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How to save money on university open days

With hundreds of universities to choose from, the costs of attending open days can soon stack up. Here's your guide to saving money while you make that all-important decision...

university open days

Credit: Chris J Wood - Wikimedia

There's no denying that university open days are great. They're the perfect opportunity to get a feel for the campus, meet your potential future tutors and check out the accommodation on offer.

But they do have a major downside, and that is just how expensive they are to attend. When you add up the cost of transport and food, they can make serious dent in your summer budget.

While there might be universities on your doorstep you want to go visit, there might also be universities at the opposite end of the country that take your fancy.

So if you're planing on attending a few open days this summer, here's our top tips to save some cash while you're at it...

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When are university open days?

University open days happen literally all year round, although there are some peak times.

A lot of them happen over the summer period, when students have more free time (and campuses are quieter).

But you'll also find a lot of open days take place before the UCAS deadline (in January), so there'll be many throughout October, November and December.

You'll find some take place after A-level results day, but before the start of term (so around late August and early September), for those who go through Clearing or Adjustment.

You can use the UCAS calendar to search for open days and book your place.

7 top tips for saving money on open days

  1. Try out virtual open days

    searching for jobs in LinkedIn

    Most universities now offer 'virtual' open days - online experiences designed to emulate an open day from the comfort of your own bedroom.

    These will typically involve videos, interactive maps and 360 degree photos allowing you to explore campus as if you were really there.

    There might be video interviews with a student from each department, 'day-in-the-life' diaries or webchats where you can chat with current students.

    They are a great way of gaining an in depth feel for a university and perhaps getting some of your questions answered, although there's no denying that they're not as effective as the real deal.

    Don't forget that the university will only show you the good stuff, and will keep any downsides out the picture.

    What we'd recommend? Use virtual open days to explore a wide range of unis, and based on that narrow your choices down to a select few that you want to visit in real life. This should save you from wasting money (and time) on visiting universities that you're not keen on.

  2. Organise travel in advance

    save money on transport

    Credit: BBC

    The main expense you're going to face is the cost of travel. Depending on how far afield you're looking, you might have to fork out on train or even plane tickets, which can get seriously expensive.

    Our main tip here is to get booked up as early as possible - if you leave it to the week before, prices will be sky high.

    Also make sure you invest in a 16-24 Railcard - this will give you a third off train tickets, and is an investment likely to pay off while you're at university too. While delays are super annoying, if you don't get to your destination on time you could be owed a refund, saving you money on your fare.

    That being said, try and avoid trains and planes where possible, as these are the most expensive modes of transport.

    Coach travel is massively cheaper, and organising a car share with a few mates/parents, would save you a tonne of cash.

  3. Ask your school for support

    school support

    Credit: BBC

    If there's an open day you're keen to go to, but you're struggling to afford the cost of transport, see if your school or college can offer any support.

    If there are a number of students all wanting to visit the same university, they might organise free coach travel for you all - who doesn't love a good, old fashioned school trip, eh?

    But even if you can't find a large gang of mates who want to come along, if you can effectively pitch to your school why you're so keen to attend this open day and how it could benefit your future, there's a chance they might have some funding available for you to use.

    At the end of the day, your school want you to be successful in your university application (it makes them look good too!), so there's a chance they might be able to help. If you don't ask, you'll never know!

  4. Visit multiple unis in one day

    visiting universities

    This might not always work if open days don't match up, but if you can visit a couple of universities on the same day, you'll save a heap of time and money.

    Even if there's two universities close to each other, but their open days are on different dates, you'll likely still be able to give both a look around.

    You won't get the same access as you would on an official open day, but you will still be able to have a wander through campus, get a feel for the area and potentially visit some of the facilities open to the public.

    If you decide that this could be the winning university, then you could arrange to come back for a future open day - don't forget that most universities will have multiple open days throughout the year.

  5. Plan your day effectively

    planning ahead

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    Universities are huge and there will likely be loads of different talks and sessions available for you to attend. To avoid wasting you time (especially if you're trying to attend a couple of open days in one day), plan a timetable which will ensure you get to see all the most important aspects.

    Download a map of campus, a map of the city or town, and a schedule of the open day itself to work out your best course of action.

    On a typical open day, there are normally a few main areas you're going to want to cover:

    Your subject department - there might be taster lectures, a chance to meet tutors or department tours
    Accommodation - tours will give you a good feel for the halls of residence
    Campus facilities - make sure to check out the libraries, gym, cafes and student union
    The town/city - this could be where you're living for the next three or four years, so make sure to explore the wider area too.

    It's a lot to cram in, so make sure you arrive early and combine things where possible. For example, if you have to walk to a halls of residence, pick a route that takes you through the city centre so you get a feel for the area en route.

  6. Make the most of freebies

    free food

    Credit: 20th Century Fox

    Universities use open days to win you over, and to butter you up they might offer some freebies.

    There'll likely be the usual goody bags and free pens, but keep an eye out for food and drinks vouchers - you might get yourself a free drink or discounted meal in one of the cafes on campus, which will save you a decent amount.

    There might even be competitions you can take part in or stalls handing out free nibbles. Soak up the atmosphere on campus and make the most of all the perks!

    Hungry for freebies now? Head to our deals section.

  7. Take food supplies

    Scooby Doo sandwiches

    Credit: Paramount

    That being said, if you don't manage to bag yourself free or discounted food on campus, taking your own will be much cheaper.

    Attending a university open day can be a seriously long day - you might have to prepare for breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you eat out for all three meals, costs will start to seriously rise.

    Pack a picnic and lots of snacks for the car/train/coach to keep you going. Why not try making some of these cheap but fancy sandwiches?

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