Visit uni on an open day, or a normal day? 11 tips to make both work.

I love university open days.

There, I said it. I’d love to be a prospective student again just so I could check out the uni tours.

That might sound a bit weird, but:

  • Higher education is WHAT I DO!
  • I’m always banging on about how open days are massively important.

Anyway, I saw a chat over at The Student Room about open days. A user asked whether they should go to a normal uni day, instead of (or as well as) an official open day.

Good question. Now, you can’t beat a good open day, but there’s no harm in checking something out in a more natural atmosphere.

My advice would be: Do both if you can!

Not easy if you live hundreds of miles away, but worth keeping in mind.

And to help you out, here are 11 tips for you for deciding when to go, and how to approach the visit when you’re there.

photo by hownowdesign

photo by hownowdesign

  1. There is no normal day at university – An open day helps you get a feel of the place. A lot of the time you’ll just ‘know’. It either happens or it doesn’t. Nothing to do with what day it is and everything to do with what day it is.
  2. Open days are useful for other reasons – Staff are ready to speak with you, students and ambassadors are on hand to help you, and most areas are open and accessible for you. Also, you get to speak with other prospective students, which can help the atmosphere.
  3. You’ll get a real flavour the more you hang around and explore – If you can spend longer in the area, do it! Revisit the campus when tours aren’t in full swing and see how much is different. An overnight stay could also let you check out the town/city and the nightlife, for instance. Combined with an official open day, it’s like an unofficial extension. Bonus!
  4. Many questions need asking, but it doesn’t always matter where or when they are asked – The point is to ask the right person and show that you’re serious about asking. It’s often easier to ask at an open day, but you may fare better in a different setting. There’s no answer to that, but your genuine interest will usually get you a long way.
  5. Open days allow you to see how well organised things seem – Not all open days are equal! I’ve been to some where it ran wonderfully. I’ve been to others where it didn’t even feel like a real open day! The better organised, the better you feel about the place.
  6. Find the best of both worlds – Ask in advance if you can visit on a regular day. At some unis, they’ll still try to show you around with a senior student or a student ambassador at your side. You may get an official tour, yet on a very real day…
  7. Access won’t always be complete on normal days – Access isn’t guaranteed, especially in accommodation and places that aren’t regularly open for casual viewing. Be prepared to miss out on a tour of ‘the full works’.
  8. Open days are story days – You’ll get a better narrative on organised visits. Yes, it may be the narrative the university chooses to give you, but being there helps you see for yourself when it doesn’t feel right. Most of the time, you’ll be thankful that each part of an open day tour has its place. If you’re not given the story, you may find it hard to follow the plot!
  9. Don’t use either experience for information you can get elsewhere – No matter when you visit, use your time wisely. Basic questions that are answered on the uni’s website or covered in promotional literature are not worth asking when you’re scoping out the joint.
    There are no stupid questions, so don’t be scared to ask anything if you aren’t sure. I’m just talking about saving time. The best bet is to look up what you can in advance so you already have most of your questions answered.
  10. Be comprehensive – Open day tours aren’t going to show you every single type of student halls. The tour will concentrate on a lovely, shiny, new complex. Lucy Tobin suggests that you should go off trail and “see the ropey old [halls] that you’ve got a better chance of affording too”.
  11. Enjoy – You get more out of the experience when you treat the day out as a day out. Fine, you’re making a serious effort. Yes, you’re on a fact-finding mission. Okay, this visit is about deciding your future.
    But…that’s *why* you need to enjoy your time. Feeling tense and worried about forgetting something or missing out on something will stop you from seeing the place as you’d want to on a day-to-day basis. Your visit has a serious purpose, and that’s why you’ll get the best from it when you’re relaxed. It’s less to do with the type of day you’ve decided to visit on and more to do with what you notice on the day.

What open day experiences have you had so far? Have you ever checked out a uni on an unofficial visit?

photo by Mr Ush

photo by Mr Ush


  1. I’d add that it’s worth trying to find someone on an online forum who might show you around their department and even maybe take you to a lecture! This is how I met my current partner and I try to do the same for new students, I feel it’s worth seeing what the lecturers are like, how the students feel about them, what the coursework/exam weighting is like and if the tutors are supportive. 🙂

    PS I love this blog!

    1. Great advice, Jess. Thanks! Some may want to go the whole hog and even gatecrash a lecture. Then again, that could be enough to scare some students off, no matter how amazing the lecture is. First things first. 😉

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