You’ve probably heard from your college teachers, friends or parents about university open days. But what exactly are they and what you can get out of them?
As a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, you can expect most, if not all, of the open days you atttend to be conducted virtually. Despite not being able to initially see the campus in-person, you'll find that attending virtual open days will be one of the most useful ways to prepare for the journey ahead.
What Is A University Open Day?
This is when a university opens up its doors to prospective students, allowing them to take a good look around at the learning facilities, accommodation and social spaces. Typically, as a prospective student, this would involve looking through the campus in-person. However, you can rest assured that universities have been working hard to provide as much of a similar experience as possible virtually.
Lecturers, student union representatives and students should be be on-hand during the day through live chats, hosting virtual tours and answering any questions prospective students may have.
What Can You Expect On The Day?
Each university’s open day is different, but more often than not you can expect them to run during the day from approximately 10am to 3pm/4pm. However, some universities do hold open days that start in the afternoon and run until the early evening. Make sure you know the start/end times, especially if your open day is conducted virtually.
Most universities will host tours of the campus, specific subject talks and talks on things like student life and finance. They will usually publish a timetable in advance so make sure you check it out and plan which parts of the day you want to get involved in.
With the recent Coronavirus pandemic, open days are now being hosted as virtual tours. You can find
upcoming open day events on our website and sign up to them, where you will still be able to get a sense of what a prospective university is like.
There’s not usually a dress code at uni open days - especially for those that are being conducted virtually - but it pays to look at the very least presentable if you are on campus. It’s not an interview though, so you can leave the suit at home!
Real Student Open Day Experiences
To find out what you can expect from an open days, we spoke to some uni students to find out about their experience and why they found them useful. Even if you are attending an open day online, rather than in-person, this student insight will still be incredibly useful.
VIDEO: Staffordshire University Open Day
Should You Bother Going?
Definitely! Open days are a great opportunity to learn more about where you'll be spending the next three, or more, years of your life. Those years could end up being some of your most important - so you want to make sure you've made the best, most informed choice, possible.
Open days provide a chance to meet face-to-face with some of the lecturers and other people who will shape your experience, while exploring the campus facilities and surrounding area at your own leisure. In the case of your open day being online, you will still be afforded the chance to chat to lecturers, students & other staff - albeit through a screen.
But don't just take our word for it. As student Simon Thomson says:
“I definitely recommend people attend open days as it allows you to find out more about the course you've chosen, as well as everything beyond your course such as libraries, halls of residence and the student union. It’s your only chance to see the place up close, so make the most of it”.
If nothing else, a visit can at least help you cross a university off your ‘maybe’ list.
Not only that, many universities will make a record of who attends their open days – and who doesn’t – so if you really want to go to a particularly competitive uni, heading to an open day can give you that added edge.
For a lot of students that journey to a university has been replaced with virtual tours that you can attend from the comfort of your own home. Even more reason to attend!
How Many Should You Go To?
How many you go to really depends on you and how sure you are about what you want to do.
If you have your heart set on a particular uni, then it makes sense to attend their open day and perhaps one or two others who offer similar courses - that way you can get confirmation that your first choice was the right one.
On the other hand, if you have no real clue as to where you want to go, you may want to check out 4-5 universities – or even more – to make your choice.
How To Plan An Open Day
At the risk of sounding like your Mum, planning is vital to getting the best out of the day.
Picking the right universities to visit is the start of this process, so firstly, make sure each university offers a course that interests you.
Don’t base your decision on where your boyfriend, girlfriend or mates are going. Although it’s natural to worry about missing them, university is a very personal journey – a chance to experience new things, socially and academically, and put yourself in a good position to find a job after you graduate. Old school and college friends can’t help you with this,
a university can.
In making your choice, league tables are a useful resource, providing a good overall indicator. However, it is important to remember that university rankings differ from course rankings. For instance, the University of Strathclyde is listed as the UK’s 2nd best institution for Accounting and Finance, yet is 35
th= in the overall Complete University Guide rankings.
So, when researching, certainly read the relevant
for all the official, practical information but make sure you balance this with other opinions to gain a more neutral perspective. prospectuses
You can do so by reading the 150,000+
student reviews we have on our website, in order to get an honest, authentic insight into the student experience.
How To Book An Open Day Place
Once you’ve made your decision, you can check out all of the upcoming open days listed on the Whatuni website. You can then save open days to your calendar on your Whatuni account, which you can access when logged in.
Open days are free to attend, but places must be booked. Do this as soon as possible, even if you love procrastinating, because spaces fill up quickly. If you can’t make the specified dates, don’t panic and dismiss the university as a possibility - many offer private tours. In some ways, these can be more eye-opening, as the university isn’t on its best behaviour.
Are Virtual Open Days Worth Going To?
Virtual open days are still such a valuable way to get a good insight to what student life could be like for you.
With virtual tours of the campus and accommodation, online seminars as well as students and staff at your disposal so you can ask all of your burning questions, you can still make the most of an open day despite not being there in person. Being able to explore universities from the comfort of your own home means you can fit more open days in too if needed, or even go back and attend a second time if you just can't decide whether to add a university to your shortlist.
Choosing Who To Take With You
Everyone wants to give a good impression, and whilst a few manage to pull off the “too cool for school” facade, open days can be a daunting experience. There’s so much to take in: the new environments, the dawning panic that the next stage really is round the corner and the realisation that your Mum won’t be able to do the washing or post ready-cooked meals to you, despite the internet.
