Making the most of university open day season

uni open days

By Jess Baker,

It might seem common sense to visit the universities you want to apply to before you send off your UCAS application, but every year students miss out on great opportunities to explore universities. If, like me, you want to visit upwards of  7 or 8 universities, then maybe you need to be a little more selective; keep in mind travel costs, journey time, and whether or not your parents will attend before you start booking university open days around the country.

Open Days are a great way to test drive multiple universities before committing yourself; that includes all aspects, such as travel, accommodation, courses, the students’ union, sports facilities, and the area around the university itself (especially important if you are looking at a non-campus option!)

These days are a valuable asset to any savvy applicant; never again will you see so many departmental staff on hand ready to answer your every question. To help you make the most of the opportunity, we've devised a quick, easy list of tips on how to ensure your open day season is fruitful and informative.

  1. Book your place early (if possible)
    Once you've registered to attend an open day, the university will send you all the information you need to have an effective and (hopefully) stress free day, so you need time to process that. Directions by car and train (or tram, depending on the city) will be circulated (tips about navigating troublesome one-way traffic systems are extremely useful.) Information about parking or bus and train travel will be made available so that you can apply for a parking permit and not panic about where to leave the car and have a family row before you even start the day. However, last minute places on turning up on the day is also often an option to make sure you don’t miss out. Check out upcoming uni open days here.
  2. Get organised
    If you manage to arrive and park smoothly, well done!.. but more planning is needed. It may be a boring task to regimentally plan your timings, especially if you're attending a lot of open days, but most universities will provide a timetable of the day well in advance of your arrival which you must utilise! These provide details of talks, tours and tea breaks which all need to be balanced in order to find all the information you need before applying.
  3. Attend the talks
    This might seem obvious, but so many people waste the day by just walking around aimlessly. The university will provide talks on accommodation, student finance, university life, and most importantly, your department will hold a talk on the nature of the course for which you're applying. This information is invaluable both to students and to parents, so it's essential that you plan your day to include as many of these talks as possible…with breaks for snacks around the various university eateries of course.
  4. Suss out your potential department
    In addition to the talk your department will give, you will most likely be invited to hang out in a more informal manner afterwards, to talk privately with staff, drink the complimentary tea, look at samples of work, eat the complimentary biscuits, and figure out more in general about the department. As mentioned, it's rare to find so many members of the academic staff in one space together, so make the most of that. Ask different questions of different people and get a feel for the sorts of lecturers you'll meet. I have vivid memories of several of my current lecturers wandering around hoping that somebody would grab them - they want to be used, so use them.
  5. Visit the student accommodation
    Remember that unless you are going to be living at home and commuting, you will have to live at your university of choice for several months at a time, so it's absolutely essential that you take a tour of as many of the halls as you can. Accommodation can be a real make or break thing at university; you might absolutely adore the course, but if you dread going home to a room you hate every day then you won't have the optimum experience. Depending on your budget, there will be various options available, ranging from rooms with single beds and shared kitchens and communal toilets and showers, to premium rooms with en-suite bathrooms and swanky kitchens shared by far fewer students. Have a look around, and crucially, make sure you know the names of the halls you visit so that you're ready when it comes to applying for accommodation.
  6. Explore the surrounding area
    This is sometimes easier said than done if you've had a day crammed with every available talk and tour, but it's a great idea to have a mooch around outside the university perimeter. Obviously if you're visiting a university which has buildings spread around a city then it's much easier to grasp what the area is like. If, however, you're visiting a campus the temptation is to only look at the university grounds and no further. If you don't have time to walk around on foot, then try to drive around the area a little before you go home - scout out local supermarkets, spot where the train station is, have a look at the shopping precinct; these will all be essential when you come to move in.

If, like me, you visit lots of universities, then be prepared for a series of very busy weekends; don't let your school work slip as a result. Try to keep on top of everything; visiting universities requires a good level of organisation but the benefits you will reap are invaluable when it comes to selecting your five choices, and even more important when you have to whittle your choices down even further.

Most importantly, enjoy the day! It's a chance to have the briefest taste of university life in multiple locations, which is incredibly useful. One final point: don't pay any attention to the weather on the day of your visit. Rain can make you miserable but don't let it stain your impression of the university. In the (heavily repeated) words of my Mum; if you like a university in the rain, you will love it in the sunshine.