Tips on finding the right university for you

University open days are an ideal way to see if the university suits you academically and socially

University open days are an ideal way to see if the university suits you academically and socially - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Choosing a university is one of life’s big decisions so it’s important to do your research and visit as many as possible.

Many experts agree that visiting a university is essential before you apply. Planning before your visit helps you get the most out of your day, and taking both the academic and social side of university life into account is essential.

Alasdair Pinkerton, admissions tutor and senior lecturer at Royal Holloway, University of London says: "Nothing gives you a better insight into a degree programme than taking the time to visit universities. In the UK we are fortunate to have a fantastic variety of universities, from ancient seats of learning to traditional campuses and modern city centre schools, but it's also important not to assume anything about your university choices."

Given that students will generally spend at least three years in whichever university they choose, it is important to take the time to find the right institution for you that fits your academic and social needs.

Regardless of what stage of the application process you are in, all universities open days for prospective students, so it is a good idea to try and visit as many as you can.

Alasdair advises to find out as much as you can about the prospective course so you get a good idea of the academic experience being offered. Questions to ask include:

- How your chosen subject is taught; will it be lectures, seminars or tutorials?

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- What are the main specialisms of the department?

- How much interaction will you get with the people teaching you?

- What are the facilities?

- How hands-on is your programme?

- How will you be examined - by coursework, project work, dissertations or exams?

- What are the opportunities for studying abroad or work placements in your degree programme?

Then there's the social side.

Take a tour of the campus and visit the halls of residence and sports facilities if you can. The Students' Union will give you an idea of all the clubs and societies you could get involved with and try to talk to current students about their experiences too.

However, Alasdair says that the most important question is: "can I imagine myself being happy, productive and successful in my degree, department and university?"

Will Breare-Hall, student recruitment and study abroad manager, at the London School of Economics and Political Science, agrees that preparation is key: "To get the best out of the open days you attend, research as much as possible about the institutions beforehand and arrive with questions that you want answers to, speaking to a variety of staff and students to get a true picture of what life there is really like."

Planning ahead will ensure you get the most out of the open day.

Claire Black, from London Metropolitan University, says: "You'll usually be sent an itinerary detailing all the activities taking place during the open day, these might include campus tours, subject talks and one-to-ones with your possible tutors. Take the time to identify the activities you would most like to attend and think of the things you'd like to know; what kind of work experience could you get with your course? What student societies are on offer?"

Paul Bridge, Brunel University London's head of student recruitment, says the best thing students can do is to approach it as a process which is likely to last from the end of Year 12 to the April of Year 13.

"Start with visiting websites and ordering prospectuses before deciding on a short list of courses and universities that appeal to you."

Paul goes on to say that universities hold open days and application days, which do different jobs.

"Open days are very much about community, culture and facilities, whereas applicant days are much more subject-specific. Ask questions, there's never any such thing as a stupid question, just one you don't know the answer to, yet."