Everything you need to know about university open days

students walking through a university campus together

How much do you know about the universities you're applying to?

Sure, you can read the prospectus from cover to cover and do online research to get a decent idea of what a uni is like. But until you actually go and visit your top universities, you won't know for sure which one is the right choice for you.

That's the whole point of uni open days. All universities will hold at least one open day, where they fling open their doors for 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.

To help make sure you're fully prepared for your visits, we’ve gathered some of the most frequently asked questions about open days and answered them for you, with advice from university experts and members of The Student Room. 

You can find out when university open days are happening by visiting our open day calendar.

More like this on our sister site The Uni Guide: where to start with applying to uni

Why should I go to a university open day?

To get a real feel for a university, you'll need to actually visit it – and an open day is the perfect opportunity to do so. It'll be your first taste of what uni life is really like and is a great chance to scope out what could be your new home for the next few years. 

You'll be able to attend talks on subjects such as accommodation, finance and student life, as well as going on a tour (especially if the university is a campus one).

And you'll also get the chance to uncover those little day-to-day nuggets of information, such as how far a big supermarket is or the walk from accommodation to your lectures.

Perhaps one of the most useful aspects of an open day is being able to speak to current students. Don't be afraid to ask questions and get their opinions; they are there to help and will give you the students' perspective.

“Open days can completely change your mind on things. I was 99% set on my firm choice before I had visited. My view on the uni was based on what I’d been told. After open days I ended up putting a completely different uni altogether,” comments The Student Room member Lucabrasi98.

“Remember, this is a place you will be spending at least three years of your life so it is crucial for you to be comfortable in your surroundings,” adds Jamie Bradford, outreach manager at De Montfort University.

More like this on The Uni Guide: five things you must do on an open day

What will happen on a university open day?

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 is a mixture of campus tours, subject talks, subject tours, financial talks, parent talks, accommodation tours and so on.

The amount of information on offer can be quite daunting, but remember you can go to as many or as few of the talks/tours as you like.

“Current students will be showing you around and will be studying different subjects, so this will give you a chance to find out more about your course,” says Tom Whittle, a graduate advocate at Liverpool Hope University who helps run the university’s open days.

More like this on The Uni Guide: five mistakes to avoid on an open day

How can I make the most of a university open day?

It’s good to be organised for university open days. Try listing all the unis you're going to visit, along with their dates. Remember to check if you need to book any of them ahead of time. 

Before you go, it's worth planning out your day by making a note of what time the taster lectures, campus tours and halls viewings that you want to attend take place. This could be only one of two days you get to see the uni, so you don't want to risk missing out on anything vital (the other day being if you get an offer, when there is normally an applicant's day).

It's also handy to write a list of questions on your phone and make sure you chat with both lecturers and current students to get an honest opinion of what the uni is like.

“The academics and staff at open days can give added insights on the right course for you – with a different perspective that you might not have considered and that might impact on your future career,” says Lynne Barrow, associate dean at University of Hull.

As well as considering the course, think about the things that are important to you: for example, what is the city like, how much does public transport cost and what student societies are on offer. If you can, try and stay overnight, go for dinner and spend some time enjoying your surroundings.  

“Make sure you speak to students’ union members of staff to find out what’s on offer. What societies and clubs could you join? Explore the town or city while you’re there too and ask current students what there is to do," advises Julie Pink, Head of Schools and Colleges Liaison Service at the University of Huddersfield.

Of course, you’ll also find loads of current students on TSR. Find the forums for the specific universities you're interested in to see what current students are saying about their experience. 

More like this on The Uni Guide: how to get the most from a university open day

When do university open days happen?

Most university open days are held in the spring and summer before you apply to university in the autumn, although many universities will hold another open day during the autumn.

Our interactive uni open day calendar lists those coming up soon – or you can search by location by using our uni open days map.

You'll also find the websites of individual universities useful for uni-specific information about their open days. Bear in mind that some universities require you to book for their open days. That is something generally done through their website.

If you are doing a lot of rail travel to open days, get a 16-25 Railcard to save a few quid.

What do I wear to an university open day?

It's up to you really. The best way to dress is to wear something you feel comfortable and confident in. You're unlikely to find a bunch of students roaming around campus in three piece suits, so dressing on the more casual side is always a good shout.

It’s also not a great idea to wear anything offensive (eg a shirt with profanity on it or inappropriate images). 

"There's no dress code for open days. Roll up in whatever you feel comfortable in," shares The Student Room member Admit-One.

