Making the Most out of High School College Fairs


Making the Most out of High School College Fairs

The benefits of attending high school college fairs are plenty. It’s a low stakes way to learn about a school without spending the time and money visiting each institution. You get face-to-face time with someone that can answer questions both about admissions data and life on campus. You get free things! (if you like pens and keychains you’ll love college fairs) There’s also a chance that you’ll discover new schools you hadn’t even considered. With some planning ahead, you can have a successful college fair visit where your school research comes to life. Take advantage of the fact that the schools have come to you!

Where can you go to a college fair?

1. High schools. Drop in to your school’s counseling office to ask about college fairs offered in your school or in the surrounding areas.

2. Conference centersLarge-scale high school college fairs such as the one organized by National Association for College Admissions Counseling or specialized College Fairs such as Performing and Visual Arts College Fair (PVACF) will make use of bigger venues.  Registration is required.

3. Online! You can attend a virtual college fair at sites like College Week Live and communicate with admissions representatives through online chats and webinars.

Who attends?

You, hopefully. In addition, expect to see other students, some parents, and admissions representatives from schools across the country. For the most part, the admissions reps at these fairs are people who will actually be reading your applications. Sometimes you’ll also come across booths for related services, such as test prep companies.

How do you prepare for the fair?

Some of the bigger high school college fairs have hundreds of schools in attendance. It will be wonderfully chaotic (like that time you were eight and lost your mom at the supermarket), and without proper preparation, you can easily become overwhelmed.

Before the fair, you’ll want to gather a pen, notebook, and a bag for all the college materials you’ll surely collect. Kudos if you bring pre-printed labels with your name, appropriate email (no [email protected] no matter how true that might be), high school graduation, and area/major of interest. Also, look over the list of schools in attendance and identify the ones that you’re most interested in. But keeping an open mind if you come across others that catch your eye the day of the fair. Write down a few notes about your top schools in your notebook to keep you organized.

Organization will matter once you get to the fair as well. If the fair provides a floor map, plan out your path, hitting your top schools, but leaving leeway to discover new schools you hadn’t considered before. In many cases, you’ll have a limited amount of face time with the school representatives, so make your questions count.

Don’t waste time with quantitative questions that you can easily Google (How many students make up the undergraduate population?) and tap instead into the admissions representative’s qualitative experience on campus.  Examples of questions to ask:

    • What is unique about your school, academically or otherwise?  
    • What do students do for fun?
    • What type of student would not be a good fit for your school?
    • What are the support services available to students? (Career, mental and physical health, etc. )
    • I’m interested in XXX. What specific programs are available in that area?
    • What is the school’s neighboring area like? (safety, food, entertainment, etc.)

After each booth, take time to record the name of the person you talked to as well as a few notes on the school: Like or dislike? Look into further? Reach, fit, or safety school? And so on.

Need a break? Be sure to check out the information sessions happening simultaneously in adjacent rooms. Take a seat and listen to a useful lecture on topics like test preparation and applying for financial aid.

Once you get home, sort through the many glossy brochures you’ve collected to either add to your notes or throw out (recycle like a good citizen) the irrelevant ones. If any of the admissions representatives you talked to offered their business card, follow-up with a thank you email.

Remember: Many times, this is the person who will read your application. Chances are, they won't remember you (they speak to hundreds, if not thousands of students at high school college fairs each year), so don't be pushy or annoying. But sending an email, striking up a memorable conversation, and making an impression will never hurt! 

Hopefully, by this point you’ve learned more about what you want and the schools that offer that. For the schools that made the cut, the next step is scheduling a college visit to continue your path towards choosing the right school for you!   

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