The pressure to make a good impression can make approaching representatives at a postgraduate fair can be a nerve-wracking experience. However, by doing your research, thinking about how you will come across and having a plan on the day, you can make this first step in your future academic life really count.
As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s likely that any postgraduate careers fair you attend will take place via an online platform. Much of the advice in this article – such as about how to introduce yourself and how to ensure you come away with the right contacts – remains relevant. Do make sure you test your tech before the fair and read any information about how to use the platform and the organisation of the event.
Do your research
You'll find that a little background research can go a long way. Exhibitors are publicised ahead of time, so look into rankings, specialisms and courses in advance, to make the most of your time on the day.
If you don't have time to do a lot of prep, at least check that institutions offer courses in your subject. You can do that online with the course search on university websites. Try to visit at least three different institutions to give yourself a good spread of information and contrasting approaches.
Collect a guide
When you arrive on the day, make sure you register and collect a copy of the fair guide. This will include a floor plan, and details of seminars or talks you might be interested in so you can organise your timetable.
At some fairs, you'll be issued a badge with a barcode. Exhibitors scan your badge (with your permission) to send you a prospectus or an email with funding information directly. This saves you from being weighed down with paper on the day.
Keep an open mind
Don't discount universities that you hadn’t thought of straight away – reputations vary from subject to subject. Take a look how much money the research councils distribute to departments in your specialist field.
It becomes even more important to try to shake any preconceptions when you consider vocational qualifications. A university that doesn't rank particularly highly for undergraduate mathematics could have an exceptional range of teacher training course options and an outstanding OFSTED report.
Approach some people you might not have initially considered. You might be surprised by what you learn.
Get your elevator pitch ready. It can be nerve-racking to go up to a series of strangers and introduce yourself, but if you know how you're going to start it makes it much easier. 'Hi, I'm George. I studied history at the university of Reading, and I’m interested in doing a masters in digital publishing. I’m very interested in your [ABC] course, and I’ve experience in [X,Y and Z].'
Do be assertive when you meet people at the fair – give a firm handshake and make eye contact. Confidence in your ability to do the course and that you'd be a good ambassador for the department is an asset, particularly if you want to apply for funding. Warning: don't overdo the swagger. Avoid moving over the line from confidence (good) to cockiness (not good).
Some universities may have someone from marketing or communications as the representative on their stand. If the person you’re talking to can't answer questions about your specialism, get their details so you can follow up and ask them about who to contact later. If you make a good impression, they are more likely to respond positively. Remember to take a note down, or save, the representative's details as a contact in your phone along with the department they work in. This will mean you don’t need to work your way through all the names in the university directory.
Avoid a financial faux pas
Funding is important and universities understand that, but make sure it isn't the first thing you mention when you meet a representative at the fair. They want to know you're interested in the institution and the department, not just that you’re a student looking for cash.
Take the opportunity to get past the prospectus
Which schools partner on the PGCE course? Are you interested in a particular hospital or working with a certain company if the course includes a placement? Do you have specific requirements or are there facilities that would make your life easier?
For example, is there a crèche on campus, or does the university recommend one off-campus for students with young children? Are there plans to offer a specific course online in the next academic year? Fairs can be the chance to ask follow-up questions if you’ve seen something in the prospectus or on the website.
Employment statistics and graduate destinations
Do ask about departmental employment statistics and graduate destinations after the course. It will give you a better idea of how the commercial world views the course, and which employers value the programme.
Should I go to a postgrad fair if I’m a first or second year undergrad?
Even if you're in the first or second year, going to a postgraduate fair can be really worthwhile. It's a chance to see what's out there, what the differences are between types of courses – as well as to get a feel for the personalities of universities at a postgraduate level. It's never too early to become better informed and get yourself into a position to make the best decisions for your future.