College fairs are like window shopping: you can preview as many schools as you want with no strings attached and easily compare institutions within minutes, gaining invaluable insight along the way. Unfortunately, many students never realize these benefits because they make rookie mistakes. Don’t let that be you! Learn from these four mistakes to be more successful at your next college fair.
1. Going to the college fair with your friends
It may seem obvious that college admission programs aren’t Snapchat-worthy events, but when high schools host college fairs during school hours, most students find their friends before filling their arms with swag. Your friends, no matter how serious they are about their college applications, are still distracting. Joking with your friends is tempting, but many colleges may think you’re not eager to learn about their school and/or you’re simply being immature.
Your friends are bound to have different interests than you, and they may unintentionally steer you away from potential schools because of their opinions. The power of the herd is almost always stronger than the individual, so break free and walk up to a booth because you want to, not because your friend loves their mascot.
2. Forming a final opinion about a school
When you’re first starting your search, college fairs are most useful as an alternative or in addition to doing research online. They are by no means a substitute for a campus visit, because it’s impossible to get a true vibe for a campus without actually walking on it. The same goes for the culture of a school: you can’t get an idea of student life without meeting a single student.
Similarly, one admission representative shouldn’t speak for an entire institution. They may not have attended the college in question, or they may have only worked for the university for a short time. Plus, admission reps may struggle to answer overly specific questions, especially about majors. You shouldn’t hold this against them. Instead, try to get contact information for professors and current students or dates of future campus visits.
3. Expecting to see every college in the country
Some college fairs require guests to register before attending. They may give a list of schools out beforehand or mention the region that the fair is concentrated on. (Some fairs may only pertain to Christian schools in Indiana, or private schools in Delaware, etc.) If you’re certain you want to leave your home state for school, you might have a harder time finding prospective colleges and may want to spend time researching elsewhere.
4. Becoming overwhelmed
College fairs are overwhelming because of the sheer mass of people packed into one area. If you’re just starting your college search and have no idea what kind of school you’re looking for, these events can be downright intimidating. Before you go, develop a simple elevator pitch to introduce yourself. Think: your name, where you’re from, interests/prospective major, and some criteria for your prospective college. A few simple words can save you the embarrassment of being asked to introduce yourself and suddenly forgetting your first name and where you live. (I’ve seen this on campus visits dozens of times.)
The college admission process is like shopping on Black Friday—schools advertise their brightest qualities to capture students’ attention, with interested students desperately trying to snag a spot at their dream school like that last sweater on sale. A college fair is a boiled-down version of this, minus the applications. Schools will bring their most persuasive pitches. Will you?