Wednesday, April 10, 2013

How to Make the Most out of a College Fair

By: Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

More and more high schools are offering spring college fairs to help juniors and their families focus on the qualities they’re looking for in the right college match.  There’s nothing to replace a campus visit, but college visits cost time and money, and you’ll need to make the most of both junior year.  College fairs help you do that— held in fall and spring, a fair can have representatives from up to 400 colleges, all eager to talk to you about their college and your life.  Many fairs feature information on choosing and applying to college and financial aid, and most fairs are free.

With so many colleges at a fair, it’s easy to get intimidated—so plan ahead.  Take a pen, a highlighter, an unofficial copy of your transcript, and 5 questions committed to memory that will help you learn more about a college.  What you ask is up to you—majors, food, chances for research, cost, social life-- just make sure the answers will help you decide if this place is worth a closer look.

At the fair, get a map of where the booths of the colleges are located.  BEFORE you go onto the floor, highlight the colleges you’re interested in (this same list might be on a Web site—even better, since you can research colleges ahead of time.)  Once you’re at a booth, you might have to wait to ask questions—this is good!  Use this time to listen to what the representative is saying to other students-- since they will most likely be discussing general questions, you can use your time to ask more detailed stuff.

Once it’s your turn, get busy.  “Hi, my name is (NO student does this, but you should; it shows confidence, and gives the rep the chance to remember you) and I go to Captain Jack High School.”  From here, you want to ask your questions; make eye contact as they answer, and don’t rush them. 

If you feel you’re hitting a good vibe, pull out your transcript and say “Just one more question.  I’m putting my senior schedule together.  Here’s what I’ve taken so far; what other courses would your college like to see me take?”  ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY NOBODY does this at a college fair, which is why you should.  Most of the time, you’ll actually get some great advice (or even a scholarship offer), but don’t be surprised if they don’t know what to say—either way, you’ll be remembered by reps in a very positive way.  Thank them for their time, fill out a registration card (that’s important), tell them you hope they come by your school to visit, and move on. 

Make quick notes on this college *before* you visit the next booth.  You can use your “waiting time” at the next booth to do this, but write at least something down—you don’t want to confuse your colleges.

If you can do about 7-10 colleges and spend time at an information session of interest to you, call it a victory with an after-fair pizza (this is why you bring your parents along—to pay!)  You now have some solid information on which colleges are road trip worthy, and some solid information about yourself as well—truly a dynamic duo.

One of the many college fair options is a series of national college fairs operated by the National Association for College Admission Counseling.  To find a list of NACAC fairs, visit

1 comment:

  1. I always tell kids it's like going to an all you can eat buffet. Try everything!