If you’re a performing arts student with ambitions to progress to a career on stage or screen, you might already be thinking about what you want to do after school or college. And with some of the world’s best performing arts institutions right here in the UK, you really do have a wealth of opportunity on your doorstep.

Gaining a place on one of these prestigious courses isn’t easy though. There’s a rigorous application process involved which will include audition days and sometimes call backs. You should prepare for an exhausting experience – both mentally and physically – as you’re put through your paces in front of multiple audition panels.

That’s why – before you dedicate too much of your time to applying and auditioning for these courses – that you’re absolutely sure you want to spend the next three years of your life at the university in question. So, make sure that you’re really making the most of any theatre school open days you attend by asking all the important questions that might affect your choice.

To help you get all the information you’ll need to make such a huge decision, I’ve put together this handy guide of all the questions you should be asking and the things you should be doing on the day.

Where to go

When you visit the campus, take your time to get a feel for the place. Check out all of the important areas, but make sure you spend a bit of time wandering about the grounds and the nearby community alone, without a tour guide, so you can really take it all in.

Important learning rooms- Take a look at the theatres, rehearsal rooms, recording studios and classrooms-do these facilities look up-to-date and well-maintained?

Dining and social areas– The common areas can tell you a lot about the university environment. If there are plenty of students about, it’s clearly a good place to spend down time. If they’re empty, there’s probably a reason.

The campus– Having an impressive campus makes a huge difference to students’ attitude towards their uni. A deserted campus doesn’t bode well for this, and one that’s run down and unkempt looks even worse.

The accommodation- The accommodation is one of the most important aspects of your university life. No student halls are perfect, but they need to be at least bearable- you’ll be living there, after all.

Explore the local community– If you can, spend time exploring the local area. Test out public transport to the nearest city or town from the university and see what’s on offer in terms of shopping, food and the local nightlife.

What to do

On the day, you’ll probably be overloaded with talks, meetings and tours to attend. Figure out the crucial events you’ll need to go to in advance and book a place on any that might get full quickly.

Course talks– If you know which course you want to apply for, or if you’re torn between more than one, attending course specific talks will give you some valuable insight that might help you to make your decision or give you some tips for acing the application process.

Finance talks– Understanding university finance options can be a minefield, so make sure you attend any finance talks the university is offering.

Attend performances– There’ll probably be more than one performance staged throughout the day. Make sure you take the time to attend one. The performers will be students like you hope to be, and you could pick up some tips as to the kind of calibre the institution expects by watching them.

Important questions to ask

Ask a tutor:

What does the course cover?

Does the course content interest you? Is that what you wanted to study?

What’s the split between theory and practical?

What do you want from your course- if you want a training experience where you will learn vocal technique, dancing and acting skills, then finding out that the course is theory based with only elective practical options might give you a good idea that the course isn’t for you.

What do you look for in a good audition?

The tutors could potentially be on the panel at your audition, so they can tell you what they expect from you. You’ll probably find that most tutors have pet hates in the audition process that they’ll warn you against – certain songs or monologues that people always choose or behaviours they dislike. Learn what to avoid and what to emphasise.

Ask a student:

How much opportunity is there for you to perform?

This will give you an idea of the level of training to expect, and how dedicated the institution is to seeing their students succeed in performing as a career. The best theatre schools will make sure they give you all the opportunities you need to perform your work in different environments before you graduate.

Can you give me any tips for the audition?

Who better to ask this question than somebody who’s successfully gone through the process? They should be able to give you valuable insight into what to expect, what to prepare and how to act to best impress the panel.

Make sure you take a notepad on the day to jot down your findings and thoughts on various aspects. Having notes will help jog your memory when it comes to making the decision about where you want to apply later on. Speak to your parents too, they’ll want to make sure you’re completely happy and safe wherever you end up, so their opinion will be honest and invaluable in making your choice.

By taking as much as you can from the open day experience, you should feel more prepared for the application process. You never know, if you made the right impressions with your questions and enthusiasm on the open day, they might even remember you when you audition!

Claire Morris is a theatre enthusiast and writer for PG Stage, a stage and studio installation company specialising in sound systems and audio visual solutions.