I’ve watched a lot of people attend college fairs over the years.  Some people leave the fair feeling confident because they’ve discovered a few colleges that seem like a good fit, and some people leave the fair with a dazed and overwhelmed look on their face.  What’s the difference between those two people?  It’s all about advance preparation for the college fair (or lack thereof).  Knowing that college fairs are about to roll into town, this blog is all about how to prepare well so that you walk out feeling confident and not overwhelmed.

Know why you’re going to the college fair.  Sophomores and juniors come to a college fair to explore their options and identify college campuses that they would like to visit.  Seniors, on the other hand, are there for a different reason.  Some are there to discover new college options, but many seniors know where they will be submitting applications and only visit the tables of those colleges.  They are there to start or strengthen their relationship with that admission officer.  They leave the fair with contacts made and business cards in hand to continue developing that relationship.

Dress for success.  My uniform of choice for a college fair is pretty simple – I recommend that students wear a high school t-shirt or sweatshirt paired with jeans or khakis.  This is casual and comfortable for the student, shows pride in their school, and also helps the admission officer connect the student with their high school.  If this doesn’t fit your style, then dressy-casual will work just fine.  (Imagine what the business world would allow for a casual Friday and steer in that direction.)  Give some thought to the impression you’re making with your clothing.

Come prepared with a list of colleges you’d like to learn more about.  Those of you going to a Christian College Fair will be able to find a list of colleges that will be in attendance on this website by clicking on “Christian College Fairs” on the homepage and then the date of the fair you’d like to attend.  Look at the list before you leave for the fair and note the colleges with whom you plan to talk.  Not sure how to narrow that down?  Get in touch with your school counselor for recommendations and/or use the college search function found on this website by clicking on “College/University Search” on the homepage.  This search function will allow you to generate a list of colleges that are located in California, offer a nursing major and have a women’s soccer team (or whatever criteria matches your interests).  Compare that list to the list of colleges attending the college fair, and you’re ready to roll.

Prepare questions in advance.  You’re going to have limited time to talk with each admission officer because there are others waiting to do the same thing.  Identify 3-5 key questions that will help you determine if this college is one you’d like to visit and ask those same questions of each admission officer.  Some suggestions for those questions:

  • I’m thinking about majoring in ___.  Can you tell me about that program on your campus?
  • What are the academic requirements for admission?  For scholarships?
  • What is the total cost of attendance?
  • Is your campus in a rural, suburban or urban area?
  • How many undergraduate students are on your campus?
  • Do you offer _____? (insert name of extracurricular activity you’re interested in, like marching band or community service clubs or disc golf, etc.)
  • What types of chapel programs are available to students?
  • Which sports on your campus attract the biggest crowds on game day?
  • What percentage of your students study abroad and where do they go?

And finally, if the answers match your preferences, ask the admission officer about the types of visit programs they offer for interested students.

Come prepared to take notes.  You might be surprised how quickly the answers can blur together from one college to the next.  Whether you use the old-school method of paper & pen or the modern technology of a note-taking app, be prepared to make notes of the answers to your questions.  You’ll appreciate the efforts to keep them all straight when you get home and try to remember which college had that great answer about campus ministries available on campus.

Keep an open mind for the college you’ve never heard of.  That’s the beauty of a college fair – sandwiched between the tables of colleges you’ve been considering might be the perfect college for you that you didn’t even know existed until the college fair.  Look over the table-top displays as you walk by to see if one of those “other” colleges might be worth stopping by and ask a few questions.

Follow up with your favorite colleges.  Pick up the business card of the admission officers representing the colleges that seem like the best match.  After the fair, students will do well to send a brief email to that admission officer thanking them for their time at the college fair and noting which qualities of the college the student likes best.  If a campus visit is in the works, mention that in the email too.  (Note that I am suggesting the student send this email, not the parent.  It should read like it was written by a teenager because it was actually written by a teenager.)

With the right preparation, college fairs are an important tool to launch a successful college search.  Have a great time at the fair!

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