A great way to scope out a potential university is by going to an open day. Whether you’re going to one of the sunny summer open days, or squeezing one in before the application deadline in September, it’s important to scope out the place you may be studying for the next few years. It’s also good to visit universities in the flesh – regardless of whether you’ve got your heart set on a certain college our course, or you’re still not quite sure, there is something to be said for getting the feel of the universities. We’ve got a range of ideas to help you get the most out of your open day visit.
This is one day when it pays to be organised! Different colleges and departments will have different rules on this, so your first port of call is always the website of whatever open day you’re planning on attending. Some will require require booking, other events will need you to register your interest in advance, and some will be open to all on the day. For many of the formal activities, such as talks, Q&As, or discussions with tutors, you will need to book, whilst if you’re planning on simply taking stroll around a few colleges and soaking up the atmosphere, advance booking may not be necessary. Sometimes places are limited to potential applicants, so parents may not be welcome if numbers are limited – there is plenty to do in the rest of the city, and there will be plenty of people to help answer their questions too. Its good to get this organised as soon as possible, as some popular colleges or events may quickly become fully booked, so its best to get in early to get those places!
Although you are primarily here to see the university, open days can also be useful to get a feel for the cities. This a place you could potentially be living in for several years, so it’s good to set time aside to have a wander and peruse the cities, to see how you would feel about living there. There are some tangible differences between the universities, and this can sometimes be based on practicalities; my choice of university was swayed by the ease of travelling back home. Part of your final decision could also be based on instinct; sometimes you cannot pin-point the exact reason you prefer one over the other, but this is just as important as the practical reasons.
Booking into college open day activities can be useful to get an insider view of the colleges, particularly if you’ve got your heart set on a certain college. One benefit of this is the opportunity to meet tutors of your chosen subject at your chosen college: not only will this give an excellent insight into your subject and the teaching at Oxbridge, but it will also give you the chance to suss out the tutor who could be interviewing you at a later date. However, it’s always useful to take a look around other colleges as well, even if you don’t manage to get booked into sessions, in order to get a feel of different colleges and the variety of setups across the universities.
It’s also worth remembering that the majority of colleges are open to visits outside set open days. Many will be welcoming to potential students, especially if you ring in advance: the college I attended was happy to see potential students, complete with a college tour, provided they got in touch beforehand. This is another way to gain an insight into student life at the college, especially useful if you’ve missed the boat on open days.
Courses and Departments
Departments will also run talks and Q&A sessions about the courses on offer at the two universities on open days. In the university wide open days, all departments are involved in informing undergraduates about studying at the university. The universities will draw up a timetable of events prior to the day, and this will be your first port of call for planning your visit to your chosen department. Unlike the colleges, departments are not usually open to visitors outside of the open days, so if you’re interested, make sure you give yourself time to visit them on the set open days.
At the university wide open days, there are normally some bigger and more general talks taking place, which will give you a broad insight into the application process. At Oxford’s 2012 September open day, for example, there is a drop-in event at the Examination Schools, which is open to everyone and includes admissions talks and events. A programme of events will be advertised on the open day websites in advance.
What to bring – and what not to bring
When planning for the open days, it would be good to bring:
Where possible, try to use public transport – there are park-and-rides for both cities, as they are not the most car friendly of places! If you need overnight accommodation, it should also be booked in advance.
For more information about open days, please see the Oxford and Cambridge websites for specific details of upcoming university and college open days.
We always go along to the university open days of both Oxford and Cambridge, so look out for some of our staff and tutors, who will be on hand with advice and freebies!