More than 120 graduate and professional programs from across the nation will gather in the Commonwealth Ballroom of Squires Student Center in Blacksburg at 5 p.m. on Sept. 24 for the annual Graduate and Professional School Fair.

The three-hour event is free and open to undergraduate and graduate students at Virginia Tech.

Sponsored by the Graduate Student Assembly, the fair offers students an opportunity to explore programs, ask questions, and consider whether they want to earn graduate degrees and in what programs.

This year, the GSA wants to provide another service to Virginia Tech students: a two-hour free pre-fair preparation session on Sept. 18 beginning at 5:30 p.m. in Room A of the Smith Career Center.

Joshua Slaughenhoupt, graduate assistant for the GSA and one of the organizers of the events, said members of the GSA executive board vividly remember their own pre-graduate school questions. Many did not have the chance to attend school and program fairs, talk with already enrolled graduate students to explore what questions they should ask, or what they should be looking for as they compared programs.

“We want to make this a good experience for the students who attend,” said Slaughenhoupt. “That’s why we came up with the preparation session. We will provide name tags and food, and we will have presentations about the kinds of questions and topics to think about, how to approach a representative, and what to look for.”

Slaughenhoupt said the preparation session also will feature a panel of graduate students to answer questions and provide tips based on their experience. The graduate students on the panel will talk about several topics associated with choosing graduate degree programs and institutions, including funding, assistantships, mentoring, supports, and services.

He also noted that unlike a job fair, where students are trying to interest potential employers in hiring them, at a graduate school fair the students are the potential “buyers,” not the programs. “They are selling themselves to you; you’re not selling yourself to them.”

But Alyssa Rametta, assistant director of Virginia Tech Career and Professional Development, said a little advance work can pay off. “Just like career fairs, preparation and research done before the fair can help students get more out of attending such an event.”

Shernita Lee, director of the Graduate School’s Office of Recruitment, Diversity, and Inclusion, who earned her Ph.D. at Virginia Tech, said a career fair prompted her to pursue that degree.

“I was a senior undergraduate still trying to figure out what type of program I would pursue for graduate school and met a Virginia Tech representative who informed me of interdisciplinary graduate programs,” she said.

Rametta also noted the importance of taking advantage of such events. “By attending a graduate school fair, students can meet folks from a number of institutions and learn much more about the program/institution than they could find online. These fairs are a great opportunity to ask thoughtful questions in a more personal, one-on-one setting than just a phone call to admissions. This helps students decide if the school and program are a good fit for them – financially, academically, and socially.”

Lee seconded Rametta’s words. “Recruitment fairs are a one-stop shop with countless resources where you can find the best program and university to meet your needs.”

Slaughenhoupt said students interested in attending the free graduate and professional fair preparation session can register online at this RSVP page. For more information about the Graduate and Professional School Fair, visit the GSA webpage that includes a list of institutions and programs that will be on hand.