Getting the most out of an open day

By Alan Wood, Lucy Murdock and Ella Mortimer of Nottingham Trent University.

Deciding where to go to university is a huge, and a very important, decision. You’ll spend three years living and studying there. It has to be somewhere where you’re going to be happy with the course, the university and the city. Students who enjoy both their studies and where they live tend to work hard, achieve great things and have the time of their lives.

An open day is your chance to find out about the university and the city where you’d be living, so that you can decide for yourself whether this is the right place for you.  

Here are a few tips for making the most of your open day:


Plan

Before you attend an open day, look at the university course pages online. What do you like? What do you want to see? What are you unsure about? 

Top tip: Make a list of questions.


Attend

Go to a talk on the physics courses, tour the physics labs and facilities, tour the campus, look at the accommodation. Go everywhere. See everything. Get all the information you need to make an informed choice about whether this is the right place for you. 

Top tip: If the open day is running all day then the afternoons tend to be quieter, giving you more opportunities to chat to staff and students.


Ask lots of questions

Remember your list? Ask lots of questions. Ask everything you want to know. Then ask some more questions. Some students seem scared of asking questions in case the university staff think the question is foolish. There is no such thing as a bad question, it is important that you get all the information you need to decide whether this is the right place for you to live and study. Universities should be a place where you can ask any question, be inspired and learn. 

If you are made to feel foolish for asking a question on an open day, then we would suggest this is not the right university for you.


Write things down

After visiting a few universities, what you’ve seen can start to blur. Where was that ionising radiation lab that you wanted to work in? Which university had that on-campus observatory? Jot down anything you like / don’t like about the places you visit – it’ll make it easier to decide where to study when you come to make a final choice. 

Top tip: Don’t be shy - taking lots of photos of your day as a visual reminder alongside your notes can make all the difference!


Collect, and read, the course brochure

This gives detailed information on the course. You probably won’t have time to read it on the day, but take it home and go through it carefully. This may throw up more questions. If so, contact the university to ask them (most course brochures have an email address for enquires).

Top tip: Prospectuses are often printed a long time in advance, so make sure you check the university’s website for the most up to date information before you apply to avoid any nasty surprises.


Make sure you’re clear on what equipment you’d be using

At an open day most universities trot out every shiny piece of equipment that they own. Some of these will be things that are used by every undergraduate student, some are only used by selected project students and some are only for postgraduate researchers.

Top tip: Ask whether you’ll use these facilities during your course and find out how often you’ll use them.


Find out what opportunities are available

Many universities have particular opportunities for students, of which they are (justifiably) very proud.  

At Nottingham Trent University we have paid summer studentships in our research groups for undergraduate students, to give hands-on experience of research.  At some universities their ‘jewel in the crown’ is an international exchange programme or a link with an industrial facility – everywhere has something that takes pride of place. However these opportunities are often not available to every student.

Top tip: If you are interested in a particular opportunity ask how many places are available each year and how many students apply for those places.


Talk to current students

These are the people who are experiencing university life right now and have gone through the application process themselves. They will usually provide you with honest and up to date information and are generally keen to answer your questions.

Top tip: Ask lots of questions.


Get a feel for the town or city

Many students live off campus in their second or third years. Make sure you get a good feel for the town or city, particularly the student areas (ask where these are). 

Check what transport is available between the campus and the city. This will help give you an idea of what your typical day at university might be like if you decide to commute. 

Top tip: If you don’t have time to visit the city on the same day as the open day, then pop back later (at least for anywhere you are considering as a firm or insurance choice).


Ask yourself ‘Do I feel inspired?’

Going to university is a big commitment, it’s three years of your life. You have to be somewhere you’re going to feel inspired, have fun and fulfil your potential. If you’re listening to a subject talk at an open day and you’re thinking ‘I’m bored. I wonder if it’s time for lunch?’, then this is probably not the right place for you. But if you’re hanging off the lecturer’s every word, then this may well be somewhere that you’ll enjoy living and studying.


Take advice

Some prospective students choose to bring friends or family with them to an open day. Listen to their advice. These are people who know you well and who, almost always, have your best interests at heart.


Make your own decision

Once you have taken advice, make your own decision. Don’t rush this, it’s better to make the right decision than a quick decision.  Choosing a university course is a big deal, it has to be what is right for you.



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