Choosing a university is like choosing the perfect pizza toppings. It requires a combination of things that all work well together and all suit your personal taste. If just one of the toppings chosen doesn't complement the others (looking at you, pineapple), then it can ruin the entire pizza.
Luckily for you, when it comes to choosing a college, open days are the perfect opportunity to test out an institution and to work out whether it is compatible for you (a bit like a free taster of pizza). They provide you with an insight into what each university offers, and an opportunity to speak to those who are already there and to ask the questions that will help you narrow down your choices.
Most universities will be holding open days over the academic year, so check out the dates on an individual university's website and start scheduling them into your calendar.
Here are some helpful tips to help you navigate university open days to make sure that you get the most out of them.
Before the open day
Do your research
First you need to choose a selection of universities to visit. Many people that attending around four or five open days in the pre-application stage is a good number. Figure out how far away you want to travel from home, whether you want a campus or a city university and whether you want to go to university in a big city or a small town.
Pinning down these factors will help you decide which universities will be the most worthwhile to sign up for during open day season. If you're really stuck on making this decision then speak to your teachers, parents, siblings, and other people around you who have already been to university.
Also consider which grades you are likely to receive in your final exams, and choose universities with similar entry requirements. Have a couple in mind that are just out of your reach (but still possible) but also think about which universities you will realistically gain the correct grades for.
Work out how to get there
It seems simple but when you have so many other things to think about, travelling to the university is one of the things you don’t want to have to worry about. Check train times, parking options and how long it will take in total.
Plan your day
Most universities will have a series of talks and Q&A sessions, so make sure you mark up which ones you want to attend, and which building they are in. Make the effort to attend a couple of these, as this is where you will gain a real insight into the academic side of the university. There will usually be a tour of the grounds and the buildings too, so make sure you find some time to fit that in.
During the open day
Make some notes on interesting things you hear at the talks and even take pictures of the campus and the surrounding area if you think that will help. Chances are you will be attending more than one open day, so you will need a way to remember them all.
Speak to people
This is key. There will be students and lecturers present, so make sure you ask them everything you want to know. Ask the lecturers about course content and speak to the students about life at the university. This is your opportunity to learn as much as you can about course structure, study abroad options, how much choice you have in choosing modules, the best place to get fish and chips and what the best student nights are. These are all important factors that will contribute to giving you the best university experience.
However, do remember that most of the people you speak to will tell you that their university is the best university in the world. It might well be, but you will be the judge of that. Steer the conversation towards the most important topics for you so you find out exactly what you want.
After the open day
Once you’ve visited all of the universities that you wanted to, the time has come to make the decision about where you want to apply. For some students it is a very easy decision as certain universities will have impressed them more than others. For some it may be that they loved every single place they visited and may find it much more difficult to narrow their choice down. Make lists and consider the things that are most important to you about university and lead with those that provide those things.
If while reviewing your notes you suddenly think of a burning question, then don’t hesitate to get back in touch with the university. Contact the admissions department and they should be able to deal with your query.
Consider whether you want to re-visit the university
Once you have picked your universities, and been offered a conditional or un-conditional place, you will most likely be invited to attend a post-offer open day. These are more targeted open days to your chosen course and can allow you to really delve into the content, the required reading and module selections. You can choose not to attend but it’s worth it just to get another feel for the place where you could potentially be spending the next three or four years of your life.
Read more: What to expect at university