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UCAS Fairs are great. They allow you to see hundreds of institutions under the same roof, compare your favourites, and chat to knowledgeable people. But to get the most out them you need a game-plan! Here is our ‘Soon To Be Not-So Secret’ Ten-Step Plan for Getting the Most Out of UCAS Fairs:
1/ Stack up on freebies. You can get a year’s supply of pens if you move fast between the stalls! However, don’t make the final judgement on which institution to attend based on the quality of their pens… 2/ Have fun at the event. You are in room with thousands of other students. If the music was cranked up a bit you could be in a nightclub. So don’t be shy about chatting to other students. You can quickly assess other students’ top ‘general’ priorities just with a quick chat, and this can help to reassess your own. Have you given enough thought to accommodation? Or BA vs BSc degrees? Or 3-year courses vs. 4 year? You may gain insights and you might speak to someone great… (You just never know when you will meet someone great. Why not at an UCAS Fair?) 3/ Make a short-list of the institutions you are seriously considering attending. Once you have cherry picked the freebies (from anywhere and everywhere). It’s time to get serious about your future. So you need to compare the institutions that are serious candidates. Visit each in turn (there shouldn’t be more than five in your short-list) and pick up a brochure. But make like the ‘Secret Service’ and grab the literature first and escape quickly (you will be coming back…) (You can help yourself out before attending the fair by doing a search on the UCAS Search Tool on the basis of course, provider or location to be able to get an initial list of potential places and courses to study). 4/ Before chatting to anyone on the stands go and grab a coffee and have a quick browse through ALL of the different prospectuses and documentation you have picked up. This will allow you to get a good-overview of the differences, the good and the bad about each one, and also open your eyes to obvious questions you need to ask the representatives of the different institutions (the 'experts') about the campus, location, teaching standards, fees, courses and the support they offer. Make some notes about what you want to ask! (Bring a notebook and the other tools of the student trade so you can check out websites, Facebook, Twitter and student testimonials!)
5/ Now it’s time to attack! Go back to each of your top-picks stalls and ask some questions of the experts on each stand. Start with your least likely pick. This will allow you to hone your questioning techniques on your most unimportant target. With each subsequent chat you will be better informed and ask more intelligent questions. By the time you get to your top one or two choices, you should be in a great position to evaluate them quite forensically AND appear to be a ‘smooth operator’ into the bargain! Allow yourself plenty of time for this process, so get to the fair early. You don’t want to be competing with other students in the final hour, when a little bit of panic sets in, as everyone realises they have spent the entire time goofing around, chatting and grabbing free pens! Instead, be calm and collected and feel like the ‘prepared’ person in the room, by allowing yourself plenty of time to chat to the experts. You can still have fun. But remember your real goal in attending is to firm up some decisions about your future study plans.
6/ Practice ‘intelligent eavesdropping’. After you have chatted to the experts of your top-pick institutions, be sure to listen in on other conversations that students are having with those same experts BOTH before and after you have asked your questions. They may be asking questions (and receiving answers) that you wish you had thought of! 7/ Also talk to students who are hovering around the stands of institutions you are considering, but not currently talking to anyone. This is now moving from ‘general’ to ‘specific’ information gathering. By now you should have a good knowledge of the courses, have a good feel for the institutions, and have narrowed your choice down. You now want to delve into the nitty-gritty detail. The student you are talking too may have already researched the institution to death, and you may find that a ten-minute conversation with someone ‘in-the-know’ (but not in the pay of the college) will reveal a titbit of information that puts a new gloss on a course or prospective institution that you would never learn any other way. A ready-made opening line such as “So, what course are you thinking about studying?” will quickly allow you to strike up a conversation and make an instant new friend. Remember to smile, be approachable, friendly and have relaxed body language when you say it, so they will want to spill their hard-earned knowledge. Friends tell friends things that they don’t tell strangers, so chat, but don't interrogate! You will learn more and have more fun!... 8/ Ultimately, you need to decide what factors are most important to you. If you want a buzzing social life, personal service, cheap fees AND great courses, then it may be that an institution like the London School of Business and Management (LSBM) in the heart of London ticks far more boxes than a more sober, detached and establishment institution. You need to decide what you care about most and then make some considered judgements. You could be spending the next three or four years of your life living with the consequences, so make sure you are happy that you have considered all your options. (You can read a list of the upcoming fairs that LSBM will be attending here.)
9/ Remember, that the UCAS Fair is not the end of the process. It is a great start. But you still need to have a proper handle on your finances and the overall shape of your life. Can you even afford to study for three years? Where will you live? If you can only live with your parents for example, then be realistic about your choice of institutions. If they live in Wales, then London may be out! But maybe not… Explore possibilities. Can you get a student loan? Do you have a skill that could get you a part-time job (bar person, evenings at ASDA, or teaching piano for example) that could earn you enough money during term-time to spread the net wider? Write down some realistic numbers. Include fees, living expenses, rent, food, costs of going out. Does it add-up?
If the institution you are interested in studying at has an Open Day, then it would be worth attending, as you can then both get a feel for the campus and explore some of these practical concerns. 10/ You need to fight for what you want in life. But you need to do it intelligently. There is a fable of a man who sees someone drowning. He dives into the water and rescues them. Then, just as he drags himself out of the water and onto the river bank again, he sees another person drowning. He dives in again and rescues them. He does this over and over again. Until finally, he is so tired he himself drowns from exhaustion while rescuing yet another 'victim'. The lesson to learn… If only he had walked around the bend of the river and stopped some other guy from tossing people into the water! He could have still been with us! Have a Plan!! If you approach UCAS Fairs systematically and with a plan, such as outlined here, then you can peer around the bend in the river, stop the guy from throwing people in, save the day, and STILL have plenty of time to sunbathe on the bank of the river! Treat UCAS Fairs with a plan and you will have plenty of time for fun, collecting freebies, chatting up other good-looking students, making friends and STILL be able to make some intelligent judgements about which course you should be studying, and where you should be studying it (and have time for coffee and cake!) Vive La UCAS Fairs!
Stuart Brown Media and Content Manager
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