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Give Yourself a “Fair” Advantage: Tips for Attending a College Fair

Unlike at the state fair or the summer carnival, you won’t get to ride the Tilt-A-Whirl. You won’t find any funnel cakes here either. What will you find at a college fair? An incredible opportunity! You’ll have the chance to make fast contact with college admission representatives from schools around the country…all under one roof! This is one fair you won’t want to miss.

At a college fair, you can gather general information about your schools of interest…anything from majors offered to life on campus. Even better, standing face-to-face with a college rep allows you to go beyond general inquiries; you can ask questions that are unique to your circumstances. This will go a long way towards helping you narrow the colleges that are good fits for you. You may even come across some “best in show” schools that you never even heard of before attending the fair.

Just like at the state fair (where there are so many attractions that it’s hard to figure out which ride to go on first), the large scale of a college fair can seem a bit overwhelming, especially if you don’t know what to expect. So, here are some tips to help you find your way around the college fair grounds and make the most of this fantastic learning opportunity.

Before the College Fair Prior to the college fair, think about what kind of college is best for you. Talk with your parents and school counselor. You may even want to use an online college selector program that your high school offers, such as CareerCruising or Naviance, to help you define your college requirements.

Next, find out which colleges will be in attendance at the fair. Ask your counselor for the list or check the college fair website. Research the colleges that are of interest to you. Then, put together a tiered list of schools ranked from first to last, based of your level of interest. That way, you can be sure to target your most important schools first when you arrive at the college fair.

Now, prepare a list of specific questions you want to ask at the fair. Your list should include the same core questions for each college; this will help you compare different schools on a like-for-like basis. But, you might also want to include some questions that are specific to a particular institution.

Keep in mind, when talking with college reps, your goal is to get answers to questions that are specific to your interests and needs. The time you’ll have to speak with each representative may be very limited, so prioritize your questions in order of importance. Don’t waste time asking questions that can be easily answered through research on the school’s website.

Here is a list of a few sample questions you can use as thought-starters. Remember to tailor your questions to your specific circumstances.

  • My GPA and ACT/SAT scores are (xxx) and (xxx). How does this profile compare with students admitted to your school?
  • I am planning to major in (xxx) or (xxx). Are there specific admissions requirements for these majors? How competitive are these majors
  • What makes your programs related to these majors unique?
  • What internship opportunities are available that are related to these majors? What support is available in finding internships?
  • How do first-year students choose their classes?
  • How many students will be in the classes I’m likely to take my first year?
  • What percentage of last year’s freshman class returned for sophomore year?
  • How are academic advisors / faculty advisors assigned?
  • How are roommates and residence halls assigned?
  • What institutional or department scholarships are available to students? What are the eligibility requirements? How are these scholarships awarded?

Now, gather the supplies you’ll need for the fair. Bring pens and a notebook to jot down important information, record responses to your questions, and to write about your overall impressions of your conversations with college reps. Also, make some room in your backpack or bring along a tote bag, just in case bags are not provided at the fair. You’ll need something to hold all the materials you’ll collect, such as college brochures, view books, etc.

When you talk with an admissions rep at the fair, she’ll likely ask you to fill out an information card. Bring along some pre-printed address labels that include information listed below. That way, instead of spending valuable time completing each information card, you can simply stick on one of your pre-printed labels. You’ll have more time for asking questions and less chance for writer’s cramp!

  • First and Last Name
  • Address
  • City, State, Zip
  • Phone
  • Email address (Tip: set up a separate email address specifically for college admissions information only)
  • High school / year of graduation
  • Major(s) of interest
  • Sports (if you’re interested in playing in college)

Be sure to pack your tiered college list and your list of questions. You might want to throw in a bottle of water and wear comfortable shoes, too! You’ll be doing a lot of walking and talking at the fair.

At the College Fair At big college fairs, there may be keen competition for parking spaces, so plan to arrive at least a half-hour before the event begins. You’ll be able to pick up a map showing the location of the booths for each of the colleges at the fair. In addition, you’ll get a schedule of information sessions. These sessions provide valuable information on various college-related topics (e.g., how to apply for financial aid, the college application process, etc.).

As you wait for the fair to open, you’ll have time to plan out your route to the colleges you want to investigate, using the tiered college list you prepared in advance. Plan to talk with college reps from your top picks first, in case you don’t have time to visit them all during the college fair hours. Also, if you plan to attend any of the information sessions being offered, note the times and locations for each. Budget your time accordingly.

If your parents attend the fair with you, your family may decide to divide and conquer. Rather than talking with each college representative and/or attending information sessions together, you can split up, allowing you to cover more territory in the time you have. If so, figure out who will visit each of the colleges on your tiered list and each information sessions of interest, to avoid duplication of efforts. Once the fair doors open, implement your plan.

When speaking with each college admissions rep:

  • Smile, shake hands, and introduce yourself.
  • Explain why you are interested in this particular school.
  • Make sure you ask the questions you prepared. (Remember, you’re here to get specific information that goes beyond what the school presents on their website.)
  • If the college admissions rep is unable to answer some of your questions, ask her for the name of and contact information for someone who would have the answer.
  • Collect any materials at the table that are of interest to you.
  • Ask how you can contact the representative at a later date, should you have further questions.
  • Thank the college admissions representative for his/her time.

After you leave each college booth, jot down some notes about each conversation and the name of the admissions rep. If not, at the end of the event, they may all blur together. What are the most important points you want to remember about this school? What are your impressions so far? Is this school a “good fit” for you?

Keep in mind that just because a particular school may have a well-known reputation, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the school for you. If there is time left after you’ve visited with the colleges on your tiered list and you’ve attended selected information sessions, why not talk to two or three college admissions reps from schools that aren’t familiar to you? Some students find their “perfect” schools at a college fair…schools they never even knew existed!

After the College Fair Within a few days of the fair, while the experience is fresh in your mind:

  • Sort through and organize the materials you and your parents collected, along with any notes that were taken while at the fair.
  • Review the information.
  • Write down any further questions you might have. Follow up to get the answers.
  • Make adjustments/modifications to your tiered college list, based on your college fair experience. Have any schools dropped off the list? Have any been added? Should some schools be moved up or down in ranking?
  • Schedule campus visits for your top schools.

Last but not least, congratulate yourself. You’ve successfully navigated the college fair grounds. Best of all, you’re taking home the blue ribbon prize from the fair…the specific information you need to narrow your “best fit” college choices.