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All universities hold open days to give students applying through UCAS the chance to see at first hand what they are like.

Naturally, universities will want to show you the best bits because they want you to study there. Accommodation will be clean and tidy, the Student’s Union will be calm and immaculate and there will be plenty of positive stories to hear about courses and uni life.

That’s not to say a university is trying to pull the wool over your eyes. They definitely aren’t, they just want to present themselves in the best possible light. But an open day is your best chance to find out what a university is really like so don’t waste it.

If you’re going to hike halfway across the country be prepared, open your eyes and take a good look around the facilities, meet lecturers and talk to students to find out what you can expect.

Consider following these five tips from students at Royal Holloway University to get the most out of the day:

Weigh up the atmosphere

It might seem like an obvious thing to say but the vibe you get from a place can really be the difference between being happy or sad there. If it makes you feel good and the staff and students are welcoming, there is a good chance it will be a great place for you to study.

Max, a politics and international relations student, says: “I thought at first I wanted to study at a big city university but when I came to visit Royal Holloway, I quickly realised that it was the place I wanted to be.

“There is a real warmth on campus – everyone knows each other, you get so much one-to-one time with your lecturers and the whole campus feels big enough to always be interesting but close enough to always feel welcoming.”

Check out the tutors before you go and quiz them about the course

Tutors and lecturers will be the best people to tell you about the nuts and bolts of the course you want to study. Ask them about what grades you need, how do they select the candidates and what they look for in a personal statement.

Go prepared and think of some questions that aren’t already in the prospectus. It’s your chance to grill lecturers about what exactly you will be doing for the next three/four years. Lecturers are interesting people and by asking a few inquisitive questions you may well find out stuff which fuels your own enthusiasm for the subject.

History student Joe says:

“The important thing for me was getting the course right, as this is what I would have to study for three years. I was always really interested in the First Crusade, and at the open day I learned that one of the books I was using for my A Level coursework was written by the lecturer. He also told me the modules were a perfect mix of ancient, medieval and modern history, which cemented my choice.”

Approach a random student on campus

There will be lots of student ambassadors offering helpful advice during an open day but don’t be afraid to approach other students on campus for a real-life student view. Chances are their answers will give you a different perspective and be less open day-oriented.

Ask them what they consider the good and bad bits are, which halls of residence have a good/bad reputation and what the city you are planning to study in is like.

If you can find someone studying the course you are looking at, then that’s even better. They will be able to tell which parts they have liked and which have been less favourable.

Try and get a look at several different halls of residence

Most universities will open up their halls of residence for you to look around on their open days. But of course, these will be the cleaned up, spruced up best version of the accommodation on offer. If you can sneak a peek at other halls of residence then great, if not then make sure you ask lots of questions.

Are uni halls open to all first years? What is the cost and what is included? Are they self-catered or catered? How big are the rooms? Is there any broadband? What is security like? These are all questions you should be asking the open day ambassadors.

Leave your parents at home (or at least wander around on your own during the open day)

University may well be the first time you have ever lived away from home and you might want to start by giving the open days a go on your own, travelling up and down the country and gathering the information you need for yourself.

That said, parents will probably want to take a look too and if they do come along, make sure you take a look around on your own. We all know what parents can be like and you might not get a chance to ask anything at all. Step out on your own and find out about the things that will matter to you.

Royal Holloway is holding open days on June 15 and 18, September 10 and October 15. Book your place here.