Making the best decision
How to effectively research universities and courses when you can't make it to open days
When you're choosing a course and university, open days give you the chance to explore campus accommodation and facilities, speak to current students and teachers and get an idea of student life.
But what happens if you can't get to an open day? Can you get the information you need without visiting campus?
In most cases, yes – but it's important to plan your approach so you have everything you need to make the best decision.
Whatever reason you have for not being able to attend open days, this guide highlights everything you need to look for.
Virtual open days
Some universities offer virtual open days, or virtual experiences on their websites.
A virtual open day can include live webinars from lecturers and staff, video tours across facilities and Q&A sessions on courses and other university services including accommodation, academic support, and sports and societies.
University websites usually have detailed information about courses. Open days give you the opportunity to speak with lecturers and staff about courses you're interested in.
You can still get in touch with teaching staff by email or phone if you can't attend a virtual open day or open day on campus. Some universities also offer live Q&A sessions on social media.
When researching courses, think about what you enjoy learning and how you learn best. Most degree courses are 3 years long, so you want to be passionate about the subject. Also, consider how you'd like to learn and be assessed over those 3 years. Some courses assess you entirely on exam performance, others are coursework based and others are a mix of assessments.
When you’re researching courses and speaking with teaching staff, consider things such as:
- Whether you'll meet the entry requirements
- Modules you find interesting on the course
- Placement and career opportunities
- Learning support
- The experience of academic staff, such as their professional experience or research expertise
- Course accreditations or society memberships
- Links to industry or high-profile companies
- Teaching and assessment methods
- Course facilities and access to specialist equipment
Use social media
When you can't attend an open day, it might feel hard to connect with a university. But you can use social media to do this instead.
Follow all the universities you're interested on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – or all 3. You'll start to get an idea of the friendliness of a university, and their accomplishments and research, as their posts show up in your feeds. You'll get to see the campus and city too.
Following universities on social media also gives you a chance to comment on their posts and stories, and begin to feel like part of their community before you arrive.
As with courses, most universities have lots of information about their support and guidance services on their websites.
If you need more information, you can usually get in touch with specific services over the phone or by email. Make sure to do this if you don't find the answers you're looking for on their websites.
Below are support services you'll usually get to talk to when you attend an open day. Expand on each service to find questions to ask when researching these services at universities. Your needs might not be the same as another student's, so write down some of your own questions to use in your research.
Questions to ask – university support services
- What support is there available if I struggle academically?
- Is there a tutoring service?
- Will I need my own computer or laptop? What if I can't afford one?
- Can I get help with study skills, such as note-taking, time-management, or presentations?
- Can I get IT support?
- Is there any support for postgraduate students?
- What support is there available if I struggle financially?
- Does the university have sponsorship opportunities?
- Are there any additional course costs?
- How affordable is the city to live in?
- Does the university offer guaranteed halls in first year?
- Can I get help renting privately?
- Can I get support reviewing and signing housing contracts?
- Do the student halls have security?
You can find out more about housing support in our student life section. If you need more information, email our Student Housing Team at email@example.com or call them on +44 (0)23 9284 3214.
You can also join our private Student Housing group on Facebook.
- What opportunities are there to study abroad?
- Where are your partnership universities?
- How does studying abroad count toward my degree?
- What support can the careers team offer me?
- How many past students found work after graduation?
- Can I get help with my CV?
- Will they help me produce a portfolio?
- Do they run events where I can meet employers?
- Can they help me volunteer with a local charity?
If you're thinking of attending Portsmouth, see the careers and employment support available to you when you get here. If you need more information, email our Careers and Employability Service at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- What facilities are available to me?
- Are the facilities of a high standard?
- Are the facilities located on campus?
If you're thinking of attending Portsmouth, see the facilities available to you when you get here.
- What reasonable adjustments can I get to support my learning difference or disability?
- Is the campus accessible?
- Can the university help me claim the Disabled Students' Allowance?
You can find out more about additional support and disability advice in our student life section. If you need more information, email our Additional Support and Disability Advice Centre (ASDAC) at email@example.com or call them on +44 (0)23 9284 3462.
- What are the sports facilities like?
- Is there a competitive team for my sport?
- Is the university gym affordable?
- What fitness classes are included in the gym membership?
- Is there a sports scholarship I could apply for?
Speak to past and current students
Open days aren't the only place you can meet alumni and current students. Many universities share interviews with their students, in blogs or video via their websites and social media.
Reading these interviews gives you personal insight into the student experience at the universities you're researching.
As well as looking on university websites, you can also find out about the student experience by looking at online forums, personal blogs and YouTube.
Speaking to students on The Student Room
The Student Room is an online community for all students from GCSEs to University. As an online forum, you can browse threads started by students at universities you're researching, and start your own threads to get answers to questions you can't find the answer to elsewhere.
As well as hosting forums, The Student Room also publishes university guides. Their guides include student reviews, a rating system and the opportunity to connect with current students active on the forums.
Questions to ask past and current students
When you find a current student online through a forum, blog or Youtube, you might get the chance to ask your own questions.
You could do this in the comment section of their vlog, or by sending them a direct message. Below are a few questions you might want to ask.
- Are your lecturers supportive?
- How much contact time do you have in your course?
- Do you get opportunities for practical learning?
- How were the halls?
- Is your 2nd/3rd year accommodation affordable?
- Have you taken part in any societies at university?
- Is it easy to get involved in the Students' Union and societies?
- Have you done a placement year and did the university support you to find it?
- Is the university there for you if you need them?
- Do you like the city?
A big draw of visiting a university in person is exploring the city or town you might live in while studying. When you can't attend an open day, you might feel you've missed out on getting to know the university campus and its location.
But there are other ways to find out about the location online, such as virtual tours, online maps and tourism sites.
Check out tourism sites
Use a city's tourism site to get a real idea of the city surrounding the campus. Most city tourism sites can show you features of the city such as:
- Things to do
- What's on
- Food and drink
We have a similar feature on our website, call Life Outside Study, that showcases some of the best locations in the city to eat, drink, shop, play sports, see live music and go out.
Google Maps and street view
You can use Google Maps street view to explore a city without ever needing to visit. When researching a university's location, grab the university's central address and start exploring from their campus.
If you're researching a campus university, use Google Maps to see how long the commute will be from the campus to the centre of the city. If you're looking into universities with a city campus, explore the city by walking between university buildings.
If a university you're researching is far from your home, we also recommend seeing what transport links can keep you connected to your family and friends. Is there a direct train route? Can you take the National Express bus to save money?
Arrange a tour
At some universities, you can arrange a tour if you can't make it to an Open Day.
A tour will give you a feel for the campus and the city, and a chance to find out what university life is like.
Find an undergraduate or postgraduate degree course that suits you at Portsmouth.
Studying with us is a great decision, but don't just take our word for it – read stories from our graduates about why they chose Portsmouth and how studying with us changed their lives.
Explore our island city and its many attractions, and find out what student life is really like at the University.