Top 10 tips on how to make the most of college open days

What you need to know to make sure you take full advantage of your online open day opportunity

Colleges that are comfortable allowing you to meet current students usually provide a high quality of service.

Colleges that are comfortable allowing you to meet current students usually provide a high quality of service.


The new era of interactions and means of communications imposed on society by Covid19 has transformed every aspect of our lives.

The virtual “Open Day” enables colleges to present their offerings across all their undergraduate and post graduate programmes to prospective students.

In our current pre-vaccine world, what is on offer currently, and what is being experienced by the current student body, is the virtual college experience, where most lectures and virtually all social activities built around colleges clubs and societies is delivered online, with practicals and small group tutorials being delivered face-to-face in socially distanced ways.

How should those considering their undergraduate options for 2021 go about the process of identifying which courses to short list over the coming six to eight months?

Hopefully by next August when college offers are made, an effective vaccine will have been produced, and student life will have returned to pre Covid19 reality.

However, the world of third level education has discovered that delivering lecture content online is in fact highly effective and allows lecturers and students to explore the content of the course far more effectively in smaller groups once the material has been digested electronically by students.

The days of note taking in five hundred-seater lecture theatres may have become a thing of the past. The following 10 points are worth considering ahead of open day season:

1. Given the reality of the pandemic, and the fact that colleges are reimagining how they will deliver their programmes in a post Covid19 world, it is vitally important that prospective students inform themselves about what each faculty is offering for 2021 and beyond - before the online events take place. As always carries the entire national database of all CAO and FE courses on offer nationwide, and it is vitally important that those considering seeking a college place in 2021 undertake the basic research before participating in the open day experience.

2. Before participating in 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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 log on to the event, you will probably have a formal introduction 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 can get the extra information you need.

6. As you move from online presentation to online presentation, reflect on what it would feel like to live and study in this place. Do you feel good about what you are seeing on the screen in front of you? Do you feel at ease? Don’t dismiss your gut feeling - it is almost always right.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. Central to most online open days are opportunities for prospective students to question current students about their experience of the courses you are interested in. Colleges that are comfortable allowing you to meet current students usually provide a high quality of service. Colleges who host open days when no students are present, thus ensuring that visitors have little access to engage with them, may give you cause to question why.

10. When you log off from the open day event quietly reflect about the feelings you have concerning your experience and write out your personal reflections on the day. You will be amazed at the things that strike you if you give yourself the time and space to do this. The process will help you to draw together all you have experienced during the event and give you a rich resource to reread when you have to submit your final list of course choices to the CAO, by the final deadline of July 1st, 2021.