The university fair is a setting many young people nowadays are familiar with. Even if you are just starting to look for the best options for Masters programmes, the chances are you have attended similar events while planning your undergraduate studies or have at least heard of them here and there. Education fairs have been successful for a reason – they guarantee a win-win scenario for both sides. On the one hand, they are a great opportunity for students who wish to interact with as many schools as possible without having to email or visit them one by one. On the other hand, universities can easily present the advantages of their programmes to the right audience as well as get a feeling for the current market and competition.

Although finding your way around a university fair can be confusing at first, following just a few smart tips will help you get the most out of the opportunity.

Get to know the participants

First and foremost, come prepared! This is a mantra that everyone in higher education likes to repeat because they know how important it really is. For example, if you are looking for a Masters programme abroad and are about to attend a fair hosted in your home country, make sure you read up on the schools which will be attending. Normally, the fair organisers share this kind of information as early as possible and make it easily accessible. Check the official website or social media channels for any updates of the event programme.

Preparation is essential not only for leaving a good impression when talking to school representatives but much more importantly, for making the experience as valuable as possible for yourself. Getting to know the programmes on offer in advance will point you to the most interesting options and will help you filter out the helpful details from the ones that still seem vague. Make a list of questions for each school that you plan to meet, so that you can get all the details from the best source – the university representative at the fair. It will also be helpful to bring a CV/resume and hand in a copy during your meetings.

Be open to new ideas

Good preparation does not mean being closed-minded. For instance, the Open Fair sessions offered at Access Masters events around the world feature programmes from a wide range of disciplines including business and management, information technologies, humanities, and more. Although it is certainly a great idea to pre-select several Masters programmes that seem most suitable for your interests and needs, it is just as important to stay open to other possibilities. A particular university may not provide enough compelling information on paper but, perhaps, their representative has exciting alumni stories to share or will simply point you to a degree you may not have considered initially. According to Katryna Snow, Assistant Director of Higher Education Services at the Council of International Schools, it is perfectly normal for students to approach representatives from schools or universities they are not familiar with and ask for a basic overview of their specialisations. She also adds that a student should never be afraid to say “I have never heard of you. Tell me more.” The curiosity demonstrated by potential applicants will not go unnoticed.

Navigate the setting with ease

As you know, university fairs do not usually have a particular schedule for “who meets who”. Attendees are encouraged to dive into the busy environment and explore the stands of the participating schools, though that does not imply “chaos” in any way. If you see that the representative of a particular school you are interested in is already occupied with other people, simply join in the conversation and listen to what they have to say. It goes without saying that you should avoid interrupting your peers but there is nothing wrong in being proactive as well. In other cases, school representatives may take their time to talk to attendees individually which is definitely worth the patience. The sooner you get a grip of the flow at the event, the more efficient and organised you will be in your meetings with the universities.

Keep track of time

The rather unstructured format of university fairs compared to One-to-One meetings also means that attendees need to keep track of their time. One-to-One individual meetings organised by Access Masters with business schools usually last 20 minutes and both the potential applicant and the school representative are aware of the exact time slot at their disposal. In comparison, although the unwritten rules of the fair suggest that attendees cannot occupy the time and attention of one university endlessly, there is no specific frame of reference either. It is a good idea to stay aware of your surroundings and to accommodate yourself to each individual situation. If you notice that your conversation with a particular university is becoming lengthy and detailed, you can always suggest a second meeting in person, over the phone or Skype. Having a list of questions in advance will also help you stay on the right track. Finally, make sure you ask for the contact information of the school representatives whom you met and contact them as soon as you can after the event to thank them for their time and attention. Feel free to ask them any further details or additional questions.

Meet other attendees

Regardless of the type of education event potential applicants are attending, it is important to remember that they will be surrounded by a crowd of like-minded individuals. A study fair is much more than an opportunity to talk to schools or universities; it is also an opportunity to gather impressions from other people of a similar age and to learn and get inspired from their own experiences in education. Although you will definitely not need rigid preparation for networking with peers, you could show interest in their previous studies, their choice of university or even their career plans. Needless to say, meeting other event attendees will be extremely helpful in developing your overall networking skills and applying them throughout your professional career. The networking guide compiled by Imperial College London (UK) also gives some sound advice: “If you are a little reserved and shy, then you can develop good networking skills simply by asking questions and showing a genuine interest in others. Learn to follow up and stay in touch with contacts you’ve made.”

After your first visit to a university fair, you will probably have a good idea of the general event format and will feel much more comfortable navigating it the next time.