If you aren't able to go on campus visits, or if you want to supplement your visits, college fairs are an excellent way to discover, explore, and connect with colleges and universities. But how do you get the most out of them? Our friend Stephanie Kelin Wassink of Winning Applications has some excellent suggestions.
'Tis the season . . . for college fairs! High school juniors, sophomores, and even freshmen can benefit from a strategic approach, so here are our top tips for attending these events.
- Make a list of 10–15 schools you want to learn more about. Focus primarily on schools that are more than two hours from home. You can visit local colleges and universities in person.
- Create a set of labels. Carry the labels with you and put them on inquiry postcards at each table. Be sure your e-mail address is appropriate (if you need a template, feel free to contact Winning Applications and we'll send you one!).
- Take a bag with you to collect materials (although most college fairs provide them) as well a pad of paper and a pen or pencil with which to take notes.
- Arrive early: it's easier to make a good impression before the admission representative has spoken with 200 other students.
- Be sure to ask for the business card of the admission representative at the table or get the name of the alumni representative you meet.
- Shake hands, smile, and make eye contact when introducing yourself. (Parents: hang back! This is your son’s/daughter’s chance to make a good impression. Let them do the talking.)
- Have one or two questions that you want to ask representatives at each school, preferably regarding information not easily accessible on the school's website. Do not expect to discuss your personal circumstances with the rep, and don’t be the person who holds up the line. However, if you are the only person interested in the school and the rep is available, it is okay to have a longer conversation about their school's program. Just remember that this is not the time to share every aspect of your application.
- Make a game plan concerning the admission officer to whom you must talk.
- After the fair, make a list of the schools you visited, the date and location of the college fair, and the names and contact info of the representatives you met from each school. You may want to refer back to those notes before writing “Why this college” essays and/or before interviewing later in the process.
- Follow up with the admission officers and cite things you spoke about in your conversations. Make sure that any follow up conversations or questions are well thought through (don’t ask something you can easily learn on the school’s website, for example).
- Read through the publications you pick up at the fair. For schools that really interest you, schedule a campus visit (if you are able to go on one), complete with admission info session and tour, and follow up with an e-mail to the person you met, letting him or her know that you are planning this visit.
- Throw away (or give to another student) the publications from schools that no longer interest you. Reducing the clutter in your college file will make it easier to focus your search later in the process.