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Making the Most of Your Visit to a STEM College and Career Fair

student doing equationsReady to learn more about the opportunities available to students interested in science, technology, engineering, and math? There’s no better place to explore your options than at a NACAC STEM College and Career Fair.

College admission representatives and industry professionals are all gathered in one place. Their goal: To help you envision educational and career paths in STEM.

Make the most out of your day by following these simple steps.

Take time to explore. The list of STEM-related degrees and careers is nearly endless, and it continues to grow.

Set aside time to investigate the majors and careers that most interest you — but don’t let your search stop there.

Institutions across the country offer STEM programs, and companies big and small are looking for employees who think critically.

“Keep an open mind,” said college counselor Susan Rexford. “If you go in with a preconceived idea of the types of colleges or industries you want to explore, you may end up missing out on potential majors or careers that would be a perfect fit.”

Make note of exhibitors you know you want to visit. But also leave time to explore, and scan through the fair’s schedule of workshops — sessions that offer invaluable advice about internships, career opportunities, and more.

“You don’t want to make the mistake of going into the fair so focused on one STEM career — say mechanical engineering — that you overlook other great opportunities,” said Rexford, director of college guidance at the Charlies E. Smith Jewish Day School (MD). “Take the opportunity to learn about a variety of STEM careers. Knowing what you like (and what you don’t like) will pay off later in the college search process.”

Learn about admission requirements. Your path to a STEM career starts with a college degree.

Talk with admission representatives about what you can do to improve your chances of finding success as a STEM student.

“We want students to be taking math and science classes all the way through high school,” said Jonathan Hoster, an undergraduate recruitment specialist with the College of Engineering and Computer Science at Syracuse University (NY). “We want to see that students have taken the most challenging courses available to them. When I’m reading applications, I need to get a sense from a student’s transcript that they’re going to be able to be successful in a challenging environment.”

Ask college reps about other helpful classes or activities. Are writing and public speaking skills important? What about participation in extracurriculars related to STEM, such as robotics?

“We want to make sure students walk away knowing the steps they can take to be prepared,” Hoster said.

Share your story and get the facts. Is there a specific STEM subject or activity that excites you? Let fair exhibitors know.

“A great way to start a conversation is by telling them a little bit about yourself,” Rexford said.

Love working with math equations? Ask which STEM majors and careers would allow you to solve problems on a daily basis. Are you fascinated by the human genome? Find out which types of jobs include DNA analysis.

“This is an opportunity for students to talk about their interests, and find out how they can continue to explore those areas in college, and later as a STEM professional,” Hoster said.

Fairs also give students an opening to quiz exhibitors about the path ahead.
What sort of projects or research do students at a particular college tackle? What qualities do businesses look for when hiring entry-level STEM employees?

“Ask for concrete examples,” Hoster said. “It can help you decide if a college or career is right for you.”

Ask questions and take notes. Up to 100 exhibitors will are expected at each fair, offering attendees the opportunity to have dozens of conversations about college and career options.  

Use a notebook to capture the highlights. Does an engineering program host an annual solar car race? Are students from all 50 states represented on campus? Did a college just open a new robotics lab?

“You don’t have to take copious notes,” Rexford said. “But if you remember to jot down two facts after you’ve met with a college (representative) or employer, you’ll be in good shape.”

And don’t be shy about asking for contact information. You may learn about job shadow opportunities or summer STEM programs aimed at high school students. Admission officers can help you plan a campus visit.

Students should consider writing thank you notes to college reps or other exhibitors who were especially helpful, Rexford noted.

“The fair is a first step,” she said. “Schedule a tour or send an email to keep the conversation going.”