How much do you 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 online. That will give you a good idea of what a uni is like. But, until you actually go and visit your unis of choice, you're applying in the dark.
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.
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 accommodation, the library, sports facilities, students' union and generally gain a deeper understanding of life at the university.
It's a more 'real-life' insight into what the uni is like. Prospectuses will show the university in the best light - often literally when the photos are taken in the sunshine and feature the nicest places and happy, smiling students. Visiting a university on a cold drizzly day in November is something completely different.
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.
And 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).
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.
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.
Decide if you are going alone or with someone
You don't have to go to open days on your own - parents, friends, relatives, anyone can come with you. What's best for you depends on the type of person you are.
For instance, if you're the quiet type, you might find that going with friends makes it more difficult for you to speak up with your own questions. In that case, you'd probably be better off going it alone. Consider these pros and cons before deciding who to go with...
More likely to talk to current students
More independent, ready for uni
Have to go by train/drive
Can be scary
Have to go to talks by yourself
Easy to get there
Don't have to buy lunch
Can ask questions you didn't think of
Will go to unappealing talks
May be embarrassing
Could ask lots of questions
Not good preparation for going
Won't be lonely
Got company for journey
May think of questions you don't ask
Could end up going to their talks
May not ask questions because embarrassed
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 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.
It’s good to be organised for university open days, no matter whether you're going with parents, friends or by yourself. Try listing all the unis you're planning to visit, along with their dates. Check which you need to book and remember this can normally be done easily by email, online booking or phone.
Before you go, try to plan out your day. This could be only one of two days you get to see the uni (the other being if you get an offer, when there is normally a subject day). Want to be super, super organised? Follow this checklist...
- Print off/rip out the pages from the website/prospectus that have the information about the course you want to do.
- Staple a note to the front page
- On the note, write down the following key information: the uni and code, type of degree (course and number of years), whether accommodation is on- or off-campus, average offers, whether general studies is accepted, open day dates, website address.
These will help for at-a-glance comparison. Take a look at each note and work out what information you're still lacking. This can help you come up with the right questions to ask on your open day.
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!
- ALWAYS say YES to a plastic bag!
- 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.
- Talk to everyone else, too. Ask lots of questions. Not sure what to ask? Here are a few suggestions:
- What careers do graduates from this course go into?
- What do employers think about the course?
- How is the course taught?
- How is the course assessed?
- How many hours of teaching are involved each week?
- How satisfied are current students with the course?
- What other facilities does the Student Union provide?
- What activities does the Student Union provide?
- Is there a XXXX society and how can I find out more about it?
- Are current students happy with university accommodation?
- How easy is it to find somewhere to live in my second year?
- How good are the social facilities on campus?
- How good is the social life in town?
- How easy is it to get into town?
- What sort of sports facilities are available? How much do they cost?
- What else is on offer in the area?
- What help can I get with study skills?
- Is there any extra support available for mature/disabled/international students?
- What sort of childcare is available?
- What sort of financial help is available if I run out of money?
- What makes this university special?
Thanks to TSR members PQ, Historyhoney, Blissy, Stick Man, Roger Kirk, Noxid, Jjintheuk, Nefarious, Ishbel, Thecustardtart and DeadGirlsDance for their work on the original wiki version of this article.