open day

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

Deal with the best and worst of university open days

Open days provide a fantastic way to find out about each university.  You get a direct feel for the place, to see how it suits you as an individual.

photo by Toni Blay

photo by Toni Blay

In 2009, The Student Room asked over a thousand students about the best and worst things about open days.  Using the top answers given, let’s explore how to make the best use of what you’re likely to encounter:

Best things

  • The friendly atmosphere. The universities obviously want to make the visit as beneficial as possible.

So…Don’t hold back.

Find out as much as you can. Ask questions, speak to as many people as possible, explore as much of the place as you can.  Don’t worry about relaxing; you can chill out later.

Each presentation and tour is designed to look as good as possible.  You needn’t be overly sceptical, but do expect an over-emphasis on what they want you to see.  Nobody is going to highlight how awful a particular aspect of the uni is.  Just remember that nowhere is perfect.

The Student Room is a useful forum for speaking to current students about what you’re most interested in.  If it still gets the thumbs up, that’s a good thing.

  • Freebies!

So…Take what you can, but don’t let it influence your choice.

Free stuff will make you feel good, but it’s not a sign of a good establishment.  The goodies are great, but unrelated to how the university will actually be.

  • Being able to get a feel for the place.

So…Explore as much as you can.

Go beyond the official tour route if you can.  And visit the surrounding area too.  Because you won’t spend all your life on campus!

  • Meeting new people and feeling more independent.

So…Don’t hold back.

It’s great to experience this type of thing on your own, because you’re not being drawn into other people’s opinions.  While it’s great to hear what parents think about the place, the only person needing a solid opinion is YOU.

  • Getting to talk to students and lecturers there.

So…Ask important and relevant questions to you.

Leave basic points and anything you can check in information packs later.  You can always email or call up if you still need a specific answer to something.

If possible, be armed with one or two big questions you want answered over everything else.  That way, you have your priorities clear.


photo by Goodimages

photo by Goodimages

Worst things

  • Being alone and with people you don’t know!

Solution…Treat the day like a fact-finding mission, not a social experience.

You’re going there to make notes, not friends.

That said, if you do get chatting with other potential students, it’s all good!  Getting to know new people is something all new students have to become accustomed to once they hit campus for the first time.  Unless you end up attending uni in your home town, a move away forces you to make new friends.  And that’s a good thing.

  • Events do not give you much time to explore the university yourself.

Solution…Get there early or stay a bit late.

Consider staying nearby overnight if you can stretch that far.  If you’re serious about the place you’re visiting, spend enough time to cover all you want to know, including about the surrounding area. Nothing beats first hand experience of a place.

  • Limited access to the full range of accommodation.

Solution…Check brochures, the prospectus, the university website, and so on.

Email the uni to ask for more information.  Ask current students (via The Student Room again…hurrah!) what the accommodation is like.

  • Being nervous, not having enough time to find out everything you want to know, forgetting questions you want to ask.

Solution…Prepare questions in advance.

And if you’re too worried to speak up, note the names of people you want to speak to and try getting in touch with them after the open day itself.  Email addresses, Twitter accounts, and so on, for staff and student reps aren’t difficult to find or ask for.

  • Travelling – “Driving with the parents”.

Solution…Discuss with parents what you want out of the day beforehand.

If you want to prepare in silence or with headphones on, tell them in advance and explain why that way of preparing is important for you. But remember it’s natural for parents to get excited about your future, nervous about your future, pushy about your future, etc.

Alternatively, you could go alone.  I know that’s not always possible.  Your parents may not even allow you to go alone…

But it’s no big deal.  There will be more than enough independent time once you *are* at uni. You can look forward to that. And then you may just start to miss your parents a bit. 🙂

  • It gets crowded and there are long queues.

Soultion… Look for a less crowded route.

People tend to follow each other in a set route, even when a route hasn’t been set out.  If there’s no route, don’t act like you’re in a crowd.  Move out somewhere else and check out the crowded bit once it has died down.

Failing that, you may be able to hang back until people move on.  It doesn’t matter if you’re the first or last person to see the information.