According to The Washington Post, as of 2015, there are around 5,300 colleges in the United States. Trying to find your perfect school can be overwhelming. The good news is there’s an easy way to look at tons of colleges and get the information you need in one spot: college fairs.
These events involve regional representatives and/or local alumnus from numerous schools, providing anything from general brochures to program-specific information all in one place. I attended the PNACAC college fair recently. Here are a few things I learned about how to get the most out of your college fair experience.
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.
Plan before you arrive
If you have any idea about what colleges you’re interested in, make a plan about which booths to visit. It’s 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!
Think of some questions
When you’re talking to a 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.
These questions should be for you to ask, not your parents. You’re likely speaking to the person who will be reading your application. 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 the colleges so you can ask the representative for the answers.
Always request more information
If you’re putting in the time to speak with a representative about the 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.
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.
Start looking for colleges right now with our College Search tool.