How You can prepare for a College Fair

Now that seniors have their applications in, colleges can begin to meet this year’s juniors. One way schools introduce themselves to students is to set up tables in convention halls, lay out stack of brochures, position one to four representatives behind or around the table, and talk with students and their families in an informal way. These are known as College Fairs. I find them quite useful, and usually go to two each year; in April I’ll attend the San Diego College Fair.  

You can find a college fair near you here. This webpage is published by the National Association of College Admission Counselors, and includes a helpful video that explains how the fairs operate and how you can benefit from attending a fair. Especially when the fairs are large it will help to prepare for your visit. The fairs typically are open from 9am to 12pm, and again from 6pm to 8:30pm, so you should develop a plan to use your time wisely. Here are ten tips:

1.  Open an e-mail account dedicated to college applications. The address shouldn’t be goofy—your name alone will do—and it should be used throughout the application process so that all correspondence is in one place. If you haven’t already created an e-mail account for college applications, now is the time.

2.  Preregister for the fair. You can do this on-line. After you register you will get a bar code, and college reps can scan it to record that you visited them. It is good for schools to know that you are interested in them.

3.  Make a list of must-talk-with colleges. These should be schools in which you have a genuine interest. Well-known colleges usually attract a lot of students, so you might wait up to five minutes. This means you should prioritize your stops in the fair.

4.  Study the college fair’s map. The schools are arranged alphabetically, but you still have to navigate a large space. Make a plan of attack so you can get to your targeted schools.

5.  Familiarize yourself with the colleges in a general way. The best way to begin is to read the colleges’ mission statements. These will give you a good idea of how the school sees itself as unique. I also encourage students “to wonder” through a college’s website because something unexpected might catch your eye.

6.  Familiarize yourself with the colleges’ majors and activities of particular interest to you. Before you ask a question of a college rep, see if you can answer that question by looking at the college’s website. Your questions to the representative can cover academic departments, sports, living arrangements…anything! I always advise students to ask about what is new this year at the school.

7.  Take a chance on schools not on your radar. Stop and talk with representatives from colleges of which you know nothing. You might be surprised by what you hear. These kinds of stops also will give you some new ideas of what to look for in a college.

8.  Bring a bag. Even though most information is now shared with students on-line, colleges always have brochures on their tables, and often representatives will hand you something. Take something from schools you like. If you accept materials that are not of interest to you after the fair, take them to your school counseling office so that other students can read them. An imperfect fit for you may be another student’s dream school.

9.  Attend one or two talks. There are often information sessions at college fairs about specific topics about the general application process—writing essays, filling out the Common Application or state university applications, financial aid, and more. If your parents attend the college fair with you, they may want to sit in on a talk of particular interest to them, while you continue to talk with college representatives.

10.  Present your most mature self to college representatives. When you approach a college fair table, you have begun to interface with the college. Begin your new relationship responsibly. This means generally conservative clothing—clean, no t-shirts, no cleavage. Look them in the eye, shake their hands, introduce yourself with your name and your high school, and if you have one, your chief academic interest. Ask for a business card, and send a thank you note the next day.

Most importantly, have fun!



Photo credit:  Courtesy COD Newsroom, "2014 College Fair 22," October 21, 2014, Flickr Creative Commons