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Hey Guys! Let's Go to a (College) Fair!

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What is a College Fair?

A college fair is an event in which college admissions representatives come together at a school, community-gathering place or large convention center to meet one-on-one with high school students (and parents) to talk about their respective colleges and answer questions. Sometimes held during the day, but more frequently in the evening, reps are usually at tables or in booths where they provide handouts and brochures about the campus, academic programs, course offerings, activities and sports.

Bottom Line:

College fairs are unique opportunities for you to meet college admissions people face to face and begin the process of showing colleges your "demonstrated interest." They are especially useful if you don't have the time or resources to personally visit colleges. Not all colleges in the U.S. are represented at these fairs, but you will usually find at least some that are of interest to you. You never know, you might even find a few schools that you have never heard of that eventually end up at the top of your college list!

Who Offers College Fairs?

Perhaps the best-known college fairs are sponsored by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) and are held all over the United States during the fall and spring. NACAC sponsors fall Performing and Visual Arts College Fairs. There are also regional Association College Admission Counseling college fairs.

Other well-known college fairs are:

  • The College That Changes Lives group sponsors fairs throughout the country involving forty small liberal arts colleges
  • Exploring College Options sponsors fairs that include Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, Penn and Stanford.
  • Pacific Northwest College Consortium has fairs that feature Lewis & Clark College, Reed College, University of Puget Sound, Whitman College and Willamette University

How Do You Find Them?

High school counseling offices and admissions counselors are some of the best resources for learning about college fairs. Simply Googling the term, College Fairs, is another way of locating such events. Also, when you sign up to be on college mailing lists, often they will then contact you when they are planning a college fair (or school visit) in your hometown or nearby town.

What To Do Before You Attend a Fair?

Once you find out about an upcoming college fair, go online to the sponsoring organization's website and register for the event. Don't forget to note the date, time and location on your calendar.

Before you actually attend a college fair, there are a few things you can do to make sure you get the most out of it, including:

  1. Go to the college fair website and write down which colleges you want to visit.
  2. From the "Questions to Ask Colleges" list below, write out questions you will ask the college reps. By the way, it will help you make a good impression if you know something about the schools before you meet them.
  3. Gather everything you will need for the fair, including your college list, a pen and notebook (or a college guide such as The Fiske Guide) to write down notes about the colleges you visit.
  4. Decide what you are going to wear to the fair. The best advice I can give is to wear something in which you feel good and also comfortable. You don't have to get all dressed up, but how you appear will leave an impression -- good, neutral or bad. Don't wear anything that is provocative, unprofessional or sloppy. For guys: Wear a favorite shirt, khaki pants, maybe a sweater if it's cold outside. For girls: Wear whatever clothes make you feel like a million bucks, such as a nice skirt, pants and a blouse or sweater. Everyone should wear comfortable shoes, but please no flip-flops.
  5. Pull together some basic information about what kind of student you are, including your overall GPA, test scores, number of honors and/or AP classes you are or have taken, and a list of activities in which you are very involved. If you have one, bring along a copy of your activities resume to refer to as you chat.

What To Do When You Arrive:

As soon as you arrive at the college fair venue, keep in mind that one of your goals is to make a good impression. So, once you go through the front door, put a smile on your face, stand up straight and look confident. Your goal in visiting different college tables is not only to get information, but also make a connection with the college admissions representative. You never know when a casual meeting with a rep could turn into a friendship or lead to his/her becoming an advocate for you in the application selection process.

When you arrive at the fair venue, get the list of colleges that are at the fair and mark on the college fair map where they are located. Decide how much time you want to spend with each of the colleges, allowing for more time at the schools in which you are most interested. Also, leave time to just wander around and stop by schools whose booths or information look particularly intriguing.

Introducing Yourself to the College Reps:

As you approach the college table or booth, sign the college guest book or sign-up sheet. Then say:

"Hi! My name is _________________ and I am a __________ (sophomore, junior) at ____________ High School in _____________ (name of your town if that is not obvious). As I have researched colleges, I have found that yours is one I'm really interested in. I'm wondering if you have a couple of minutes to answer a few questions?"

Once that is done, then be friendly, attentive and positive as you talk with the representative and ask questions.

Questions to Ask College Reps:

If you have specific questions about majors, activities, sports or anything else, ask away. But try to avoid asking uneducated, silly or obvious questions, such as:

- "Where is [name of school] located?" (Unless this is the first time you've heard about the school. Then you might preface with: "This is the first time I've heard about your college. Can you tell me something about where it is and what it's like?")

- "Is it true that that [name of school]is a great party school?" (Not what the rep wants to hear).

- "My friend told me it's really hard to flunk out of your school. What do you think?" (PLEASE! Think about the messages your questions give the admissions rep.)

Here are some suggested questions to ask:

  1. "What is the campus atmosphere like at your school? What do students do in the evenings and weekends?"
  2. "What do students like most about your college? Is there anything you are aware of that they don't like?"
  3. Ask if the rep can provide the names of students with whom you could talk so that you can get a sense of the college from someone who is already there.
  4. "What is the area (town, city) around the college like?"
  5. "How accessible are faculty to students?"
  6. If you have a learning issue, ask about the college's learning services.
  7. If you are anxious to do research, ask if that is available to undergraduate students and how?

Before you leave the college table, look the rep straight in the eye and say:

It was so nice to meet you and hear about [name of school]. Thank you for taking the time. I'm hoping to visit your campus sometime in the future. May I have your business card? I'd love to keep in touch.

At the end of your conversation, you want the college rep to think, "I really like this kid! He/she is smart, hard-working, charming, outgoing and does what he/she loves. What a great addition to our campus!"

Right after your visit with a college, take two minutes to write down anything that you found that was important or memorable. This will be very useful information for you when you begin completing applications in the fall.

Important Follow-up After Attending a College Fair:

When you get home or sometime during the next few days, send each rep you met a thank you note. You might say something such as:

Dear Ms. or Mr. ____________:

This just a note to thank you again for taking the time to talk with me about ______________ [name of college] when you were at the ____________________ College Fair [name of your town], because the rep has probably visited a lot of towns). I so enjoyed hearing about ____________________(say something specific that you learned from your chat).

I am even more interested in ____________________ [name of college] and can't wait to send in my application next fall. Please let me know if you are ever plan a visit to ______________ [name of your high school] or back in _____________ [name of town].

Sincerely,
________________ [your name]
________________ [name of your high school]

I hope you have a great time!