It could also be beneficial to wear "shoes that you will be comfortable walking around in, as there is a hell of a lot of walking at open days," adds eilish1903.

Who should I take with me to a university open day?

It’s completely up to you. Most students bring a parent or a family member but you can go with a friend or even go on your own.  Make sure you bring someone who is going to be supportive and won’t distract you.

"At least one of my parents came with me to each open day I attended, nearly everyone had parents with them. Some of the more local people had just gone with their friends because they already knew the uni," says Charlotte's Web.

And claireestelle shares, "I went by myself to open days three hours away, and one I went with a friend." 

This article on The Uni Guide weighs up all the options of who you could take with you to an open day

Will the university penalise me if I don’t go to their open day?

No. Of course it’s great to get chatting to some lecturers and mingle with your potential classmates, but if you can’t attend an open day, it won’t affect your chances of being accepted.

I can only attend one university open day, which one should I choose?

Choose the university you feel you’re most likely to attend. It’s also good to note that a lot of unis have open day videos on their websites, so make sure you have a look at those. If you’re still not sure, do some more research and pick the one you want to find out more about.  

Are applicant days the same as open days?

You might also have heard people talking about applicant days – once you’ve submitted your Ucas application and universities have (hopefully!) started offering you a place, they will probably also invite you to an applicant day. These generally take place in the springtime after your application’s been made.

Applicant days are a bit different to open days as they’re specific to your course, rather than being a more general tour of the university. You’ll probably meet your future tutors as well as current students, giving you the chance to ask really in-depth questions about the course content.

What kind of questions should I ask on a university open day?

You'll get the most from an open day if you find out exactly what you need to know before studying at a uni. Here are some questions to get you started. 

More like this on The Uni Guide: top questions to ask at a university open day

1. How is the course taught?

How do you like to learn, and will the setup of this course get the best out of you?

Teaching methods vary across universities and courses, so it’s worth asking questions to find out how your potential course will be taught and assessed. 

Find out which modules are lecture-based and which are seminar-based. In a seminar you are usually taught in smaller groups than a lecture, and they can be more discussion based, with lectures being less interactive. The lecturer will usually talk more and ask fewer questions, but it really does depend on the lecturer’s style.

2. Is there opportunity for a placement year? 

It’s a good idea to find out what support is on offer to help you to find a suitable placement or whether you’ll need to do this yourself. Ask for some examples of companies the university has links with and where previous students have been placed.

3. How much contact time will there be?

Contact time is the number of hours of formal learning you’ll have at the university. Ask how much you'll get and how it changes during the course. Contact time varies depending on the type of subject you’ve chosen and some more practical and vocational courses like nursing and teaching will mean some of the time is spent on placement instead of in a lecture.

Also, bear in mind how much self-study will be required for your course. You’ll likely be expected to get through the advised course reading throughout the module, as well as tackling specific chapters or texts ahead of seminars and lectures.

4. What are the course facilities like?

Get a clear idea of what facilities and technology are available to you and which study/work areas you’ll have access to. Go on a tour of the library. Is it open all year round, round the clock? Essential if you’re a night owl.

If your course uses specialist equipment, find out whether it will be available when you’ll need it. Is it industry-standard? 

5. How likely am I to get a job?

Finding out about your employability prospects after uni is a must – and no doubt a question your parents will want you to ask!

Don’t just look at employment rates, ask about the types of jobs that graduates go into. This will help you to decide how likely the course is to help you achieve your career goals.

Ask what else the course offers – industry accreditations, guest lectures, live briefs, student competitions, field trips, professional qualifications… anything that could boost your CV and help wow future employers.

6. What’s the accommodation like? 

Top of the list for most visitors at an open day is to check out the accommodation options. After all, this could be your new home soon!

Be sure to find out whether there are accommodation options to suit your budget and to ask the relevant people the right questions.

7. Would current students recommend the course?

You can find stats about student satisfaction in the annual National Student Survey and on our sister site The Uni Guide, but also be sure to use the open day to chat to current students about the course. This is an invaluable opportunity to get an honest account on everything you need to know, from info about the course and lecturers to the facilities and accommodation.

Think about asking them what they like about the course and if they have any advice for anyone considering it.

If you'd like even more inspiration, visit The Uni Guide for question ideas broken down by subject

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, if you do there may be a chance to pick up pens, pencils, bags, wristbands, information packs, even Frisbees!
  • Try getting your lunch at unusual times – it gets very crowded.
  • Try to see some accommodation that isn’t on display – the places typically shown will be the top of the top range.
  • 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.
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