HE Research Snippet 6 – The increasing importance of university open days: Why it’s crucial to make a great first impression

Posted on 23rd April 2013 by Youth

Research Snippets: Our monthly Research Snippets look at interesting and topical findings unearthed by the HE team at YouthSight. See all our HE Research Snippets here. If any of your colleagues would like to receive our Research Snippets, ask them to drop a line to: james.macgregor@YouthSight.com

Our latest research shows that Open Days are becoming increasingly – and significantly – more important in the applicant decision-making process.Our Higher Expectations study (which examines the importance of a wide range of key decision-making influencers), clearly demonstrates their growing importance over the past few years.

The latest results for the undergraduate cohort who started in September (Figure 1 below) show that ‘the open day generally’ was more important for 2012/13 prospective students than in any previous wave of the study (since its inception in 2005). In addition, every other measure relating to open days has increased in importance (all changes since last year are statistically significant).

Figure 1: The growing importance of the university open day in the applicant decision making process

2009/10 2011/12 2012/13
The open day generally 34% 35% 40%
Being impressed by campus (buildings and facilities) at the open day 32% 34% 39%
A well organised / professional open day 31% 33% 38%
An informative open day 32% 32% 37%
Being impressed by staff I met at the open day 30% 32% 36%
Being impressed by the city / location at the open day 30% 30% 34%
Being impressed by the students I met at the open day 20% 20% 24%
CHO10. How important were each of these factors in your decision about which university to choose?
Base: All respondents Higher Expectations; 2009/10 (11,337), 2011/12 (13,050), 2012/13 (12,334)

Please note, this question was not included in 2010/11

This table shows those who considered each measure ‘very important’. Percentages emboldened highlight a statistically significant change since the previous year.


Higher Expectations also measures the effectiveness of open days at an institutional level. Figure 2 shows the varying success of institutions in hosting a successful open day. On average, just over half of students (51%) were more likely to want to attend an institution after going to the open day. However, this proportion ranges from as high as 81% at the best performing institution to only 22% at the worst performing institution. The performance of institutions, in terms of open day effectiveness, doesn’t conform to the typical binary division between ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’ universities. For example, there are thirteen ‘traditional’ institutions amongst the lower performing groups and twelve ‘modern’ institutions amongst the higher performing groups outlined in Figure 2.

For full competitive benchmarking on the effectiveness of your university’s open day (compared to all other institutions), contact us.

Figure 2: The effectiveness of open days by institution: proportion of open day attendees more likely to want to attend the institution

The effectiveness of open days by institution

DEC6A. Did the open day make you want to go to the university more or less?
Base: All respondents Higher Expectations; 2011/12 (13,050)

This chart shows the proportion who selected ‘More likely’ at the institutional level


Prospective students now have access to more material than ever before to inform their university decision, but the open day is possibly the only source that allows prospective students to get a true ‘feel’ for an institution. And as our analysis shows, open days are clearly growing in importance. Given the rise in tuition fees, it is perhaps unsurprising that prospective students are making a more considered university choice in which the open day plays a greater role. However, it is clear that some institutions’ open days are far more effective than others in swaying prospective students’ decision-making.

Our Higher Expectations survey offers far more detailed analysis of university open days (including the activities undertaken, usefulness of activities and the impact of interviews and assessments) at the level of the individual institution. Contact us on 020 7288 8789 or james.macgregor@youthsight.com for more information.

James MacGreogor, (Director, Higher Education)
020 7288 8789

YouthSight owns the consumer access panel for higher education: 70,000 current students, 18,000 graduates and 17,000 applicants and 10,000 other young people.We’ve completed hundreds of projects for our HE clients, helping over 90 universities and HE organisations obtain the insights and data they need to drive important decisions. We’ve helped policy bodies collect evidence for ground breaking reports, we’ve helped marketing directors develop winning strategies and we’ve helped Deans to create new early stage course propositions that genuinely meet market needs.

Our portfolio of products is based on a clear understanding of the needs of HE professionals combined with a sophisticated approach to the ‘tools of our trade’, including qualitative and quantitative interviews, regression & key driver analysis, Price Sensitivity Meter and choice-based conjoint or trade-off techniques. Here are some of our key products and approaches:

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