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How to Prepare for University Fairs and Really Get to Know Schools

University fairs allow students who can't visit international campuses to connect with their schools of interest. Here's how to prep for these big events!

Nearly every college preparation guidebook recommends students speak with school representatives and attend education fairs or presentations during the search process. For students who cannot visit campuses in person, university fairs and presentations offer an invaluable opportunity to gain a unique perspective about the schools that interest them. At these presentations, you have a great opportunity to interact with professional members of the admission process from colleges across the US. If you attend a school that is a member of the Council of International Schools (CIS), university representatives probably visit the region often. Meeting with university representatives is the next best chance you have to see if the school is the right match for you when you can’t visit.

Preparing for the fair

To make the most of the experience, do a brief assessment of where you are in the application process before you attend the fair. With a large number of schools in attendance, prospective students easily get overwhelmed. Review the list of universities attending the event ahead of time. Narrow down the list of universities to those that meet your basic criteria so you know which ones to look for when you get there. Questions to determine your criteria might include:

  • Is your academic program of interest available at the university?
  • Where is the University located, and is it a type of region conducive to your lifestyle?
  • Do you feel comfortable with the university’s size and student population?
  • Is the cost of attendance within your budget? If not, are there sufficient financial aid options available to you?

Save yourself the hassle of talking about basic facts—a good rule of thumb is if you can find answers online ahead of time, don’t ask the question. You’ll free up more time for interesting conversation! Focus on the universities that match your needs and prioritize their tables.

Asking the right questions

Once you’ve figured out which school’s tables you want to visit, start thinking about some engaging ways to start conversations with the representatives who’ll be there. You could ask them if they graduated from the university they’re representing. If they didn’t, you might then ask about their motivation for representing the school. Just remember to be personable and genuine. Prompting a representative to speak about their personal experience may open up the conversation in more ways than you anticipate. What are their favorite (and least favorite) aspects of the school? What do they think are the university’s strengths and weaknesses? Ask them what they wish more people knew about their university. There are a lot of interesting conversations that can lead you to a more comprehensive understanding of a school. Identify what matters most to you in the college selection process, and use these conversations to guide further research. If the representative was especially helpful, ask for their business card and be sure to follow up with a thank you email.   

Related: How to Plan for a Successful College Fair Experience

Discussing the application process

In addition to narrowing down the list of schools you want to connect with ahead of time, you should also 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! Be forthright about where you are in the process and ask the university representative for insight regarding application review. Most admission offices base decisions on academic performance and test scores, but you may be surprised to hear what other things they consider when looking for strong applicants. Speaking with a university representative is often one step of many toward deciding whether or not you should apply or enroll at a school.

Be aware though that some of the consultants representing schools at education fairs may work with the university through an outside organization. It’s 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.

Your informal college interview

Whether university representatives visit your school or you attend a university fair in your city, learn to treat these encounters as informal college interviews. You never know what may come from these initial meetings. By initiating meaningful conversation, you set yourself apart from other prospective candidates. Leaving the representative with a memorable first impression of you works to your advantage as it may bring your name to the forefront during a file review, giving you an extra level of consideration. But it will not guarantee your space in the incoming class. Be sure to keep your grades competitive, dedicate time to your extracurriculars, and be professional in your correspondence. In the end, leveraging these personal relationships and seeking multiple points of view may be more helpful than an in-person campus visit as you select the right university for you.

Related: Smart Strategies You Need to Know Before You're Admission Interview

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 of, course, be sure to utilize your online resources!

CollegeXpress is overflowing with digital resources to help you get to know universities from afar! Stat here with our Featured Colleges With Virtual Campus Tours list.

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