Originally Posted: Jun 17, 2019
Last Updated: Oct 6, 2020
With over 5,000 colleges in the US, trying to find your perfect fit can be overwhelming. The good news is there’s an easy way to look at tons of schools and get the information you need in one spot: college fairs. These events involve regional representatives and/or local alumni from numerous schools, providing everything from general brochures to program-specific information all in one place.
Walking into a college fair can also be overwhelming; there could be hundreds of booths set up throughout your high school gym or local community college, and you may have no idea where to start. Despite the hustle and bustle of college fairs, they’re a great tool for your college search. Not all schools host college fairs, so if you’re one of the lucky ones, you should take advantage of it. Here’s what you should do to make the most out of these events.
Find fairs with colleges that interest you
If you’ve already decided all the colleges at a particular fair aren’t for you, it’s not worth the trip. But if there’s even one school you’re interested in, it may be worth it to go. College fairs are a way to show “demonstrated interest.” Interacting with the representative and signing up for more information (even if you’re already on their mailing list) will show the school how interested you are in applying. If there are no schools you’re interested in, you won’t gain anything by attending. But this doesn’t apply if you have absolutely no idea what colleges you’re interested in. In that case, go to any and every college fair you can just to get the ball rolling.
Pick the fair size that works for you
If you have a hard time with lots of little stations and a ton of people packed together, a large college fair might not be right for you. If you want to get as much information as possible, however, go to as large a fair as you can. Unfortunately, many larger college fairs are in big cities on school nights. If you’re in a small town, it might be a bit of a hike to make it to those events. But if it’s important to you to find out information in person and it’s not too much of a haul to get there, it’s a good idea to go. Just remember, with some selective universities, attending a college fair doesn’t constitute as demonstrated interest. So do your research before you invest too much in going to a larger fair.
Before going to a college fair, it’s important to do your homework—not necessarily your AP Stats homework, but your research on colleges. If you have any idea about what colleges you’re interested in, make a plan about which booths to visit. It's probably going to be crowded, and there can be long lines at popular schools, so knowing what colleges you want to speak with can save you a lot of time. Of course, if you see an interesting college that isn’t part of your plan, go for it!
You should also think about what you want in a college: in state or out of state, public or private, big or small campus, etc. Once you have an idea of what you’re looking for, think of some questions you might want to ask. College representatives are well versed on almost everything related to the school. Ask them about what majors they have that might interest you, what their opinion is on the school’s programs, or what campus life is like. The reason they’re there is to inform you of anything you want or need to know, so think about what’s important to you and what questions to ask! Speaking of which...
Have some questions prepared ahead of time
When you’re talking to a college representative, you may have more questions arise, but there’s nothing worse than awkwardly standing there with someone else, trying desperately to come up with a question so you can keep talking about the school. You really only need one or two questions about your intended major or a general interest that could apply to many schools. That being said, don’t spend 10 minutes talking to a representative when there are 20 people behind you and you’re just fishing for information. Wrap up the conversation and let others have their turn. You can always come back when the line clears up or get the representative’s contact information to ask more specific questions you may have forgotten to ask.
Also, these questions should be for you to ask, not your parents. You’ll likely be speaking with the person who will read your application, so make the impression of being independent and interested, not someone who’s still reliant on their parents to talk to other adults—you’re the one applying, not them. If your parent is someone who likes to be involved, ask them to write down a list of questions they have for colleges so you can ask the representative for the answers yourself.
Keep an open mind
Even if you have your heart set on one college, you never know what hidden gems you could find. Speaking from experience, your “dream college” will probably change at least a hundred times during your college search, and schools at the bottom of your list may rise to the top. Having an idea of what you want in a college is great! Just don’t become so set on a school that you can’t see what other great options are sitting in front of you. This doesn’t mean you have to have an entire conversation with every college rep, but at least pick up the brochures to get some general information. Which leads us to...
Gather all the information available
If you’re putting in the time to speak with a representative about a school, it’s worth the 30 seconds to request more information. This not only gives the colleges more information about you, but it gives you more information about them. Remember, they need you to apply, not the other way around. You’ll most likely leave the fair with so many brochures and pamphlets that you won’t even know where to start. This is a good problem to have! These materials usually contain information on schools’ majors, admission statistics, and basic information on student life. They’re great references to look through when you’re weighing your college options later.
Don’t be afraid to reach out
Most admission representatives give out business cards with their contact information. After a college fair, follow up by sending them an email. This is a great way to get information because you won’t have to worry about holding up a line and rushing through all your questions. But college reps aren’t your only option: always feel free to email a college’s admission office with any questions you may have too. During application season especially, make your name a familiar one when they sort through applications!
When the fair is over, your college search doesn’t end there—in fact, this is only the beginning. College fairs are meant to raise your interest and inform you about college. Make a list of about five to 10 colleges that seem like they’d be a good fit for you and keep researching them. See if these colleges have your ideal major and backups, look into their scholarship and financial aid opportunities, and see what their student life is like. You can always find plenty of information on the school’s website.
Plan a campus visit
Once you have your list, start planning on visiting your favorite colleges. You’ll be spending four years of your life at college, so make sure to visit beforehand to see if the campus feels like a good fit for you. But college visits can be expensive, especially if you want to visit colleges that are far away. If you can't make it in person, many colleges now offer virtual tours that cover a lot of the big ticket locations and features of their campuses.
Remember: college fairs should be fun! Talking to people is interesting, and the college search can be an exciting experience. Just make sure to take a deep breath and not stress out too much.
College fairs are incredibly helpful, so it's important you make an effort to attend at least one during your high school career. You can certainly learn a lot about schools online, but why wouldn't you want to want a chance to talk to school officials in person? Take advantage of this great opportunity!
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