If you are putting together a college list, reading guidebooks and checking out websites that offer information about colleges is a good start. Of course, visiting schools is the best way to see if a college is a match, but it may not be possible to visit every school you’re considering, and that’s why college fairs can be a valuable opportunity to get information directly from admissions officers.
The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) hosts the National College Fair in locations around the country. Representatives from hundreds of colleges will be available to answer questions about academic programs, student life, admission and financial aid. There may also be state or regional college fairs in your area. In addition, some school districts have their own college fairs.
It can be overwhelming to walk into a huge convention center or auditorium and see crowds of families, and row after row of college booths. Many students wander from one booth to the next, picking up brochures that will end up in the trash. This is a passive approach that will leave you exhausted and frustrated by the end of the evening, and wondering why you bothered coming to the event.
But if you approach the college fair, as well as the entire college admission process, in an organized and proactive way, you’ll have a much more productive and satisfying experience. This means you start researching prospective colleges well before the college fair, so that you know which schools you want to learn more about. Check the list of schools that will be attending the fair, and come up with some questions specific to those colleges. Bring a notebook so you can write the answers, as well as your overall impressions of each school.
Each college will have a card for you to fill out so that you can be added to their mailing list. If you bring printed labels with your name, address, email, high school name and year of graduation, you can stick a label on the card instead of having to write the information over and over.
If you’re attending a big national fair, with hundreds of colleges, you will receive a map and list of attendees when you arrive. Locate the schools on your list, and plan your route. At each booth, introduce yourself to the representative. At a smaller college fair sponsored by a high school, some of the colleges may have alumni representatives, who can tell you why they love their college and how attending that school impacted their lives. At larger fairs, you may be talking with the admissions officer who will read your application. If you engage her in conversation, ask intelligent questions and show genuine interest in the college, she is likely to remember you, especially if you follow up with an email.
In addition to asking about academic programs and student life on campus, you might want to ask admissions officers for their advice in planning a visit. Since they travel for college fairs and high school visits, they often have valuable travel tips, like which airline has nonstop flights to the closest airport. At the end of the conversation, thank the representative and ask for a business card. Sometime in the next few days, send an email letting her know that you enjoyed your conversation and asking any additional questions you have about the college. You will have begun the process of demonstrating interest, which is a factor in admission decisions at some schools.
If you have time and aren’t exhausted after visiting all the schools on your list, you can stop at other booths. That’s a good way to learn about college you might have overlooked in your preliminary research.
While I like the face to face contact you get at a college fair, it’s not always convenient to attend a fair. Even if you do attend, there may not be enough time to meet representatives from all the schools you like. Also, in this time of cost-cutting some colleges have reduced the number of fairs they attend. College Week Live is a virtual college fair, providing an opportunity to connect with colleges around the world, without leaving your living room. You can chat with admissions officers and access college brochures, catalogs, videos and podcasts. There will be a student chat area where you can ask questions of students at some of the colleges.