How to Prepare for a Virtual Grad School Fair

Sheena Daree Miller

How to Prepare for a Virtual Grad School Fair
Illustration by Marian Blair

If you’re thinking about furthering your education in a field related to social impact, make sure you attend one of this year’s Idealist Grad School Fairs. Taking place virtually this September and October, the fairs provide opportunities to learn about programs and network with admissions officials, all while getting answers to questions that will likely influence your final decision on whether or not to apply to a particular program. 

Keep reading for tips on how to get the most out of this year’s virtual Idealist Grad School Fairs. Good luck!

Leading up to a virtual Idealist Grad School Fair

Treat the virtual fair like an on-campus visit. What would you ask if you were taking the time to visit each school you’re interested in? To prepare, be sure to:

Get organized. Ana-Cristina Medal, a career counselor at the University of Vermont, says, before you do anything, “Make sure you sign up!” Though the Idealist Grad School fair allows attendees to register last minute, knowing you’re signed up in advance can help you avoid scheduling conflicts and hold yourself accountable in preparing for the event. 

At large fairs with 50+ institutions present, there’s a lot to keep in mind. After registering, add the events and relevant links to your calendar, and create a system to keep track of everything. 

Keep in mind that the Idealist Grad School Fair is chat-based, and all interaction occurs via typed communication. Being organized from the start will help you navigate conversations during the fair with ease, since you’ll be able to refer to your notes, materials, and questions as you chat with admissions representatives.

Make a plan. Double check dates and times. Note the time zone, so that you don’t tune in too late. Review the list of programs that will be present at the fair in advance and make a list of the programs that you definitely want to connect with as well as a few “runners up” if you have extra time. 

Compile details about your program(s) of interest. Take note of application requirements, including required documents and deadlines. Knowing exactly what is required to apply can help you make better use of any time you do have with admissions representatives to get answers to questions that aren’t as readily available on the site. 

Do your homework and make a list of questions you have

See which schools will be in attendance and read their profiles on Learn about faculty in the program and the curriculum, and do a search on LinkedIn to see what sorts of roles alumni are now in. 

Think both about why you’re considering pursuing graduate study and how it may impact your career trajectory. Some of your questions will be things you want to bring up during the fair, while others are for you to reflect on independently or with someone you trust. 

While you don’t need to have it all figured out, keeping some of the following concerns in mind will help you discover what’s most important to you:  

  • Finances. Is school financially feasible for you right now? Is there funding for graduate students? Teaching assistantships? Other opportunities to earn supplemental income? 
  • Time. Are there options for part-time study? How will becoming a student work with your other commitments? What are your options
  • Admissions procedures. Is the GRE or another standardized exam required? Are you required to have prior academic or professional experience in the field? 
  • Academic requirements. Will you be required to write a thesis or complete a capstone project? Are there experiential requirements or opportunities to gain field experience? 
  • Program choice. What makes this program interesting to you? Are there particular faculty with whom you’d really like to do research or take classes?

Cover your basics

Taking a few moments to prepare your space and materials will put you in a position to have a positive experience and make the most of the fair.

  • Get the technology right. Merida Escandon Gasbarro, Director of Graduate Program Admissions at The New School, offers a helpful reminder, “Each platform is different, so log into the fair ahead of time and get familiar with the features and layout.” Make sure you’ll have access to consistent WiFi and a device that allows you to communicate properly. 
  • Approach the event with professionalism. Even if you’re only exploring the potential of graduate school, be ready to share why you’re considering applying and what you think you’d bring to the program. 
  • Make sure you know why you’re attending the fair. Gasbarro encourages attendees to “start thinking about how a particular program might fit your career goals. Reflect on experiences that have influenced your decision to pursue graduate study.” Even if you don’t wind up using it, it’s an ideal time to practice your pitch and get comfortable talking about your experience, interests and aims. 
  • Compile any materials that may be useful during into a master document. Take advantage of your physical space, by having your resume alongside a document containing questions and a few bullet points about yourself on your device, for quick reference during conversations. Make things less stressful by having these documents open and organized in a way that makes it easy to cut-and-paste information into chats. 

Practice expressing yourself via typed communication 

Written communication lacks the physical cues that often guide conversations and signal enthusiasm. That means it’s even more important to make sure your communication is intentional, precise, and respectful. 

  • Practice introducing yourself via chat. It’s wise to have some text written ahead of time that you cut and paste into the chat box, but be careful not to overwhelm anyone by sending huge blocks of text. Keep your intro formal and short, for example “Hi, my name is Roxana and I’m excited to chat with you about American University’s MA in Intercultural and International Communication. Thanks in advance for your time.”  
  • Type slowly and review your words. It’s easy to make mistakes, so reread everything and make sure you’re sending it to the intended recipient. Taking a moment to type thoughtful and concise sentences gives the admissions representative time to respond without feeling rushed (this will also help to make your conversation nice and skimmable for the program rep on the other side of the chat box).
  • Stay focused. Once you start a conversation, focus on it and avoid distractions. You don’t want to let your attention wander elsewhere and realize the program representative has left the chat due to your inactivity. 
  • Use proper grammar and spelling. If it’s helpful, consider having a blank document open where you can check the spelling of your text before you send it. If you realize you’ve made a mistake, don’t overthink it, just quickly correct yourself and keep the conversation going. 
  • Be polite and thoughtful. Be mindful of how much time you take up and respect that the admissions representatives may be exhausted. If you have a long list of questions, let them know this early on and ask if they’d prefer to respond via email or at a time when they aren’t engaging with a lot of other people. Express gratitude at the end of conversations. 

During and after the Idealist Grad School Fair

Here are some tips to put into action during the actual fair: 

  • Log in with your full name and an email address you regularly check. This ensures that schools will be able to follow up with you. Occasionally programs waive application fees for fair attendees, so make sure they can find you. 
  • Be present and positive. Medal reminds attendees to stay engaged throughout the whole event, especially during one-on-one conversations. Taking notes helps, and will be useful to help you recall each program’s distinguishing features. 
  • Follow up. Keep track of and send a quick note of gratitude to the people who made time to engage with you. If you decide to apply, drop a note thanking them and acknowledge that their insight informed your decision. 


Planning to return to school? Check out our Grad School Resources and connect with schools directly through Idealist.

Sheena Daree Miller

Sheena Daree Miller is based in Brooklyn and divides her time between working in faculty development at a university and managing a black heritage center at a library. She is committed to promoting equity, with an emphasis on supporting graduating students and career changers.