If your A-level results weren't quite what you hoped and your top university now seems out of reach, don't despair. There are still some places left during Clearing, but if you do need to reapply next year make sure you do your homework. University open days are a great way to get a feel of a top university where you could be studying for your undergraduate degree.
It's great having a choice: get home delivery pizza or head out for Chinese? Boston Legal or Grey's Anatomy? Those black heels or cute purple pumps? But when it comes to the choice of deciding which university to study for your undergraduate degree - a bit more consideration and research needs to go into it.
Whichever part of the world you're living in, chances are there's a top university on your doorstep. But there are also plenty of others to choose from - either at home or abroad. So how do you narrow down your choices? Start by going online - check out what universities have to offer and what the surrounding area has as well; you may be looking for a university close to a ski field for those winter semester breaks, or a university in a city known for its architecture and art history.
However, even in today's online world, surfing the net isn't enough to give you a real taste of university life. So the next best thing is to go and visit them - on open days.
What is a university open day?
A university open day is a day - or days - throughout the year, when a university invites prospective students onto their campus to take a look around. It's a time when you can freely wander around the university, checking out lectures - perhaps even sitting in on one - having a look at student accommodation, seeing what computer, library and cafe facilities they have, and generally getting a feel for the university.
How do I attend a university open day?
If you're lucky, your school might organize a day trip to the university open day, so all you need to do is sign up, pay some money for transport and hop on a bus with your mates. But you may be interested in some universities that your school isn't going to, so it means you need to get yourself organized. Your parents will probably want to come along with you, but that's no problem, because it means you can go with them - free travel and all that!
What should I do at a university open day?
Take a look around - that's what it's for after all. But because you're going to be visiting a few different universities while you try to decide which one you're going to enrol in for your undergraduate degree, then it will pay to have a few points of comparison.
For starters, find out about the programs they offer in your subject area of interest. If you're thinking about studying engineering, spend time looking through the labs, seeing what equipment they have on offer, talk to engineering students and ask them how they find it, and get more information on the engineering degrees that a particular university offers.
Take a walk through the library as well, have a look at university accommodation - are the halls as nice as the last uni you visited? - and check out what student services are available as well. Each university has a range of clubs and societies you can become a part of - are there some that take your interest?
Who should I speak to?
It's all very well researching universities online, but nothing beats talking to people in person. And that's exactly what you can do at a university open day. Speak to university students, program directors, student recruitment officers, even the receptionists of different schools and offices on campus. They'll be able to give you an insight into the university that you can't get from their website.
How do I find out about university open days?
By checking out the university's website. They'll want as many people to come to have a look around as possible so they'll definitely be advertising it. Keep a watch on your list of university websites to see when they start advertising it. You can also ring the university and ask them when they're planning on holding their open day, and your school's careers advisor is likely to have a list of university open days as well.
What if I want to study abroad?
Travelling around your country to different universities may be time consuming, but it is relatively straightforward and not too expensive to organize. If some of the top universities that you're considering studying at are overseas, then that's another story.
But that's where the Top Universities Tour comes in. Each year in London, and also throughout Asia, Africa and the Middle East, the Top Universities Tour brings some of the world's top universities to a city near you. This is your chance to meet universities from North America, Europe, Asia and Australia and ask them about life at their university. It's too good an opportunity to miss - and what's more, the tour is free. All you have to do is register.