Will applicants attend your university open days?

open days masks

As the colder months draw in and seasonal bugs rear their ugly heads, we wondered – do students feel safe attending student recruitment events? Covid-19 levels across the country are high, prompting worries that those harmless coughs or sniffles could be something more sinister. So is this putting students off from attending open days?

We included additional questions in our October TSR Asks survey to get a snapshot of student sentiment and find out what universities can do to adapt open day events.

How do university applicants feel about attending open days and HE fairs now?

At the start of October, around two-thirds of applicants (66%) said that they did feel comfortable about attending HE fairs and open days.

How comfortable do you currently feel about attending mass gatherings, such as university open days and HE fairs?
(469 respondents – 2022 and 2023 entry applicants)

Download this chart

But this leaves a third who are not sure how they feel (16%) or would feel uncomfortable (18%) going to mass gatherings in person.

What can universities do to encourage open day attendance?

We asked applicants for their feedback on which practical steps universities could take to encourage them to show up to open days:

What could universities do to help you and your family feel more comfortable attending? (Choose all that apply)
(464 respondents – 2022 and 2023 entry applicants)

  • Require masks (50%)
  • Bookable appointments with academics (43%)
  • Bookable small group sessions (39%)
  • Ensuring social distancing (36%)
  • Holding the event outdoors (30%)
  • Temperature checks (30%)
  • One way systems (20%)
  • Other (2%)
  • None of the above (12%)

The top request was for universities to require mask-wearing at open day events. Respondents also liked the idea of bookable sessions, which would give applicants the chance to meet staff or peers (our historical research shows this is a key reason applicants attend in-person open days) while limiting group sizes to mitigate the risk of catching covid-19.

Open day insights from student users on The Student Room

Coping with the pandemic has been a key focus for all of us in higher education, but it is easy to forget there are other factors which can impact attendance and student’s perception of how valuable your open days are:

Money and equality

“I’m a bit worried about affording transport to open days. Virtual open days are useful but in person is different.”
:yep: I was given free travel and lunch as I went to the summer school. really excited to see it in person !”

Transport, food and accommodation costs can add up – especially if applicants are attending multiple open days or traveling long distances. Financial barriers also disproportionately affect those from lower-income families.


Applicants may need to take time out from their studies in order to attend open days. This could be a significant barrier for 2022/2023 applicants because they have already experienced so much disruption to their education.

Nerves and fears about going alone

omggg are you going with anyone or on your own?”

Visiting universities can be a nerve-wracking experience, especially if applicants can’t find a friend or family member to go with. Why not help students to network with others who are going to your open day events? (e.g. social media groups, The Student Room forums).

Memorable experiences

” I went to one I think in August, I found the whole campus pretty nice.”

Going to events in person is a very different experience from attending online events. Applicants can freely experience all the sights, smells and sounds – they can walk around campus, explore your student accommodation, and simply exist in the space where they might spend the next 3+ years of their lives. Think about how you can help attendees to connect with their surroundings and build memories.

The chance to connect with peers and staff

There is no substitute for the chance to meet other students or attend taster lectures. Again, this is about immersing students in the experience of what your university will be like for them. Will they enjoy the lectures, or are they too challenging? What kind of people study at your university and can they see themselves fitting in?

Quality of online events

“I ended up going to the online version rather than in person. The live session was so blurry but other than that it was alright!”

We think that there will still be demand for both online and in-person open days in 2022, and probably in 2023 too. Current applicants are digital natives, so they will notice technical issues with online events. That said, there is nothing wrong with using inexpensive or low-tech options (like current students filming their experiences on their phones). Just think about whether the imagery and messages are clear.

Want to know more about what applicants want from open days? Don’s miss our webinar at 10am on Tuesday 23 November:
The Covid Cohort: 2022 applicants – where are they now?

Get in touch:
0800 999 3222

TSR Asks Monthly Online survey of The Student Room community, data 4th October 2021