The Ontario Universities’ Fair takes place in September every year (in 2014 you can check them out from September 19-21). When I attended, oh-so-long ago, I remember feeling confused. There were so many schools in attendance and I had no idea what to say to them. General questions that popped into my head, such as “is it a good school?” or “is it a popular program?” had no merit – every school would answer “yes” and it didn’t help me figure out which school I actually wanted to attend. So that you don’t end up wasting your precious weekend hours, here are a few tips to make the trip a useful one:
Before you go…
Tip #1: Figure out your top fields of study
Many students don’t know the answer to “What do you want to be when you grow up?” You’re young. You can’t be expected to plan out your entire future at the age of 17. But for the purposes of selecting a program to study, try to have an idea of what interests you. That’s what high school is for. Which classes do you prefer? Which ones do you excel in? If you can narrow it down to one field, great. If not, pick two, max three (if you have more than that, you’ll be exploring a General Arts or Undecided program). The good thing is, you still have another 3-4 years of studying in this field to figure out a career that’s right for you.
Tip #2: Rank your priorities
Figure out what will make or break a school or program for you. Will you cross a school off your list if it’s a long commute? Will you favour a school that boasts smaller class sizes? Make a chart (if you’re a visual person) listing all the schools you want to talk to, along with all the features you want to know about. When you ask your questions, you can easily check off ones that meet your requirements.
Tip #3: Do some research on schools
Before attending the fair, use your priority list to find out the top schools in the province, and the top schools for your specific programs of interest. If you can narrow your search down to the top 5-10 schools, you have a fantastic starting point.
Tip #4: Figure out whereabouts you want to study
Do you want to live at home or in residence? Do you like the big city feel or small town? If you’re open to anything, that’s great – just make sure to keep your budget (or your parents’ budget) in mind. Speaking of which…
Tip #5: Decide on a general budget
Remember that different schools and programs can run you varying costs. Residence and meal plan costs can add up and you may need to explore student loans. If commuting to school, you may need to consider costs of public transportation or purchasing a car. It’s best to have the “money talk” with your family and decide what you’re comfortable spending or borrowing.
While you’re there…
Tip #6: Try not to feel intimidated
Be prepared for a lot of students, parents, and booths. Be patient and remember these students are all in the same spot as you, and are likely asking many of the same questions. Feel free to listen to what other students ask; maybe the reps will answer a question you didn’t know you had. The fair will hand out a map of the area so you can easily find which booths you want to target. You may need to wait in line to speak to a representative, so it’s best to arrive with sufficient time. The Ontario Universities’ Fair has a great online resource you should look at before you attend.
Tip #7: Talk to student representatives
Many schools will bring current students as representatives, and in some cases, they are even better at answering your questions than administrative reps. Picture these current students as the “future you”. Ask them how they like it. Ask them what their favourite parts of the campus and program are – and more importantly, their least favourite parts. Students are likely to give you an honest view of what you can expect.
Tip #8: Pick up program-specific pamphlets
Many schools might tell you that the program details are online. If you’re a more visual analyzer, pick up the pamphlets there to bring home and you can directly compare the details for each school. The more information you have, the better prepared you’ll be to make your decision.
Tip #9: Ask about everything
There are no stupid questions. Ask about eligibility, the program, and costs. Ask about the campus. Ask about services offered to students. Whatever you can think of, now is your time to ask it. You’re not on the spot here – the schools are. Grill them to your heart’s desire. The Ontario Universities’ Fair put together a great list of questions to give you a starting point.
Tip #10: Be organized, but don’t limit yourself
You’ve prepared your questions and your top schools. Chances are you’ll make a beeline for those when you arrive – and that’s good. Take notes, because you’ll likely forget a lot of the answers when you leave. Once you’ve finished talking to your preferred schools, keep an open mind about everything else. Maybe there’s a school you forgot to research in advance. Maybe there’s a presentation starting soon about a school you haven’t talked to.