For company on the day, some people go along with friends, but for such a big decision, it’s best to have your parents or trusted family members there in some capacity. After all, they’ll be helping to pay the tuition fees or expenses in one form or another.
, the most important point is that Whoever you spend the day with you get to know the place and ask the questions. As put it to us: Oxford University “You will be able to visit parts of the University that are not usually open to the public such as subject departments, laboratories and libraries. There will also be lots of opportunities to talk to tutors and current students. Open days are without doubt your best chance to find out what studying at any university is really like”.
What To Ask On Open Days
There’s no doubt you’ll have lots of things you want to know about the university, but it can be difficult to bring all these thoughts together, remember them and ask them coherently.
The best way to solve this, rather boringly, is to write an old school list. It’s helpful to split questions into the academic and social topics - the latter including accommodation and location-based questions.
Most of all –
don’t be afraid to ask questions. To get you started, here are some of the areas you might want to ask about...
1. How much freedom will I have when it comes to picking modules?
Degrees commonly offer increasing levels of independence as they progress. Normally, students must take compulsory modules in their first year, but by the final year can pick many, if not all, of the modules.
2. How much contact time will I get?
Having independence in your degree can be good, but some argue that it can come at the expense of contact time with your lecturers and tutor. In Beth’s case:
“I had around 10 hours a week during my first year but by the time I was writing my dissertation it was reduced to six. I liked it because I had a lot of spare time but if you want a more hands-on approach, it's good to find out how many hours you'll actually spend with your tutors”.
3. How will my course be assessed?
Aside from focusing on the make-up of the course, it’s also important to ask how it will be assessed. Former Bath Accounting and Finance student, Neel Shah, remembers:
“Some people on my course didn’t realise how exam-led it was. Fortunately, I did. It’s important, because, if it’s assessed in a way you find more difficult, it can make a huge difference to how manageable you find the course.”
Thankfully, as with modules, students often gain more control over assessment methods as their degree progresses, so ask about this on the day.
4. Is there the option to do a sandwich year?
A third area to investigate is “sandwich” years. This is the term used to describe either a year abroad – usually organised through an international student scheme called
– or time away from university to enter extended work placements. Erasmus
Neel was lucky enough to enjoy both:
“I managed to get accepted onto a work placement at Goldman Sachs for my year, which provided me with great experience and definitely helped me secure employment after I graduated. In my final year I also got to spend six months in Canada – a fantastic time that opened my eyes to life living abroad and experiencing a new culture”.
1. What’s the best accommodation to be in?
Ah, the infamous fresher parties – renowned the world over, and drenched in
American Pie folk-lore. However, people often neglect to mention the role can play in the social life you experience. After all, university halls are where things kick off, so when looking for a good time, it’s worth considering the reputation each particular hall has (there’s always one party hall)! your accommodation
This means you really must quiz your accommodation tour guide if you feel there’s something they didn’t cover, and ask current students for the inside scoop.
2. How hard is it to get the accommodation you want?
Whichever order you place your hall preferences, it can end up a lottery. Mike Jones, who studied at
as an undergrad reveals that any accommodation ‘guarantees’ must be taken with a pinch of salt. Warwick
“Investigate how many people don't get the 'guaranteed' accommodation (or any other 'guarantee' on anything). Such promises are often broken. Warwick had many postgrads left in the lurch with accommodation they had been told would be provided. This isn't an intrinsically postgrad-only issue: every year they advertise that certain undergrad groups will be in university accommodation, and then cannot deliver”.
3. What’s the social/nightlife like?
Consider two things here – firstly, what the nearest city’s nightlife is like, and secondly how active the Students' Union is. Both points depend on whether the university is campus-based, city-based, or collegiate (split into mini-campuses like at Oxbridge, Durham and some London establishments).
If the university is city-based, you can get a general feel for what the city is like when you visit for the open day. Make sure you ask students to spill the beans on the hot places and what the transport links are like (there’s nothing worse than having to wait for the first train at 6am). If the transport links are bad, you may need to pool money for those 4am taxi rides, or find yourself spending a lot more time in the Student Union (SU).
You can r ead student city guides on Whatuni h ere (scroll down to the map to find your city)
Campus based universities, like
often invest more into their SU facilities, appreciating their lack of city buzz compared to places like Manchester or London. That’s not to say there aren’t some great local hotspots wherever you go – but good SUs really make the difference, especially early on when you’re finding your feet. Warwick,
Aside from the bars, SUs can offer brilliant ways to socialise through societies. Find out how active they are in sport, music and performing art opportunities through reading some
. student reviews
What Should You Do After Your Open Day Visit?
Getting the most out of an open day visit is as much about what you do after the day than before and during it.
Set up a list of the pros and cons – so that you can easily compare and contrast with other universities you visit; talk to the people you went with to get their opinions; and look over all the reading material you picked up during the day.
If you are still unsure about the uni, you can always arrange a second viewing during term-time or a direct call with one of your potential lecturers to help you make a final decision.
Remember: Open Days Are Not Real Life
This is probably the most important thing to know about university open days…
Universities need students in order to survive financially with open days being a prime way for universities to sell themselves to prospective students.
They will do everything they can to show themselves in the best light. Everything will have been cleaned and polished and everyone will be on their best behaviour.
While that’s all great, it’s not a real reflection of what everyday life will be like at university, which will ultimately never be all rosy. As long as you keep that in mind though and try to be realistic, you won’t be in for a nasty shock come enrolment time.
If you want to get a more realistic look at what a university is like, many universities will be happy to let you come and look around and speak to staff/students during term time (just make sure you book in advance).
Search for upcoming open days