While they can't replace campus visits, college fairs are a great way to get a sense of what various schools have to offer and to get some face time with their representatives. In this two-part piece, Rosemary Cochrane offers some tips to help you prepare for and get the most out of college fairs.
Prepare in advance
On many of the exercise and fitness blogs I read, I constantly see, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Though I am sure no one sets out anticipating failure, the same idea holds true for your college search. Be on the lookout for when your high school, another local high school, or a separate venue plans to host a college fair nearby. You don’t want to put unnecessary pressure on yourself, but it is never too early to go even if college feels a long way away for you. Giving yourself a glimpse into the environment and what different schools have to offer could be helpful for you down the line in ways you don’t realize right now.
If you’re a junior or a senior in high school and in the thick of your search, a college fair presents a unique opportunity to learn more than you could from any website, brochure, or mailing list. Do your research first. Find out which schools will be in attendance and look into what they have to offer—do you know which schools you are aiming to apply to already? Are there schools that have the best programs for your major of interest? Do you see schools on the list you’ve thought about but need more information? Depending on your timeline and your future goals, you may know exactly which schools you want to visit. On the flip side, you may feel overwhelmed, unsure, and have no pull toward one school over another. Either feeling is okay—the fair is designed to help both types of students.
If you fall into the former category, research the schools where you see yourself—write down key points as to why you want to go there and important questions that you need answered before you can actually go. Keep an open mind, however, and know that it’s still okay to change your mind and visit a few schools you would not have previously considered.
If you fall into the latter category and this entire process makes you feel anxious (and even more undecided), know you are not alone. Many representatives who will be in attendance at the fair have worked with countless students who were in the exact same position you find yourself in today. You will want to research schools based upon what you think you are interested in—seek the advice of a parent, guardian, teacher, or someone you trust—and plan to go to the fair together. Write your questions down and make sure you bring them with you. Meeting people and getting some answers will help you navigate this search more easily. Remember to include all different types of questions—life for freshmen, academic programs, internship options, residence life, and financial aid are a few key areas you will want to review. If there are specific concerns that you have, include them in your questions.
First things first
When you arrive at the fair, make sure to ask the organizers for a layout of where the schools are situated. Most college fairs should have a map or some sort of handout for you to see (easily and quickly) where the schools you are most interested in are located. If, despite your planning and research, you still find yourself feeling overwhelmed, think like a dietitian—I have often read that nutritionists will recommend grocery shoppers to shop along the edges of supermarkets because that is (usually) where the fresh foods, fruit, and vegetables are located, and to proceed with caution into other aisles where you can find the more processed foods. Study your map, make a round along the edges while glancing into the middle aisles, and understand what you are working with and how much time you have. Then take a deep breath and dive right in. Remember, you are here to meet people and to gather the personal, meaningful information that you can’t find anywhere online.
Just like a dietitian would tell someone there is no need to go down every aisle at the store, know there is no need for you to visit every table. If you know you are not interested in certain schools, that’s okay. You know yourself—even if it doesn’t feel like it sometimes. To that point, however, don’t discount yourself. If you have your heart set on a school but think you won’t be able to afford it or think you won’t be admitted, talk to the representatives anyway. Offer your concerns professionally but honestly and ask for advice. Don’t limit yourself based on geography, unless you know for sure you want to stay close to home or aim to be in a particular place. There are so many good schools you have probably never even considered. The question isn’t why should you step out of your comfort zone—the question is why shouldn’t you?
In her next post, Rosemary will discuss the importance of making (and following up with) connections at college fairs and how the information you gather can help guide your college application process.