How to make the most of a uni open day!

Students don’t go to enough open days, say school careers advisers. But with the overall debt estimated at £50,000 or more, it’s worth the travel fare to find out in person what a university is really like. A study published by The Independent found an alarming one in three university students think they may have chosen the wrong course, with many of those saying they weren’t given enough information before signing up. Want to know what the next three for four years of your life will be like? An open day can help.

Plan ahead

You’re not alone. Thousands of prospective students and parents will be milling around. All universities will beg you to register and plan in advance rather than just pitch up on the day – though you can do this. Many subject talks will book out so sign up to these well ahead of the day itself. Try and look at campus and city maps you’ll be sent in your welcome pack and make a provisional plan of talks you’ll attend.

Get there early

Why? To get a parking space, to get your bearings, and grab the freebies. Some students arrive in the afternoon “but by then the day seems almost over – you’ll have missed a lot,” says Dr Chris Shepherd, senior lecturer and director for admissions for physical sciences at the University of Kent. If you arrive the evening before, say universities, you might book a student room and make a night of it, to see what the town or city is like – these are the kind of details you won’t have a chance to find out on the day itself. “Many families like to do this. Big campuses can be overwhelming,” says Dr Shepherd. “You can feel more familiar if you give yourself time to find your way around.” Put your comfy shoes on, you’ll be walking all day.

It’s all about the course

As courses with the same title can differ amongst universities, finding the right degree is the most important thing, says Rebecca Moran, student recruitment officer at the University of Manchester and it should be the main focus of the day. You can already find out the basics – content, assessment and teaching – from a website. “Don’t waste the day by not doing the groundwork,” she says. A talk on an academic subject will give you more of an overview – and a chance to speak to academics in person. “Often it’s the parents asking most questions,” says Dr Shepherd. “Which we understand. But sometimes we do see students pushed towards something they might not really want to study.”

Questions questions…

“We don’t want anyone to leave thinking ‘oh I wish I’d asked that’,” says Dr Shepherd. From academic staff you can find out if there’s any flexibility in grade requirements – don’t expect a definite answer as it depends on the year. What do they want to see on a personal statement? Is the course changing at all, are all modules still running? Ensure you understand how it’s taught and assessed, and how many teaching hours there are, and how big the classes. Where do graduates go on and work? Is there a possibility to study abroad, and can this count towards your degree? Does the university have good links with employers? Do students do part time work? Does the university offer any jobs?

Student ambassadors are a mine of information though nearly always relentlessly positive. Try and get a feel of different accommodation blocks (you probably can’t visit them all). Which are the “party” halls? How often do they leave campus? Where are the nearest supermarkets? Is the canteen affordable? Where do they go out and how often? Can you swap if you don’t like your flatmates? Ask too about the course, their favourite parts, what not to choose. What did they put on their personal statement, and what were they asked at interview?

Who can I talk to?

As well as the academics giving subject talks, usually each subject or academic school has a stand in a central hall, so there’s another chance to ask about courses.

Accommodation officers will be on hand, and you’ll have a chance to see at least some of the university housing on offer.

Student union reps can talk about the social side of university – the bar, the clubs and societies. This is the fun side of uni that it’s easy to lose sight of amid the flurry of activity.

Student ambassadors – though chosen by the university – are a friendly source of wisdom about courses, social life, finance of student life.

Student support services are usually on hand – find out from them about help with study skills and pastoral care if you’re homesick.

Study needs and special needs – find out what services are provided by the university.

Careers officers – they won’t be top of your list at his stage but are worth speaking to for information about links with local employers, internships and summer jobs.

Parents can usually attend talks aimed at them by other parents of recent students. You’ll probably hear how student finance works too.

Do I need to dress to impress?

No. Thousands of students visit every year, and academics won’t remember everyone. “This day is an opportunity for you to find the right course, rather than trying to impress somebody who makes admissions decisions,” says Ms Moran. But will academic staff be sizing up potential applicants? Yes and no says universities. “It’s great to hear bright potential students asking the right questions,” says Dr Shepherd. “And then fantastic to see them at the start of term. But we follow objective and strict admissions procedures so everything is fair. It won’t jeopardise your application if you haven’t managed to visit.”

Anything else?

“We left sometime just to sit and watch the world go by,” said one mum. “That’s one of the best ways to get a feel of a place.” When selecting universities, try for a mix – campus based, rural, urban, spread across a large city and so on. Finally ask yourself, could a place feel like home, says Dr Shepherd. “It may or may not be the best course in the country, but it’s got to feel right.”


UniversityWeb editor