How to make the most of a graduate school fair

By Kate Warren

Graduation ceremony at Marquette University where Andrew Natsios, distinguished professor in the practice of diplomacy at Georgetown University and former administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, was the commencement speaker. Learn about dozens of graduate programs that can propel your global development career at our Virtual Grad School Fair on Nov. 5. Photo by: Marquette University / CC BY-NC-ND

You know you need a postgraduate degree to succeed in a global development career, but knowing which degree to pursue isn’t as clear. Next to a home purchase, a master’s degree is likely one of the biggest investments you’ll make — so choosing a program wisely is critical to ensuring your time and money is well spent.

Graduate school fairs are a great way to learn about a multitude of programs in one place and connect with admissions officers and advisors to get an insider view of what their programs offer, what they look for in prospective students and what kinds of career options you can expect in the end.

However, if you’ve never attended a graduate school fair you may not know how to prepare or what to expect. Read on for tips on how to make the most out of your time.

1. Research your university wish list.

Time will be limited, and it’s unlikely you’ll have a chance to speak with recruiters from every graduate school participating.  Make sure you spend your time wisely by researching the programs in advance and making a list of those that interest you.

Don’t just jot down their names, but take the time to browse their website, understand their core offerings and familiarize yourself with basic information like application deadlines so you don’t waste valuable time asking questions you could easily answer on your own. Taking this extra step not only impresses university recruiters but will also help you “to ask good, thoughtful questions,” advised Sarah Olia, assistant director for the master’s in public administration in international development program at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

2. Have a list of “good, thoughtful” questions ready.

To maximize your eight minutes with each representative, come prepared with questions. But what makes a good question?

“Questions that indicate the prospective student has an understanding of the program,” according to Olia, who cited ‘I know that your program is focused on quantitative skills, could you give me an example of how graduates of the program are using those skills in their jobs?’ as a great example inquiry.

Questions like: “Could you tell me about your program?” or “What are my chances of being admitted?” that are “overly broad and/or clearly addressed on our website are not preferred,” Olia added.

3. Get informed now, market later.

Pro tip for virtual career fairs:

Because interactions will be happening over a written chat, have a document with the questions open on your computer so you can quickly cut and paste into the chat software. This will not only save time but also help prevent any embarrassing typos.

For most of the schools participating in a grad school fair, interactions during the event will not make an impact on admissions decisions. Unlike a career fair where your efforts will be spent on marketing your skills and experience to a potential employer, a graduate school fair isn’t the time to make a hard sales pitch. It is, however, a good opportunity to gather information to help inform how you promote yourself once it comes time to apply.

“We are impressed by students that can effectively and concisely articulate how their work experience and professional goals are a good fit for the program,” Olia said.

Ask questions that will help you better connect your skills and career goals to what their programs offer and understand what kind of experiences they value so that when it comes time to apply, you know what to focus on in your interviews and application materials.  

4. Follow up, but don’t overwhelm.

Transcripts of your discussions with each university representative will be saved and accessible in the “history” section of the event software for up to six months. Look them over and add additional takeaways or highlight key points directly after the fair, then be sure to follow up.

“A well-crafted and polite email is a nice follow-up to thank the program representative for his/her time and to show that the prospective student learned something from the conversation,” Olia suggested, along with requesting email addresses during your chat.

However, be careful not to come across as too pushy in your communications: “We also don’t recommend that you call our office multiple times asking the same questions of different people,” Olia said.

While it’s typically faculty that make ultimate admissions decisions, having the admissions team on your side can’t hurt.

You know you need a postgraduate degree to advance in a global development career, but deciding on a program, degree and specialization can be overwhelming. Devex and our partners are digging into all things graduate school and global development in a weeklong series called Grad School Week. Join online events and read more advice on pursuing a postgraduate education here.

This article was last updated on 29 October 2016

About the author

Warren kate 1
Kate Warren@DevexCareers

Kate Warren is the senior director and editor of careers and recruiting content at Devex. With more than a decade of international development recruitment experience working with international NGOs, consulting firms and donor agencies, she has a finger on the pulse of hiring trends across the industry and insider knowledge on what it takes to break in.


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