Dos and don’ts: How to get the best out of college open days

Top tips to get you through your open day with the best results

Preparation is half the battle in discovering the true nature of a college or course. Research the courses it offers before your visit a college or it will be a waste of valuable study time. If you take a day or half-day away from school or studies for an open day, you are sacrificing time you could spend preparing for the Leaving Certificate. Researching course options, on or the college’s website, will add to the value of your visit.

Before going to an open day, ensure you are studying the required subjects to the appropriate level to be eligible for a place on the course. You would be amazed how many students list courses on their CAO application for which they can’t be offered a place because they won’t have the minimum entry requirements.

On the other hand, don’t ignore a course or open day because you don’t expect to get enough points. You may do far better than you anticipate. Thousands of students make this mistake every year. Also, points move up and down as demand fluctuates. The most disappointed students every August, when they receive their Leaving Cert results and CAO offers, are those who realise they could have had their dream course but did not put it at the top of their course choices.

Thoroughly explore the college’s website. Yes, its academic programmes are central, and the purpose for its existence, but lectures are just a fraction of the activities. The college you choose for the next few years will have a huge influence on the type of person you become. Its clubs, societies, student services, outreach programmes, Erasmus opportunities (for a year studying abroad) and opportunities in the college city or town will be as important in shaping you as your lectures or subjects.


In the week before an open day, jot down some questions. This will clarify what you hope to get out of the day. When you arrive you will probably have a formal introduction and get a campus map and a schedule of lectures or talks. Before you leave this session see if the programme covers your questions. If it doesn’t, ask the presenter where you should go to get the extra information you need.

As you move from presentation to presentation, reflect on what it would feel like to live and study in this place. Do you feel good about the environment? Do you feel at ease? Don’t dismiss your gut feeling: it is almost always right.

For many students, the size of the college or class group matters. You may seek a big campus full of bustle and excitement, with thousands of students in each year, or you might find such an environment intimidating and prefer a more intimate college, where smaller groups of students get to know each other quickly. I have met many students over the years who have found large colleges intensely lonely. Everyone else seems to be having a great time, and making friends easily, while they struggle to find even one good friend. Many colleges are aware of these difficulties and work to help students find their feet in first year. On open day, ask about the support services for new students. The answer is often a good guide to the quality of the overall package.

During open day talk to existing students if they are on campus. Colleges that are comfortable allowing you to meet current students usually provide a high quality of service. Colleges that ensure visitors have little access to students may give you cause to question why.

When you get home after an open day, sit down within a few hours and write out, in the quiet of your room, your reflections on the day. You will be amazed at the things that strike you. It will help you to draw together all you have experienced during the visit and give you a rich resource to reread when you have to submit your final list of course choices by the deadline of July 1st, 2016.