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A Parent's guide to Open Days

 Find out how you, as a parent or supporter, can get the best out of an on campus open day. Alison and her daughter Rosie share their experiences of visiting several universities. 

Alison and her daughter Rosie visited seven university on-campus open days – three in the North East and four in the wider North region during the autumn. Learn more about their experiences as they offer useful tips:

1. Timing

We visited open days during Year 13 and, with hindsight, I wish we’d visited the universities earlier that year. Visiting seven universities over three months was exhausting and costly! Rosie was sitting mock A Levels and an AS Level in the autumn, so with the excitement of visiting universities, she lost a little focus on her exam revision.

Our first open day took place in September on a beautiful, sunny autumnal morning but by the final open day in November, wintry weather had set in and we had a frightening car drive in blizzard conditions across the Pennines, so it’s worth considering visiting during the summer months instead. If you’re planning to visit campuses further afield, I’d also recommend signing up for an online open day first for a preview and then following up with an on-campus open day. 

2. Getting and staying there

For the open days outside the region, we travelled down the previous evening - leaving straight after Rosie’s final lesson on a Friday afternoon. With that in mind, we tried to book accommodation well in advance to take advantage of any offers. Check whether the university has negotiated any discounts with local hotels and whether travel bursaries are available. We also booked restaurants in advance for the Friday evening given we were arriving at 9ish into unfamiliar surroundings. 

One thing to consider if you’re travelling by car would be to buddy up with other students from school or college to save on travel costs. If you’re travelling by public transport, find out if the university has arranged bus transfers from transport hubs to the university campus.  

It’s worthwhile researching the local area for notable landmarks to visit and things to do to get a feel for what it’s like to live there. Look out for guided walking or coach tours provided at the open day as they’ll provide a wealth of information about what’s available outside of university life. 

 3. Travel light

Some universities are compact, others less so and there’s a fair amount of walking around campuses at an open day. You’ll be walking both outside and inside campus buildings, so make sure you aren’t overloaded with heavy outerwear. You’ll collect lots of leaflets and giveaways at the open day – not all universities provide tote bags for these so be prepared to take a foldaway bag.  

 4. Open day programme

Usually, the open day programme is sent either by post or email up to two weeks before the event – I prompted Rosie to check her emails for this. Don’t be afraid to ring the university if you haven’t received one. We pored over the programme, highlighted key points, decided which talks to attend, where we wanted to go on campus and marked up our accommodation and other places we wanted to visit nearby. What’s interesting was that as the open days progressed we refined what we wanted to do on the day. So, at the first open day, we wanted to attend every single talk and visit the students’ union, support stands, accommodation blocks and sports facilities, but by the final visit we’d refined this down to just the subject talk, sports facilities and accommodation. 

Most universities provide light refreshments – you might be lucky and visit a university that provides a free meal as well! Open days are busy events and there may be up to 1,000 visitors on campus at the event, so don’t be surprised if there are queues for not only refreshments but also for popular activities such as campus and accommodation tours. 

We attended parents' and supporters’ talks where these were available at the open days. I found these extremely useful in understanding the application process and for finding out about the support services available to students. Also, I really appreciated the family and friends zones which had comfy chairs and refreshments. 

5. Ask questions, make notes and take photos

Don’t be afraid to ask questions at the open day – even the obvious ones. At the talks we attended it was mostly parents and supporters rather than students asking questions. Whilst Rosie didn’t want to ask questions in front of a whole lecture theatre, she took the opportunity to chat to academics and current students on the various stands at open days. 

Having visited so many universities over a three-month period, it’s scary how quickly your memory fades and different universities start to merge into one. We took lots of photos whilst we were visiting, and I made some brief notes on my phone of highlights/points of difference. If you plan to do this, I’d advise taking a charger for your phone – my phone ran out of juice by lunchtime! 

At Sunderland, we welcome parents and supporters accompanying students when they visit us at our on campus open days. Find out about our next open day.

Sign up to our parents and supporters’ newsletter. We’ll email you a downloadable copy of our Guide for Parents and Supporters and provide updates about our open days, deadline reminders and advice on how you can best provide support.