How to get the most out of a university open day

31 May 2019
By Unite Students, Staff writer at The Common Room

Starting uni soon? If you haven’t committed to a university yet, you’ll probably be visiting a few over the coming months.

An open day is your chance to figure out which place is right for you - academically, socially, culturally.

Here’s what to expect and how to get what you need from an open day.

What happens at a university open day?

Course introductions, firstly. Academic staff will give talks and sample lectures on the subjects you’re interested in. You’ll be introduced to the wider department and facilities too.

Student services teams will tell you about the work they do. You’ll find out about the support available to you for things like housing, finance, career planning, placements, and wellbeing.

Guided tours will show you where and how close together the important places are: department buildings, cafes, libraries, students’ union, accommodation.

It’s also a good idea to break away from the official stuff for a while. Make some time to explore the local area and ask yourself: Could I be happy living here?

So that’s what happens. But who’s running the show?

Who should I speak to at an open day?

Lecturers are a must. There’s so much more to the uni experience than your course. But you are there to study. Ask how the course is run so you know what to expect. Do the lecturers seem approachable? Supportive? Passionate about what they do?

There will also be lots of current students around helping to run the day. Speak to them too. Ask them what it’s like to live and study there. How are they finding the workload? What’s their accommodation like? How do they spend their free time? Do they have jobs?

Speak to the people who do all the non-academic stuff too. Staff who run accommodation buildings, the student union, and support staff in departments like finance and wellbeing. Ask about the things first-years usually find difficult, so you can feel confident about settling-in.

Feel nervous about asking questions? Let’s prepare some in advance.

What questions should I ask at an open day?

There are two important things to remember about an open day. One, the uni really wants you to choose them over your other options. So everybody should be nice and friendly.

Two, an open day isn’t an interview. It’s just an opportunity to gather information so you can make an important decision. Just be your usual, relaxed, curious self.

Some questions you might want to ask lecturers:

  • Do you have a copy of the syllabus I can take away?
  • How many hours a week will I be in lectures?
  • How many students are there in a typical lecture or seminar?
  • Are the modules mostly assessed by assignments or exams?
  • How many hours a week should I be self-studying?

Support staff can answer a lot of the practical questions about uni life, such as:

  • What sort of jobs do the department’s graduates go on to do?
  • What are the accommodation options and how much do they cost?
  • Do many students have part-time jobs? If yes, what do they do?
  • Could the university help me find a volunteering job or internship?
  • What financial support does the university offer, and how would I apply?

Here are some questions you could ask the student ambassadors:

  • What part of student life surprised you the most?
  • Have you found it easy to make friends? Where have you made them?
  • How are you finding the workload and the support from your lecturers?
  • Where do students go out or spend their time in the local area?
  • What’s it like living in student halls?

Spend some time before your open day thinking about what your ideal university would be like. Write down some questions that will help you find out if this place is the place.

Aside from questions that will help you choose a uni, what else should you take?

Do I need to take anything to the open day?

Definitely parents, if that’s an option. Ultimately, the decision will be yours. And you should ask all the questions. But if you can lean on some parental support, do it.

Got a supportive friend? Take them along. Somebody who’ll give you an honest opinion, make you feel brave, and explore the local student scene with you.

A pen and notepad. It’s a learning exercise at the end of the day, so you’ll want to take notes and compare against other unis you’re seeing.

A bottle of water will come in handy. It’s a full day and there’s a lot of ground to cover, so make sure you’ve got water on you and stop for a good lunch.

Finally, take an open mind and a critical eye. An open day is a bit like a pitch - the uni and the city want your business. Considering all your options, which one do you want to buy?

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Staff writer at The Common Room