the same kind of format.
- Things kick off around 10am and will wrap up around 3pm.
- During the day there are a mixture of campus tours, subject talks, subject tours, financial talks, parent talks, accommodation tours and so on.
- Usually each is offered a couple of times so you can go to different sessions.
- The range of things on offer can be quite daunting, but remember you can go to as many or as few of the talks/tours as you like.
Organisation is key for getting the most out of an Open Day
- You need to plan a timetable for visiting different Unis - often they are all on the same few weekends and you may need to prioritise which ones you visit if the dates clash.
- If the Universities are close together, you might even be able to visit two in one day.
- Once you've made decisions, book yourself a place. These events fill up quickly.
- Some specialist Depts or campuses might have a separate Open Day to the rest of that Uni - make sure you signed up for the right day and the right place!!
- Clothes - you don't need to dress formally - unless you know will also be having an interview. No-one will taking notes on your appearance. Wear something comfortable with layers you can peel off easily in warm buildings.
Remember, if you can't get to any Open Days at a specific Uni, you can always just go and walk around the campus on any other day to get a feel of the Uni. Some Unis also offer simple guided tours on other days. You may be restricted about what buildings you can go into and of course there wont be any 'talks' etc, but such a visit is still very useful.
Footnote: Be sure to check out TSR Wiki Travel if using public transport.
Another example of a uni open day - this time from the University of Bath.
And finally... Some tips for when you get there
Take some advice from those who have been there before - here are some tips you might find useful...
- See if you need to register when you arrive, if you do there may be a chance to pick up pens, pencils, bags, wristbands, information packs, even Frisbees!
- ALWAYS say YES to a plastic bag - you need something to carry everything in!
- Try getting your lunch at unusual times – it gets very crowded
- Accommodation - be aware that Unis usually show off the top of the top range places. Don't assume every Halls of Residence is ensuite, has a gym or has views over the river.
- Talk to the student guides. They will be friendly and give you a proper insight into the Uni. If you're with your parents, get away from them to do this.
- Talk to everyone else, too. Ask lots of questions. Not sure what to ask? Here are a few suggestions:
- How is the course taught? Lectures? Classes? Lab sessions?
- How is the course assessed? Exams? Course work?
- How many hours of teaching are involved each week?
- How much self-study are you expected to do?
- How satisfied are current students with the course?
- What other facilities does the Student Union provide?
- What activities does the Student Union provide?
- Are current students happy with university accommodation?
- How good are the social facilities on campus?
- How good is the social life in town?
- What sort of sports facilities are available? How much do they cost?
- What is good about living in this area of the country or this city/town?
- Is there any extra support available for mature/disabled/international students?
- What sort of childcare is available?
Take a notebook and write yourself some notes while you are there. Its easy to forget details and then not be able to remember what was said or what facilities were actually like. What did you like about this Uni? What didn't you like? Quick snaps on your mobile phone can also act as a good memory aid.
Wear comfortable shoes as there'll be a lot of walking about. Take a rain coat or umbrella.