The education fair season is upon us and if you are considering postgraduate courses, you may be planning to go to a postgraduate study fair to look at your options. Fairs are a great way to meet representatives of universities and to get some of your questions about particular courses answered. If, like me, you favour face-to-face contact, then a fair is definitely worth considering.
Fairs vary greatly from one another, from very large international events to regionally-focussed ones. Some will be aimed at both UG and PG students together across all subject areas, whilst others will be limited to a narrower set of disciplines or specific levels of study. Your best bet is therefore to do some research and ask around to find out which one would be best suited to you, or consult your careers service (most will have information on further study).
In order to get the best out of graduate fairs you should do a bit of research. Going to a fair just to browse without any idea what the universities there have to offer is probably not the best way to take advantage of the opportunities they offer (or the most efficient use of your time). You should consider doing a bit of research online where you can get top-level and even detailed information, especially if you are not sure yet which universities are on your shortlist or what kind of postgraduate courses you are interested in.
Postgraduate fairs may not give you the exact same experience as attending postgraduate open days at your chosen universities, but they have a number of advantages, especially if you are at the start of your postgraduate course search, or if you are exploring several courses. Fairs also offer the opportunity to:
You should always look up the universities that are attending and their programme offerings. While most university representatives at fair stands have no involvement in the decision to admit students, some might and they may use the information you provide at the fair as part of the decision-making process. Others will provide detailed information about potential 'leads' (or suitable applicants) to admissions staff/programme directors so it is best to leave a good impression. Knowing nothing about a university does not show a great deal of commitment to that institution and may not impress recruitment and admissions staff (believe it or not, I have been asked whether my institution, a world-leading Scottish university, was in London).
Unless it is a specialist fair, or you are speaking to staff from a very small institution, people at the stand are unlikely to know all the details of all the courses they have on offer. In my institution, there are nearly 300 Masters programmes and 100 research areas! What staff at fairs can do is provide you with information over and above what you could find online or in the prospectus. They can also help you by:
Sometimes, university stands will also feature current or former students who are volunteering a bit of their time to chat to prospective students about their experience of studying at that particular institution. If you can, do have a chat with them. They will have some useful insight and will be able to answer questions about the day to day experience of PhD study at a particular university. Similarly, if academics are at the stand, ask them a few questions about teaching and learning and / or research, even if they are not from your discipline. this can give you information about the overall ethos of that institution when it comes to its students.
Individual academic sections of universities may attend fairs, representing only their portfolio of programmes and research expertise. If they do not have information about your subject area readily available, ask them to pass on your details to the relevant staff or to give you information on how best to contact people in the relevant department.
You’ll often get the opportunity to leave your contact details with the staff you meet. This is recommended if you are interested in receiving follow-up information or if you want to be kept informed of other events from that fair organiser or featuring a particular university (you should be able to opt-out of receiving these notifications at any point). If there are no obvious ways to leave your contact details, you can always ask for a business card and subsequently email the recruitment and admissions staff you have met.
Further down the line, if the fair has helped you to narrow your search, why not look into visiting the university or universities of your choice? Dedicated postgraduate events are a good chance for you to meet peers and possibly current and / or former postgraduate students who can give you a first-hand perspective on what it is like to do a Masters or a PhD at that university. This article in The Telegraph, although having an undergraduate flavour, makes interesting reading. If you are not able to visit in person (for example if your university is abroad), some universities will also have virtual events you can use to find out more( these might include online tours, podcasts, live chats or presentations).
Choosing a university and the right postgraduate programme for you can be a complex process but however you go about it make sure you utilise all the resources available to you. Good luck!