Thinking of heading to graduate school to pursue your Master’s, or maybe even a PhD? Bombarded with too much information on your prospective school’s website? Luckily, there’s a more personalized experience to help make your decision that much easier.
“(Graduate school fairs) are a great opportunity for students because it brings all of these programs into one location,” says Lisa Macpherson, a career advisor and the coordinator of the Career Advisor Mentor Program at the University of Manitoba. “It’s easy, convenient, and a great way to get information and connect with exhibiters personally, especially now that everything is on the Internet.”
And connecting with these exhibitors is what matters. That’s because there’s a graduate program for just about everyone, whether you’re looking to spread your wings in academia, or hoping to get education leverage in a particular industry. Research-based Master’s programs involve both intensive course work, and an original area of research presented as a thesis. Course-based programs meanwhile are often accompanied with a professional designation upon completion. Both can range between two to three years to complete. A doctoral degree follows the completion of a Master’s degree, and can require an additional two or three years of study.
These are BIG time investments. So how would you go about researching programs and getting to know your prospective school? While starting to search for relevant program information, online is a great start. Buts as Macpherson says, the amount of data thrown your way can be tough to wade through. That’s why graduate school fairs are an important resource that you should take serious advantage of.
These fairs are where universities send representatives from various faculties to meet prospective students and answer their questions. Most fairs happen between September and October, as it coincides with the times when most students begin their application process.
The size of the fairs depend on the city and location, as schools tend to send representatives to where they’ll receive more visitors and bigger interest from potential students. Ryerson University’s graduate fair in downtown Toronto, for example, was crowded but had fewer institutions represented. The University of Toronto’s graduate fair was also crowded but had a larger number of schools represented. But despite the size or number of institutions represented at your particular location, there are a number of ways to make a visit to a graduate fair worthwhile.
“It could be really significant to know ahead of time who’ll be attending a fair in your local area,” says Nancy Ceresia, Liaison and Marketing Officer at the University of Ottawa. “You can use this information to develop a set of questions that you may have pertaining to any number of things that the exhibiters would be happy to answer.”
Graduate fairs are also a wonderful opportunity to clarify any questions you may have about prerequisite requirements, program deadlines, and opportunities for funding. But while these are very important questions, students should look beyond them to find the right fit.
“I think a lot of students get really focused on the program prerequisites they are applying to,” says Macpherson. “But students should also be looking at the program content, the specialty areas in your potential program, and also how the program can help settle you into a future career.”
Macpherson also encourages her students to ask what alumni from your programs are up to, as it gives them a sense of employment outcomes and also potential networking connections.
Graduate fairs can also give you an opportunity to get in touch with professors that you could be working with in the future in a face-to-face environment, or through e-mail, if they are not present.
“You could put your name down on an e-mail list and various programs could get in touch with you later,” says Ceresia. “It’s a great way to speak directly to the people who are involved with the program you want to attend.”
Students should also be aware that applying for funding for graduate school begins roughly a year prior to your estimated start date, says Ceresia, and personalized information taken from recruiters could be invaluable.
Applying for graduate school is no easy task. The reality is university enrolment numbers are skyrocketing across Canada, causing many students to consider attending graduate school to further their studies and better their chance of employment upon graduation. And the numbers don’t lie: graduate numbers are rising steadily with 195,400 graduate students enrolled full-time or part time (a 3.2 and 2.3 percent increase since 2010).
With so much competition and so much invested in this decision, graduate fairs give students an opportunity to meet exhibiters in a one-on-one environment to ease the application process along. This matters, because feeling comfortable with your career important decision means everything for future success.