Posted June 24, 2013 by

How to get the most from a college fair

Mahsa University College featured at an education fair

Mahsa University College featured at an education fair. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

In theory, you can choose a school, apply and get accepted without ever talking to a single soul from that school. In reality, that may not be a great idea. Taking that approach limits your options, could lower your chances of getting into your school of choice, and could keep you from discovering a great school you may not even come across in your Internet research.

This is where college fairs come in.

These fairs, which happen throughout the school year, are a way for students to network and learn about different colleges by talking to admissions representatives from several schools. But going to a college fair unprepared is like going to a grocery store without a list right before it’s closing: You won’t be able to get everything you need.

To make the college fair experience valuable, follow these three steps.

1. Conduct research before the fair

If you show up to a college fair without looking into some of the schools beforehand, you’ll be doing yourself a disservice. You’ll also waste the limited time you have with the admissions representative if you spend it asking simple questions about degrees that a Google search could answer.

The Princeton Review offers the following advice to college fair attendees: “If you have a conversation with a rep and she can clearly see you are interested and familiar with the school, that impression can have an impact. A few thoughtful, well-researched questions are best.”

The College Board’s “College Fair Checklist” mentions a few other things you should do before attending a college fair:

  • Look for a list of colleges that will be at the fair and do some research on them in order to know which tables to approach.
  • Bring some paper, pens and a bag to hold all the materials you’ll receive during the fair.
  • If you have an embarrassing email address, create a new one. Remember, you might actually give it out to representatives.

Also, remember to dress nice for the fair. You don’t have to do a suit and a tie but dressing like you just rolled out of bed or came from the gym will leave a bad impression on college admissions representatives.

2. Take good notes and use your time well

Once you arrive to the college fair, there’s no time to waste. You need to get straight to work.

The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) suggests finding out where each booth is and planning out a schedule. NACAC advises, “If a family member attends the fair with you, talk about your plan ahead of time. You may decide to split up — perhaps a parent can attend the financial aid seminar so you can visit more colleges. Another option is staying together for part or all of [the] time. You may find that your parents or siblings ask different questions than you do. Also, it can be helpful to get a second opinion on your impressions of particular colleges.”

The NACAC also recommends writing down your impressions of each college and the answers their representatives gave you to your questions before moving on to the next table. This allows you to retain valuable information or first impressions after the fair ends.

3. Take action immediately afterward

If you leave the college fair and don’t take action, it was probably a waste of time to attend. You need to take a day or two to organize and then plan the next step.

If you happened to get contact information from college admissions representatives at the fair, The Princeton Review recommends sending a short thank-you email a day or two later, which should also include a tidbit about your interest in the school. Keep it short, polite and professional.

NACAC advises students to read through all their notes and the brochures they received during the fair right after they attend. According to NACAC, “You may find that some colleges aren’t as interesting as you first thought. Others only look better the more you research them. For those colleges, follow up by filling out the information cards in the brochures or by starting to schedule college visits.”

Remember: A college fair is the school’s first impression of you (and vice versa). Make it a good one, to ensure that the college fair is a valuable experience.

By Jon Fortenbury

About the Author

Jon Fortenbury is an Austin-based freelance writer who speclalizes in higher education. He’s been published all over the place, ranging from USA Today College to the Huffington Post, and has a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Check out his blog.

This article is originally published on Schools.com.

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