Applying for university can seem like a daunting task when there are so many details to consider, including when to visit universities as a prospective student. With these visits confusingly named things like ‘Applicant’, ‘Offer-Holder’ and ‘Open’ days, understanding which you should be signing up for often feels like it requires a degree in itself. Luckily, there are some key differences to spot. Below is a quick guide on what each ‘day’ commonly entails, when and how you sign up for them as well as a few other things to look out for before you decide which university is right for you.
An open day is when, irrespective of whether you’ve received an offer or not, you can visit the university to get a taster without having to commit to a decision. With only 5 spaces available on your UCAS application, it’s advisable to go to the universities you are curious about before applying. Open days offer activities like campus/accommodation tours and the opportunity to chat to staff and current students about life at the university. Although first impressions won’t necessarily indicate how you’ll feel for the duration of your degree, knowing which university initially appeals to you can really help with the decision-making process. Things like whether the university is campus or city based, the facilities available for your studies, or even the nightlife and selection of clubs and societies are important to note when going to an open day. You’ll also have to consider how far away the university is and what mode of transport you’ll need to get there, and whether this is something that you’re willing to do for the rest of your degree. Applying for an open day is as simple as going on the university website and signing up there – they’re usually advertised on the main page, and multiple open days are held throughout the year from autumn to spring, so there are plenty of options.
As the title suggests, an offer-holder day occurs when you have received either a conditional or an unconditional offer from the university and are formally invited to visit. Unlike open days, these are strictly invitation only and give a more focused look at your course, offering things like taster seminars on top of the normal activities of an open day. Receiving an invite is usually done by email once you’ve received an offer to study a course. Like with open days, attending an offer-holder day can help with your decision about whether you want to study at that particular university, and with a more detailed look at university life than an open day, prospective students have the opportunity to decide based on things like teaching style and class size on top of other aspects of university life.
Although this title appears synonymous with offer-holder days, applicant days differ in that they often involve subject-specific activities and even selection interviews/auditions depending on your chosen course. Once again, these are invitation only and whether you’re invited depends on the university’s selection process. Details about whether an applicant day is part of the application process commonly appear on the ‘Entry Requirements’ or ‘How to Apply’ section of your chosen course’s page. Usually you can take guests with you, though some universities have a limit on the number of guests as well as which activities they can attend so it’s best to check with the university before making your travel plans. Although attending an interview on an applicant day seems daunting, universities sometimes offer incentives – some unis offer a scheme where if you choose to attend an interview your offer can become unconditional, so there’s a lot to be gained from going along to one!
Though the title selection day (also sometimes known as an assessment day) doesn’t seem too different from applicant or offer-holder days, one key difference is that selection days are usually reserved for medicine and health-related courses. Once again, these days are invitation only and are crucial to the selection process, so if you’ve been invited then be sure to attend! Most of the activities involve group and/or individual interviews as well as numeracy or literacy tests, though more typical open day activities such as campus tours are sometimes offered alongside these. Although these may seem like they are a necessary evil standing between you and your dream course, they also offer you an idea of what kind of environment you’ll be working in over the duration of your degree, so they are just as important for you as they are for the interviewers!
So, now that you can sort your application days from your open days, hopefully you have an idea of what to expect when you begin to receive offers and invitations. Be sure to keep in mind that these days exist to help you decide what you want out of your university experience, so try out as many as possible – your dream university may be one you never even thought about before!
Emma Davies works within the editorial department at Trotman Publishing. Graduating from her Masters degree in 2017, she is familiar with all aspects of the student journey through university. She is passionate about helping students find the right career, and was a member of the SYP’s inaugural committee in the South West.