Are you planning a university careers fair? Top tips from a university perspective
Before I worked for City, University of London, I was a UCAS coordinator and responsible for organising our college’s annual higher education fair. I knew little about how to do this at the time and I have learnt so much more being on the other side of things.
With that experience in mind, this blog aims to support anyone new to organising a higher education fair, or those who want to know what is helpful to universities to improve their higher education fair experience.
When is the best date for your higher education fair?
March, June and October are the busiest months for university outreach teams; on some days we have six or seven events a day, including fairs, talks and exhibitions. If it works in your yearly timetable it may be best to avoid these months, or if you can’t, try and avoid Wednesdays and Thursdays which tend to be the busiest days.
It may also be worth consulting the UCAS events calendar (available on the UCAS website) and to try to avoid putting your event on the same day as any of those events, particularly the big ones such as London UCAS - as these events may tie up entire university outreach teams.
At City, we work with a lot of schools and colleges who tend to run their events on the same day every year, so working around these existing dates may help you to increase the number of universities who are able to attend your event as well. Please don’t be afraid to ask us which dates to avoid when planning when to hold your fair, or even ask us to vote on a few dates.
The earlier you can let universities know the date of the event the better, so it is planned into events calendars early. We have had some schools approach us only a couple of weeks before an event which makes attendance difficult with little time to arrange the logistics and ensure colleague availability.
The timing of your higher education fair
Events at schools often vary in length, with the most common time being 11am - 2pm. The event obviously needs to fit in with your school day, but don’t feel they necessarily need to go on all day (we would rather work a shorter, busier event). Some schools have fairs in the evenings so parents and guardians can attend as well.
How can you invite universities to your higher education fair?
Universities will have either outreach or recruitment staff/current students who attend higher education fairs, and we know which schools fall under which team if the teams sit separately.
If you visit the university website and head to the schools liaison section you can get an idea of who is best to contact. If you can avoid a general enquiries email you will probably get a better response from attendees. UniTasterDays (where you are reading this!) is also a great way to reach out to universities to see if they will attend an event such as a higher education fair through the request an event area of the UniTasterDays website.
It’s best not to approach academic staff with career fair invitations - it tends to be outreach teams or student ambassadors (current or ex-students) who will attend higher education fairs.
It’s up to you how many and which universities you invite - but our recommendation is to look at the destinations of your previous students to try and invite universities who your students most want to see (though we know some schools who invite others to try and increase the scope!).
What information do universities require about your higher education fair?
It is really helpful if you can send universities all the information for the event in one go and with lots of notice before an event (it doesn’t have to be at the time you get us to sign up, just before the event). We often have to arrange our couriers at least six weeks before an event, so if you can send us logistics information in advance it is a huge help. Ideally the pre-event information will include:
- Delivery information - for example, restrictions and where and when things should be delivered.
- Details of refreshments or lunch - we don’t expect you to provide lunch but it’s helpful to let us know either way if this will be available, and it is always appreciated if you do offer it.
- Whether WiFi is available and whether there are electrical sockets - many schools ask universities to say if these are required as it may affect the floor plan if you have a limited number.
- Travel information - please include how to travel by public transport and driving instructions as your attendees will use both options, and parking information (or lack of) is useful to include too.
- The shape of the tables if they aren’t rectangular - we will usually bring our own tablecloths and these are rectangular but we know not every school has tables of this shape!
- Whether it is going to be particularly cold or warm in the venue.
- The schedule for the attendees throughout the day - if you have split by year group or by courses it’s really helpful to know this.
University courier companies
Some universities will bring their own equipment to a higher education fair, but some of us (particularly in London) may need to have some or all of our items for the stand couriered in advance.
Many universities use logistic companies who specialise in university event delivery, and will deliver for many universities at one time. The nature of this means we don’t always know when they will deliver, so if you have specific requirements for this e.g. don’t deliver before a certain date, we need to know that with as much notice as possible to tell the company (a month can be too short notice as we may have already put the order in with the logistics company).
It is worth making sure that your reception staff are aware that deliveries will be arriving for an event, and for you to consider where everything will be stored in advance of the event as well. We have worked at a few events where reception teams have had no idea the event is happening and so our deliveries go missing! It’s never ideal to do an event without prospectuses, so anything that can be done to avoid them going missing is really appreciated. Usually schools then put the boxes on our individual stands, or put them all in one place near the fair so we can collect them when we arrive.
Finally – my top tips for organising a successful school higher education fair
- It is a really good idea to prepare your students for how best to utilise a higher education fair before the event itself. We recommend doing a short talk that covers what the event is and what sort of questions to ask. I have seen schools create sheets which prompt questions (and have space to write answers) and produce guides and maps on the attendees and where their stand is - this is a great way to engage students.
- If you are inviting a range of year groups to an event it is best not to mix them in each slot; it’s quite difficult to jump from speaking to a year 7 to a year 12 and back again. Universities may also decide not to give prospectuses to younger students as so much can change before they apply. If you are inviting younger years it’s a good tip to give them a document to work through with questions for the universities that are appropriate to them.
- It is up to you whether you put a plan in place of where each university’s stand will be in the room (most do). Alphabetical works quite well as a fair way of allocating stands, but you may prefer to group by location or by interest levels.
- If you can provide drink refreshments it’s always appreciated - we are grateful for tea, coffee and water whilst we speak all day!
- It is best not to assume that our representative will have a DBS, so if your school specifically require one please make sure you let us know so we can choose the attendee accordingly (and ensure the certificate is with them!)
- It is quite unusual for universities to bring free bags to give to students at higher education fairs, so you may find it helpful to provide a free bag for your students so they can collect more prospectuses (this is very rarely done but I have seen it work well in practice!)