With the UCAS Exhibition coming up on 11th and 12th April at UWE, there’s no better time to ensure you know how to make the most of attending an event. Here’s some tried and tested tips to get you started.

The clock will be ticking

Whether you are going to a careers fair with display stands, a specialist talk, an open day or to an exhibition, make sure you prepare well in advance to get the most out of the event because your time is likely to be limited by crowds, scheduled talk times and even logistics such as car parking.

Aim to arrive for early morning – If you get a choice, try to get there early: the earlier the better because it will generally be quieter. Those participating will have only just set up their stands, they’ll be on their first coffee and fresh and ready to start the day. Any groups of visitors also won’t usually arrive until mid-to-late morning so you may well get more time with those you really want to speak with.

Be ready to be allocated a time slot – Chances are the event could also be very busy and so be prepared that you may even be allocated a time slot to attend or for a particular talk or session. In which case, be early, be ready, stay focused and make full use of the time allocated to you – it will be worth it.

Mix of stands

Know who’s going to be there – Depending on the type of event you could well get a mix of display stands: some you’ll want to visit and some you won’t. The better you prepare for the event, the easier it should be to know which to aim for and which to avoid. UCAS, for example, have published a list of the organisations exhibiting at their local Exhibition this year. In addition to an enormous list of universities and colleges from across the UK, there will be others there including EY (accountancy), Rolls-Royce and the Army – so, worth a look.

Keep an open mind – Regardless of any advanced planning, do try to keep your options open and take a look at some of the providers that you didn’t expect you’d want to see as there could be some really pleasant surprises. I’ve made some of my best contacts and discoveries through being unexpectedly signed up for a talk that I had not even noticed because I was focusing on other things. This was how I stumbled across the truly inspirational Cameron Parker at HUD, and John (Junior) Saunders at PR Rocket, for example. There will courses you haven’t even heard of and Unis you hadn’t considered – if you leave enough time to browse, it will be worthwhile!

Prepare in advance

And, if you’re going to an event, you’ll hopefully know why you are going? If it’s the UCAS Exhibition, for example, you will want to meet representatives from different Unis to find out more about the courses and what it’s like to study there. You’ll ideally have been looking online on the UCAS Search website to identify a few interesting courses and then use your time at the event to track down the relevant stands and find out more and have your questions answered in person.

Questions to prepare could include:

  • What’s it like to study there?
  • How many students are there?
  • How many are likely to be on the course?
  • What are the halls of residence/accommodation like?
  • Which ones are nearest to the lectures/sports facilities?

Research beforehand – Do some website research beforehand and you’ll have some really key questions left to ask. Staff and students on the stands will really like the fact that you are seriously considering them and not just having a chat on the way past saying “I’m just looking” because then they’ve got the hard work of trying to sell their Uni to you from scratch. You might even get a free pen, sweet or other goody off their table if you’re lucky!

Prioritise your questions – Try to also prioritise what you want to ask and who you want to speak to before the event in case of unexpected interruptions. I’ve lost count of how many times I’m in a conversation and someone seems to step in either with a choice of refreshments or an “I’m really sorry, but….” interruption. Forever the optimist, I would only suggest that you allow them their quick question and, if it’s relevant, take note of the additional information in their reply as it could save you some time.

Do you need a ticket to attend? – Besides the general logistics such as knowing where you are going, where you can park, and what the format will be, it is worth checking whether you need to get a ticket or not. These are often free, but they do allow the host organisation to manage the numbers attending and reallocate staff and talk times as appropriate. If you haven’t registered and got a ticket in advance, you may not get in and that could be a wasted journey!

On the day

Remember everything – Having got your ticket, please remember to bring it with you. These can often be stored on your mobile so not always needed on paper, but it could save you time on the door in trying to get in.

Be comfortable – If the event means you’ll be walking and standing a lot during the day, wear comfortable shoes. And if you might want to impress the people you talk to, consider what you’ll be wearing. This might be school uniform because you are on a school trip, but whatever you choose, try not to appear scruffy.

Browse freely – If you have no idea what you want to study or where, it is absolutely ok to use the day effectively to browse the aisles of stands looking for inspiration. Read the tall pop-up display stands which list their courses and aim to look keen when talking to the staff as it help motivate them to chat longer with you when they will have others waiting. One of the best ways to look keen is to know what they offer and ask questions.

Seize the moment – Another tip is to talk to anyone at a stand who seems free at that moment to talk to you. Even if they haven’t got the sort of general course you might like, they could well know a few Unis that do and steer you towards a choice of possible courses. Treat it like some free careers advice without commitment and see how you get on.

Before you leave – Check you got to speak with everyone on your list and, ideally, that you got a contact name/card from them – it’s the personal touch and reminds you who it was that inspired you at the event. Following an event or open day that you attended, for example, you might say in your Personal Statement that you wanted to apply to study a specific course following a conversation with someone from that University – even better if you’ve also been to their open day and attended a talk by one of their senior staff.

Be in Reception at break – And as a final opportunity, aim to be in the reception and breakout areas around lunchtime when key people will be taking a quick break from their stand to check their messages…etc. If you’ve a burning question and there’s been a long queue all morning, be polite, but this could be a good time to catch them (very quickly).

And finally …

Afterwards, consider following your main contacts on social media so you can keep up with what they are interested in. And look out for any key activities on their websites or on Careersnearhere, such as an open day at their organisation, for example. If you really want to work for them or study with them you could well have an interview at some point and need to demonstrate your enthusiasm with some relevant examples.

Careersnearhere: It’s Your Future – Let’s Get It Started!

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