19 ways to make the most of a college open day

Advice for students who are undecided on what course to take or college to apply for

Information about a college course is invaluable, but there’s no way of knowing whether a particular college is the right fit for you unless you pay a visit to the campus.

Information about a college course is invaluable, but there’s no way of knowing whether a particular college is the right fit for you unless you pay a visit to the campus.


A college website can tell you only so much. Information about a college course is invaluable, but there’s no way of knowing whether a particular college is the right fit for you unless you pay a visit to the campus. While you could really visit anytime, and it’s possible to ask if you can sit in on a lecture or tutorial, open days are structured to answer the most vital questions a prospective student will have. So how can a student make the most of the day?

We asked two experts for their advice. Ailbe Murphy is a guidance counsellor with Studyclix.ie and at Jesus and Mary Secondary School in Enniscrone, Co Sligo. Eoin Houlihan is a guidance counsellor at St Kevin’s Community College in Dunlavin, Co Wicklow.

Before the open day

1. Students need to prepare for the Open Day to get the most benefits from it. Go onto college websites and read up on courses that interest you, read college prospectus to find out course content and requirements, facilities, clubs, societies, accommodation available and transport links (Ailbe Murphy).

2. Take a note of everything you want to see so you are not wandering aimlessly. Campuses can be very big and it can be easy to get lost and miss a lot (Eoin Houlihan).

3. Go online, look at a campus map and take a picture of it on your phone - much easier than a paper map (EH).

4. Write down some notes on your phone of what you definitely want to see - including talks, stands for particular courses, and club or society events (EH).

5. A list of open days is available on Qualifax.ie and CareersPortal.ie (AM).

On the open day

6. Get there early before the crowds if you can, because it can get busy as the day goes on, especially in the afternoon (EH).

7. If the student is prepared, they will be more equipped to ask informed questions to lecturers and students (AM).

8. Attending an open day is not just about researching the course, it’s an opportunity to get a feel for the college: can the student visualise themselves studying in that college and being happy there? For some students who are brought by a school it may create in them an interest in third level education and show them what’s out there, especially for students where there may not be a progression to third level education in their family (AM).

9. Students should walk around the campus, visit the specialised rooms, sit in on lectures and career talks, visit the sports centre, take a tour of the campus accommodation and learn about the costs of attending third level, scholarships available as well as application procedures. They should speak with the student ambassadors to get an insight into college life and course content (AM).

10. Get a campus tour, and use the time to ask questions and take notes on the way. If there are any unanswered questions, try to find out who might have the answer (EH).

11. Make a grading system from one to five and include the campus, dining, accommodation, social life and overall feel. This will give you a good guide to how you feel about the college and course (EH).

12. Be aware of the size of the campus - some may prefer a smaller college - as well as the class sizes: some may love to have 200 students in a lecture room, but it could be daunting for others (EH).

13. Check out the campus facilities, including computer rooms (EH).

14. Ask about what clubs and societies are on campus - many will have a huge variety and there’s usually something of interest to everyone (EH).

15. Ask the student ambassadors what the college is like. While they are there to represent the college so are likely to have a positive view, the conversation is still likely to give you a good sense of whether the campus is a good fit for you (EH).

16. Re academics: ask questions about the course content, the assessment methods (is group work involved?), is there continuous assessment and what are the expecations (EH).

17. It’s one thing to ask lecturers about the course, another to attend. About two years back, I suggested to one of my students that she email a lecturer and ask if she could sit on one of his classes. She did, he allowed it and she’s now thriving on that course (EH).

After the open day

18. It is important for the student to review the Open Day afterwards, to make notes on what they enjoyed, what they found most beneficial, cost of accommodation and application deadlines as well as course requirements (AM).

19. Research should begin as early as Transition Year, while in TY and fifth year students should attend college summer schools and a variety of open days to experience college life. [Having gone to open days in fifth year] sixth years need to be more selective in the open days they attend: at this stage, they need to be focused on colleges of interest (AM).

My open day experience

Sean Feeney: UCD economics, maths & statistics

The main things I looked for at open days were available courses and atmosphere. I feel as though all colleges have similar campuses with similar state of the art facilities. While some colleges may specialise in different areas such as sport or science, there are generally little differences in their physical infrastructure.

Accommodation and transport was always big factors as well. The only real differences I found were the types of courses available and the makeup of the courses. The colleges reputation came into play too. While Trinity may be considered a classic with a focus on law, it has an air of snobbery. Galway and NUIG are party central with a rich culture. Sligo IT was a small town, overlooked due to its lack of university title yet very attractive for engineers. Maynooth? Arts degrees. DCU? Teachers. UCD? Fresh and attractive but far away and lacking a flare. These were the subconscious thoughts everyone had, even if they won’t admit it.

Rebecca Donnelly: paediatric nursing, Manchester University

The more organised an open day is, the more enjoyable an experience it is for parents and students. Having a timetable for certain events can allow students to plan their day and ensure they get to attend all the talks and tours they want.

One thing I noticed about the UK open day was that you had to register for free

online to attend and bring a ticket along on the day. I think it added to the experience as only people who were truly interested in the university attended, and it meant the groups were smaller and the tours and talks were of a better quality.

In the UK they not only gave talks about the courses but also about the university, its history and alumni, and helpful tips about applying through UCAS and writing the personal statement. DCU gave a tour of their clinical skills lab for nursing which allowed me to view the facilities their students use, and although I attended the same talk at the Trinity open day they did not do this.

I think accommodation tours are very important especially for parents as they are often paying for it and they are eager to know the standard and what is/ isn’t provided.

Campus tours, tours of the sports facilities and the students’ union allow the student to gain an insight into what it would be like to attend the college.