You've exhausted every page on the university website, you've read the prospectus back to front and you've joined the Facebook groups. You've even emailed the department with your questions. It might seem like you know everything there is to know about your future university, but until you actually visit it, it's all just words on a page. Nothing beats visiting the universities you're interested in and exploring them to really get to know them. So what can you really get from attending a university Open Day?
If anything, this can often be the most important reason to visit a university. Stepping foot on the campus or into the department gives many students either the feeling of "this is where I want to be" or "it all sounded so good, but something's just not right". Sometimes just getting that gut feeling can make your mind up for you. After all, you're going to spend some of the most important years of your life here. Everyone will have their own reasons and preferences, their own gut trigger, but you want it to be somewhere that excites you, that stimulates you, where you'll be happy.
More information on your course and department
This is the reason you tell your parents to get them to pay for your train or plane fare, but it’s also an important reason for you. Open Days give you the opportunity to attend talks and tours from your potential future department and can be an invaluable opportunity to ask. You might want to know how their assessment works, what specialisms they have, or what you could be reading up on before you attend to get the best head start on your university life.
The chance to check out university facilities
State-of-the-art sports facilities or a decrepit and ageing pool? What facilities are available in Engineering, Computer Science, the library? What is available in the Student Union? How much support is there for clubs and societies? Seeing these facilities first-hand means that you can judge for yourself what is available for your use and whether or not it will meet your needs.
A look at where you might be living
Halls of Residence can make or break your first-year experience. Most universities have different rooms available for different budgets and you'll likely need to decide between fully catered or self-catering, whether your bathroom is en-suite, shared between two or shared between six. Attending a Halls of Residence tour will allow you a glimpse of how well-maintained these facilities are, as well as help you to develop a greater understanding of what your life will be like at university, particularly in the first year when most students stay in official university accommodation.
The inside scoop from current students
A potential gold-mine of real information, at Open Days you'll have the chance to talk with current students and find out what they really think about living and studying there. The information you can get from students is likely to be far more candid than any of the officially published university marketing material, and students will be able to tell you about their social and academic lives based on their own personal experiences. Be prepared to come with questions and try and speak to as many real-life current students as you can.
The opportunity to explore the town or city
You won't be spending all of your time studying when you're at university (hopefully). You'll also want to see what the town or city that your future university is based in is like. Do you need shopping, bars, music venues? Attending the Open Day will give you time to head into town and see what it's really like. Again, many people get a gut feeling when visiting a new city for the first time, and this can often be reflective of just how much you're going to enjoy your time there.
If you're attending an Open Day, it's not like you'll be there alone. Everybody else there will also be considering this university or even your course, so it’s a fantastic chance to meet new people who you could possibly be spending the next few years with. Best bring out your social side and get talking to as many new faces as possible - who knows how this will turn out if you all decide that this is the best place for you.
With the summer Open Day season about to begin, now is a great time to start planning which universities you want to visit and learn more about. The more you can attend, the more you’ll be able to learn, and the more informed choice you’ll be able to make about your future.
I want to attend! Now what?
If you're searching for Open Days, thankfully there are some nifty tools to make your life easier.
www.speaktoauni.com list every UK university Open Day and are a fantastic resource for finding out about potential Open Day dates.
www.findopendays.com are a similar alternative, listing over 1000 Open Days for colleges and universities.
www.takeme2uni.com is perhaps even cooler still. Using their platform you can arrange car shares with other students from your school, helping you to cut down on your travel costs and be a bit more environmentally friendly with your summer of travel.