To me the chief importance of the university open days is to allow sixth formers to visualise themselves at university and to motivate them to get the grades. Much of the hard information can be picked up from the Guardian and Times League tables and the prospectuses and websites, and you should do this beforehand.
For the calendar of open days http://www.opendays.com/
1) Go on open days, but go on a Saturday to avoid missing school lessons. Remember, you can often arrange mini tours or tours using a phone app on a Saturday even if you miss the full open day. Should your child put that university down as one of their five, they then get a more targeted open day in the spring term.
2) As a parent, you don’t have to go to open days with your child. They can hitch a lift with a friend who’s going or can go by coach or train. This is valuable experience in being independent. However, if they go only with friends and without any adults, they often drift round in a group not engaging with university staff and students.
3) Get the programme and help your child to plan their day and book any talks. This is especially important if you can't be with them.
4) Parents should stand back and encourage their child to ask questions and have conversations.
5) Sixth formers should attend the open day talk about why you should study your subject. Take notes. Write down quotes. This is one of the questions you will be expected to answer in your personal statement and they are giving you the answer. Ask the academics you meet what you should be reading right now, and what are the most active areas of the subject currently. Again, use this in your personal statement.
6) Ask the student guides about accommodation in the second and third years – is there a pleasant student quarter and is it reasonably priced? If you get this wrong, your child might be condemned to living in a rough or distant part of town.
7) Engage with the establishment you are interested in: do they offer short courses, summer school, essay prizes?
8) Investigate disability support – mentoring, extra time in exams, lectures online.
9) Start to enquire about bursaries, prizes, awards – these can be worth thousands.
10) Killer question – the university staff and students are there to promote their university – they won’t tell you the bad stuff easily. However, the question which slips under their guard is:
“If there was one thing you could change about this university, what would it be?”
The answers are often revealing.
11) Above all, take notes. One sixties university will blur into another, as will the redbricks. Especially make notes on accommodation blocks you visit – it may save you a lengthy trip next summer when you have to decide.