In her last post, Rosemary discussed how to prepare for college fairs and how to get started once you arrive. This week, she emphasizes the importance of making connections and how the information you gather can help guide your college applications.
Dive in, meet people, and ask questions
Now is the moment you prepared for—visit your schools in order of priority and give yourself adequate time to have conversations. Introduce yourself, shake hands with the representatives, smile, and allow your enthusiasm to seep through your many questions. For many of you, this is the next adventurous step on your life’s journey and, perhaps, the first adventurous step toward a dream career you have thought about for years. Take advantage of this opportunity. You are on your way.
If there are current or former student representatives present, take advantage of talking to them as well. Their point of view is invaluable for you in your decision-making process. Ask what they wish they would have known before they made their college choice. Are they happy where they are? What has been their best experience thus far? Something they would change? Advice if they had to go through the process all over again? Ask for contact information for students or college admission counselors so that you can follow up with any questions that come to you later.
Ask about academic programs you are interested in—from your research, you should know if the schools you visit have what you are looking for, but now is the time to ask specific questions. Does the school offer specialties? Internship opportunities for the work you want to do? Study abroad experiences with a focus in your field of study? Organizations and clubs that align with your passions? Many colleges today offer an array of all of the above—but there are still nuances that may best fit your personality, interests, and goals. Ask the right questions so that you can factor the answers into your decisions to make you happier and more fulfilled in the future.
Regroup, say "thank you," and reevaluate
If you attended solo, take a few minutes to step to the side and gather together your brochures, notes, answers, and business cards. Review your original list of questions and goals for the fair and make sure you got everything you came for. If you attended with a parent or advisor, take a few minutes to talk with them about your separate experiences, opinions, and outlying concerns. If you find you have follow-up questions or missed out on a school you wanted to learn about, make your rounds again as needed. If you find you have everything you came for (and then some), you have successfully completed your first college fair. Congratulations.
Your work, however, is far from complete. Once you’re home, reevaluate your list of potential schools. Edit it if you find there are new schools to be added or if, after learning more, you have lost interest in those from your original list. If it is within your means, choose your top few schools and plan visits with your parents, guardians, or loved ones who can help guide you on your way. I honestly believe there is so much to be learned and understood from simply stepping foot on a college campus. You will know more than you could from any picture, conversation, or fair whether or not you see yourself there. If someone gives you an opportunity to visit a school, go! It is the best way to help you decide.
Don’t forget to say “thank you.” When was the last time you received a hand-written thank you note? In today’s overly digitized society, hand-written anything has become somewhat of a lost art. Take the time to write genuine thank you messages to the schools and people who spent time answering your questions during the fair. It will set you apart and be appreciated more than you know.
Continue to talk things over with someone you trust—a parent, an advisor, a teacher—whoever can offer you the wisdom of their years and the guidance you will need during this exciting time in your life. Finally, don’t overanalyze to the point where you feel paralyzed and unable to make a decision. This is a big decision for you, yes, and should thus be given the time it deserves, but I firmly believe students can have extremely positive experiences at many schools and that there isn’t only one right school for a person.
The point is, only after your research, college fairs, campus visits, and conversations, make the best decision you can with the options available to you—and then to stick with that decision. There is not one right path—there is just your path. And as Ellen DeGeneres reminds us, we would do well to believe in and follow our own path . . . most of the time. “Follow your passion. Stay true to yourself,” she said. “Never follow someone else’s path unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and see a path. By all means, you should follow that.”