Education – Higher education fairs: how the classic of school guidance is dusted off

During the health crisis, higher education fairs were forced to go 100% virtual. After the return to normal, the organizers learned the lessons of the period. Update on the novelties of these appointments, which remain a great classic in terms of post-baccalaureate orientation.

For the fairs of The Student, the Covid parenthesis generated a real trial by fire. This major player in the sector (with Studyrama) had to adapt, to offer future students digital appointments, 100% online. Since the start of the 2021 school year, but especially this year – last January, we were still at the principle of gauges… – the “face-to-face” fairs are back, a comeback which confirms their essential role in post-baccalaureate. “We witnessed a rush that even surprised us. We did not expect such a rapid recovery”notes Sébastien Mercier, deputy director in charge of the development of L’Etudiant fairs (110 events per year in France, between 800,000 and 1 million visitors each year).

In its new version, this classic remains faithful to a few principles. For example, free for all, “a point of honor” according to the manager. The events are notably financed by the co-organizers “political and institutional”. The Montpellier higher education fair (next meeting from January 12 to 14, 2023, at the Parc des Expos) mobilizes, for example, the Rectorate, the Universities and the Region.

Sébastien Mercier also points this out: “Shows have to reinvent themselves, adapt the content, but you have to keep in mind that the expectations remain generally the same. We are aimed at young people who are wondering about their future, who have to make career choices. And it is still such an anxiety-provoking subject”. CQFD.

An advanced calendar, such as the age of the target audiences

The next higher education fair in Montpellier will take place in January. A meeting among many others.

These events had to adapt, however, and it started with a calendar advanced in the year. We are also in the middle of the season: from October to January, L’Etudiant offers its lounges “generalists to decipher higher education”. Until March, it will be the turn of the work-study and apprenticeship fairs.

We must see here the effects of the famous Parcoursup procedure, which will be open from January to March. “Beforerecalls Sébastien Mercier, thees Terminales cared about their orientation in January-February. Now, it’s not that it’s a bit late, but it’s better to anticipate as much as possible! “

The ages of the target audiences are themselves advanced. “For the past ten years, we have been open to students in Première, because the National Education Department has decided to raise awareness as early as possible on orientation subjects. For three years, with the reform of the high school, we also have Seconds who come, because they have to choose specialties, and seek those which will open the most doors for them after the baccalaureate ”.

Even middle school students are invited to take part in work-study and apprenticeship fairs… There is no longer any age for projecting oneself.

100% online, an exercise with limits

The digital transition of salons is also a necessity. With the Covid, when the meetings were put on the picket, it was done on a forced march. The organizers had to create 100% online fairs, to allow young people to get information, participate in conferences, exchange views…

The imposed exercise showed some limitations. “There have been good and badobserves Sébastien Mercier. What has been truly lacking in online trade shows is interaction. We had a majority of young people who came to find out about the virtual stands, but who strangely did not interact with those who, however, were on the other side of the screen, ready to answer their questions”.

Very good point however: these virtual fairs have allowed young people or families, far from the big university towns, to have access to information. “When it’s 1h30, 2 hours away, it’s complicated to go back and forth during the day to get to a salon”.

Hybrid lounges, the chosen solution.

At L’Etudiant, we have learned the lessons. “After the recovery, we thought it was good to combine the best of both worlds, physical and digital”. Result: the living rooms have become hybrid. They are held “physically” over two or three days. “But you also have its content which is 100% online, 15 days before the event, and a few days after”.

Even when you want to visit face-to-face, online registration is required on the platform. His profile defined, the young person registered can build a personalized course. “Visitors can prepare for their visit, see the exhibitors they will be able to meet, add conferences that may interest them to their itinerary… It is a tool for preparing for the visit, but not only. You can also start interacting, ask questions to exhibitors, make appointments online, listen to a conference from your sofa…”

The hybrid formula also allows access to specific content. “When you hold a luxury trade fair in Paris, it’s obvious that you have more people online”.

After the Covid parenthesis and virtual fairs, young people respond "present".

After the Covid parenthesis and virtual fairs, young people respond “present”.

New tools tested

The best of new technologies can therefore be exploited. Example: a young person attending a conference can ask questions directly on their smartphone, via the journalist moderator. “We said to ourselves that we are addressing an audience, for which it is sometimes difficult to raise your hand and ask a question in front of an audience of 400 people”.

The shows also offer a dedicated app, to download documents on site, receive notifications… In project: integrate into the application a system that allows you to be geolocated and better find your way around the aisles of the show, via a beacon system .

Online registration and personalized profiles also allow “matches” : “Exhibitors are offered to young people, in line with what they are looking for. Appropriate content is offered. It makes the process easier.” It is also useful… for those who dry out, “those who don’t know what to do”. “It’s one in two visitors, so a very large part of our audience. Online, you can have suggested routes – “I don’t know what to do”, that’s what it’s called. We can immediately identify the structures that are able to take you in hand and help you: the psychologists of the National Education, the CRIJ, the Onisep, the Regions…”

The managing director also believes in a well-tried and real technique. “The fairs are all sectored by thematic villages. When you have a semblance of affinity, the fact of exchanging, even if you don’t know what to do, always allows something to come out of it: it spoke to me, or not… It’s the multiplication of meetings that makes it possible to create an orientation project”.

Exhibitors who innovate

To facilitate these exchanges, exhibitors also adapt, most often. It starts with the human. “On a stand, there shouldn’t be only administrative staff from the school. This certainly reassures the parents, who turn more towards them. On the other hand, a young person will go more easily to students who are in the course. Because two years ago, they were in his place. Bonds are created immediately. On most of the stands, there are therefore students accompanied by teachers and administrative staff. Not having any does not facilitate the exchange”.

Schools and universities also use new technologies. If physical brochures are still distributed, they coexist with dematerialized supports. “A lot of things happen by QR Code: you can often download this or that document directly. This also applies to open days organized by schools and universities. Rather than filling out a paper by hand as we did at the time, the youngster just has to hand over his smartphone, and he is added to the guest list…”

It should be noted that open days, JPO in the jargon, also break down barriers. “Before, it was about meeting the teachers, and seeing how the buildings were made… Now, there is really content creation”, welcomes Sébastien Mercier. Example increasingly copied, by schools but also by universities: offering an immersive experience to novices… “We offer them the possibility of spending a day or half a day of total immersion. When you find yourself in a law amphitheater, there is nothing better to project yourself!”

During the conferences, the possibility of asking questions via your smartphone.

During the conferences, the possibility of asking questions via your smartphone.

Advice in a nutshell

Conclusion of Sebastien Mercier: “The show is a facilitator, a high point, almost unavoidable. But this is not the miracle recipe, we must not stop there. Higher education, yes, it’s the jungle. The system is complex. But we have a lot of sources of information”.

To avoid getting lost, the deputy director of L’Etudiant recommends a few basic rules : “You have to start by getting to know yourself, knowing what your centers of interest are, the subjects in which you are comfortable. When you have dissected all this, you have to meet, discuss, know the trades. There are a lot of information sites”. A job that allows you to get the best results: life ahead of you…

In our #Solutions file “What school for tomorrow”

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