College fairs to help inform students and their families about the college journey tend to be held most often in the fall and spring. As a former admissions professional, who has exhibited at hundreds of college fairs, I generally found that most students and their families were unaware of how to maximize this golden learning opportunity. College fairs are a prime opportunity to interact with numerous colleges in a convenient location, without costly travel expenses for families. Students of all high school grade levels can benefit from attending college fairs and should start attending during their high school freshman year to better understand the college requirements ahead. Here are a few thoughts from the admissions side of the table to make the college fair productive:
Know the attending colleges – Students and their families should not have to do a couple of “warm-up laps” around the room before speaking to a college admissions representative. Identifying 5 to 10 colleges in advance that you want to speak with is more effective than wondering the event and collecting random college brochures. College fairs take a lot of planning and coordinating by the high school or sponsoring organization. Regardless of the event setting, there is a list of attending colleges that you need to review prior to arriving. This list may be obtained from a high school guidance office or a college sponsoring the event. This type of advanced planning is especially helpful for very large college fairs, such as the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), which may have hundreds of colleges in one setting.
Have important questions prepared – Students and their families should have at least five questions in mind that are important to them when speaking to college representatives. It is acceptable to have questions printed out or listed in a tablet device, and to jot down responses. These questions can have a broad range from program specific visitation dates to how admissions acceptance decisions are weighted at a desired college. This defined set of questions helps a family create a basis to compare colleges equally and effectively.
Engagement and demonstrated interest – Engage with each college admissions representative that is on your list and always ask for a business card. Many colleges, not all, still use demonstrated interest in their admissions acceptance decision. This can be a great opportunity to start the relationship with a desired college and establish a contact should you decide to attend an official campus tour. Sending a thank you card or email to an admissions representative after the college fair can make a student stand out quickly.
A thoughtful approach to attending colleges goes a long way to ensuring the time is well spent and informative. I often observed many students and their families filling their bag with literature and promotional items instead of taking a targeted approach. Following the aforementioned advice will make you an applicant that standouts to colleges and impresses the admissions official on the other side of the table!