Originally Posted: Jul 18, 2011
Last Updated: Apr 23, 2019
For students who cannot visit campuses in person, these bustling fairs offer an invaluable opportunity to gain a unique perspective about the schools that interest them.
At university fairs and presentations, college representatives field many of the same questions from each prospective student. While it’s true that there is no such thing as a “bad” question, the answer to “Are international students required to take the TOEFL?” probably won’t compel you to attend.
At these presentations, you have a great opportunity to interact with professional members of the admission process. Why waste time chatting about things you could’ve found the answers to in any university brochure? Put the statistics aside and get to the heart of why you’re interested in possibly attending.
If you attend a Council of International Schools (CIS) member school or live in a metropolitan area, U.S. university representatives probably visit your school or region every month. Even if you cannot go to university campuses yourself, meeting with university representatives may be the best chance you have to see if the school is the right match for you.
Preparing for the visit
Nearly every college preparation guidebook recommends speaking with school representatives and attending education fairs or presentations. To make the most of the experience, do a brief assessment of where you are in the application process before you attend the presentation. With a large number of schools in attendance, prospective students can easily get overwhelmed. Review the list of universities at the fair or presentation. Narrow down the list of universities to those that meet your basic criteria. For example:
- Academics: Is your academic program of interest available at the university?
- Region: Consider the university’s surroundings and location—is geography an important factor to you?
- Size: Do you feel comfortable with the university’s size and student population?
- Cost: Is the cost of attendance within your budget? If not, are there sufficient financial options (scholarships, grants, loans) available to you for financing your study at the university?
Save yourself the hassle of talking about basic facts and statistics at the fair. You can easily find the answers online ahead of time. You will free up more time for interesting conversation! Focus on the universities that match your needs and make visiting their tables your priority.
If you do not have time to do significant research beforehand, you should at least identify the aspects in the college application process that are most stressful or unclear to you. Meeting with university representatives may be the easiest way to alleviate your concerns. They can give you direct answers regarding the admission process—after all, no one knows it better!
Some of the consultants representing schools at education fairs or presentations may work with the university through an outside organization. It is important to get a sense of the representative’s relationship with the university to better understand how they can assist you. Knowing their role in the admission process will help you formulate more pointed questions.
Now that I’m here, what should I ask?
Once you have figured out which university fairs or presentations to attend, use these five suggestions to jumpstart an engaging conversation:
- Ask the presenter if they graduated from the university they are representing. If they did not, ask about their motivation for representing the school. Be personable and genuine. You might catch the university representative off guard, but prompting them to speak about their personal experience may open up the conversation in more ways than you anticipate.
- Be forthright about where you are in the application process, and ask the university representative for insight regarding the admission review process. Most admission offices base decisions on academic performance and test scores, but you may be surprised to hear what other things they consider to be a strong application.
- What are the representative’s favorite (and least favorite) aspects of the school? What are the university’s strengths and weaknesses?
- Ask the representatives what they wish more people knew about their university.
- If you want to continue the conversation, ask about any resources the university has online or in your region. They may have interactive online campaigns, such as student blogs or videos, or they may have local representatives to assist with the application process. If the representative was especially helpful, ask for his or her business card and be sure to follow-up with a “thank you” e-mail, telephone call, or letter.
University representatives have a wealth of experience to share beyond SAT scores or GPA requirements. Identify what matters most to you in the college selection process, and use these conversations to guide further research. Speaking with a university representative is often the first step of many toward deciding whether or not you should apply or enroll at a school.
The informal college interview
Whether a university representative visits your school or you attend a U.S. university fair in your city, learn to treat these encounters as informal college interviews. You never know what may come from these initial meetings. Here’s what admission counselors want prospective students to know:
- By initiating meaningful conversation, you set yourself apart from other prospective candidates. Leaving the representative with a memorable first impression might work to your advantage during the admission review.
- A good first impression may bring your name to the forefront during a file review, but at the admission roundtable, it will not guarantee your space in the incoming class. Be sure to keep your grades competitive, be professional, and be appropriate and formal in your correspondence.
Attending university fairs and presentations is a great option if you cannot physically visit a campus. Just remember, these events are a starting point in the search process. Ask representatives if they can put you in contact with current students, faculty, or staff. Talk to your high school counselor or teachers to see if they have toured any of the universities that interest you. Check if there are graduates from your high school attending the university who would be willing to share their student experience. And be sure to use online resources!
Find out what other people are saying about the university via social media websites. A quick online search through Google, Facebook, or Twitter, for example, can be another way to learn more about a school. In the end, leveragting these personal relationships and seeking multiple points-of-view may be more helpful than a campus visit as you select the right university for you.