Top tips for applicant and open days

When exploring higher education, visiting a university or college can make or break your decision, so it’s best to attend with a clear action plan.

Before visiting it’s best to write a list of questions and do some research in advance. From study options to student unions, consider your deciding factors and ask yourself, “What is important to me?”

The next step in your personal journey through education needn’t be stressful; it’s all about what’s right for you.

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If you’re unsure where to start, Next Steps South West have created this handy cheatsheet to print out and take along to your next Open or Applicant Day.

Remember to speak to both staff and students, take notes and above all enjoy yourself!

Before you visit

• Do your research online and use prospectuses for studies that interest you. Some institutions may offer

courses with the same title or similar, but the modules they’re made up of and how they’re taught can vary widely. To help you narrow your focus check out online comparison tools such as

• Read entry requirements as they may differ from one institution to another.

• Look at assessment criteria. While some courses may put more emphasis on exams, others do so on coursework or practical assessments.

• Check contact hours and be honest with yourself. Are you naturally self-motivated and an independent worker, or would you benefit from more structured timetabling?

• Explore your horizons beyond the institution. Are there opportunities to study abroad on an exchange programme, or would you like to gain real-world industry experience on a sandwich year placement? 

Finding your way

• Check nearby car parks in advance if you’re driving, as many campuses operate a green travel policy with limited on-site parking.

• Train or bus travellers should check distance from the station to the campus. Also see if the institution is running a discount fare for Open Day attendees.

• Note the cost of a ticket back and forth from your hometown to the university. How much would it cost you to visit home and other parts of the UK from this location?

• Is there a campus map? Most events will share a map with you in advance or have a printed guide ready for you upon arrival. You may even be shown an event app to download, full of easy-to-access info.

• Tours & talks may be bookable in advance, whilst some activities repeat throughout the day. If you’re unsure of the time and location, or need help planning your day, simply ask a student ambassador or staff member to talk you through the event schedule.

Questions to ask

• If you have questions about a course, who can you ask and where would you find them?

• Is the campus all in one place or spread across multiple sites?

• Is it close to local amenities such as supermarkets and shopping centres?

• What facilities do they offer students? On-site GPs? Bars and cafes? Recreational sports and gyms? Libraries?

• Where is the Student Union and what clubs and societies do they run?

• What kind of accommodation is available? On or off campus? Shared house or halls? Often official accommodation providers will have stalls at Open or Applicant Days.

• What internal support do students have access to? You never know what you might want to access in the future, so knowing what’s available can put your mind at ease. Find out if there are dedicated teams to advise you on fees & funding, exam support, student welfare, study skills, careers, and more.

• Where can you get IT support and is there a place to loan more equipment?

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Next Steps South West offer unbiased information and signposting to help you make fully informed decisions about your next steps towards higher education.

We work with thirteen universities and colleges across the South West to offer unique opportunities and support to help you get where you want to go.

UniversityWeb editor