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Top Five Tips For College Fairs

a photo of a college fair
CollegeFair2

College fairs are in full swing around the country. To make sure you have the best strategy for the college fairs you might want to follow these five tips.

1. Look to see what colleges will be attending the fair.

For most college fairs you can find a list of schools that will be attending. It is worth getting a copy of this list. Then going through it to see if there are any colleges that you are considering on the list. Go through and highlight them and consider going to their tables first. You might also find other schools that you weren’t aware of that you want to talk to. No matter what, it is nice to at least know who will be in attendance to make sure you don’t miss visiting with any schools.

2. Register in advance.

Many colleges these days are using electronic scanners at the fairs. You can register in advance online. Put in all of your information (such as name, birthdate, address, email, etc), and print out a barcode that the colleges can scan during the fair. This will save you and the colleges time. You won’t have to fill out the little contact cards at each table. And the colleges won’t have to manually enter your information when they get back to campus.

3. Come up with questions to ask the colleges. 

Most college reps standing behind the fair table dread the general “tell me about your college”  question. Instead, come up with questions that are specific to you and your interests. This will help you gain a better understanding of how the school fits your goals.

4. Get the admissions rep’s business card.

Often, the admissions representative standing behind the table will be the representative for your region. They might be the one interviewing you in the fall or reading your application. It will be good to have their contact information. If you need to get in touch with them at any point during the process.

5. Be patient. 

College fairs can be very busy and very crowded. You might end up waiting in line to talk to a college of your choice. Be patient and know that you will have your turn. Showing your frustration, agitation or being rude to the other students and parents will not help your case in front of the admissions representative. If the wait looks long, go talk to another school and come back.

Take it from a former admissions counselor. There is nothing worse than standing at a college fair and answering the same question over and over again. Now don’t get me wrong, we understand that students and parents attend college fairs in order to learn more about the schools they are interested in. But you should also be attending fairs in search of schools that may offer things that you never thought of.

Those “hidden gem” schools just may have everything you are looking for. But you would never know it if you don’t ask the right questions. College fairs are also a great way to narrow down the list of schools you want to visit without ever having to leave your hometown. In a previous post, we talked about how to establish a relationship and “dance with an admissions officer”. College fairs are a great place to start. And here are a few tips to get you off on the right foot:

Tip #1: First impressions do matter.

Most colleges try and have the admissions counselor who is responsible for a particular territory, travel to the fairs in that area. So, having a conversation with the person standing behind the table of your favorite school is great opportunity since ultimately that person may be reading and making the decision on your application. If the counselor at the fair is not responsible for your application, then ask for the card or email address of the counselor who is.

Tip #2: Practice the art of conversation.

The first question most students ask at a fair is: “So, what majors do you have?” Is that really going to tell you what you want to know about the school? NO! Before you even visit a college fair, think about what is really important to you. Think of questions that you will not be able to find the answers to anywhere else. You can find a list of majors on the school’s website or in their literature, but can you really get a feel for what the campus is like?

Ask about campus traditions, favorite professors, and what concerns current students have. Find out how the administration listens to students concerns. What is the most popular event on campus? Ask the admissions counselor to tell you about a student who has made an impact on campus. What is that student involved in? If you need to, write down a list of creative questions- just in case you get nervous.

Tip #3: It pays to be in the know.

If you are really interested in a school, make sure you do your research on that school before the fair. This will allow you to ask more detailed and specific questions. Again, think about what is important to you and ask questions on things that you could not find in the school’s literature or on the website or ask the admissions counselor to elaborate on something that you found interesting.

For example, “I noticed that you have a program where students start their own business. Could you tell me some of the businesses students have started in the past?” This is also your opportunity to ask any questions you may have regarding the admission process. However if you have a specific concern about your application and there are 20 other students standing around the table, it might be a better idea to ask if you can email or call the admissions counselor at another time.

Tip #4: Find the “hidden gems”.

Of course you can’t research every school that will be at a fair and, like I mentioned before, college fairs are a great opportunity to learn about schools you may have never heard of. Don’t walk past a table just because you don’t recognize the name or location of school. Stop and listen to the other questions students are asking and join the conversation. Again, go for the questions that you won’t be able to find later (see tip #2). You might be surprised what you learn!

Tip #5: Don’t let your parents do all the talking.

Admissions counselors are more than happy to answer your parents’ questions, but they want to hear from you too! Make sure you dominate the conversation. It might be  good idea to ask mom or dad to visit the tables of some schools you might not be able to get to. You will cover more ground this way and you may be more comfortable asking the questions you really want to know.

Tip #6: Show the love.

Admissions counselors are accountable for how many students they talk to at fairs. They way they prove that they did their job is by the number of inquiry cards they bring back to the office. If an admissions officer asks you to fill out a card, DO IT! They will really, really appreciate it. (Just don’t steal the pen!) Some students bring a page of labels with their contact information already printed on them. This is fine, just make sure you fill out any parts of the inquiry card the label does not cover. Also, they will track how many times you have showed interest in the school, so even if you have filled the card out 20 times, you won’t regret it!

In her September 2 blog post, “Mark Your Calendar for Fall 2012 College Fairs in Colorado“, educational consultant Cara Ray provided a list of college fairs in Colorado this fall.  Now that you know when the fairs are, it’s important to understand how to approach a college fair in order to make a good impression and get the most out of it.

At most colleges, admissions representatives are assigned to a specific region of the country.  Chances are that an admissions representative you meet at a college fair is the rep assigned to your region, and he or she may be the first or only person to read your application, should you choose to apply.  Additionally, representatives meet countless students at college fairs, so doing what you can to stand out from the crowd and make a good impression is key.

Give some thought to what you’ll wear to the fair. 

While you don’t need to show up in a three-piece suit, it’s also not a good idea to wear ripped jeans or an old, ratty t-shirt.  Think about what you would wear to a job interview, and that’s probably a good outfit for a college fair.  For the boys, I’d recommend khakis or dress pants and a polo-style or button-down shirt.  Girls should wear khakis or dress pants or a skirt that reaches your knees, along with a nice shirt or blouse.  A dress is okay, too.  And girls, make sure you don’t wear anything too revealing or low-cut.

When you approach an admissions representative at a fair, make sure to introduce yourself with your first and last name.  You might also say where you live and what high school you attend.

Next, ask the representative questions.  You should try to make your questions specific, rather than asking questions whose answers easily can be found on the college’s website or in the brochures that you get at the fair.  It’s a good idea to write some questions down before the fair so that you can refer to them when talking to an admissions rep. 

Here are some examples of questions to ask:

  • What makes your college different from other colleges?
  • I’m interested in ____ major.  What are some unique opportunities or programs offered for students with that major?
  • I’d like to get involved in ____ (activity) in college.  Can you tell me about opportunities for this activity on your campus?
  • Are there a lot of students from my state/area?  What would attract someone from my state/area to your college?
  • Can you tell me about special programs and opportunities for freshmen?
  • Are you the admissions representative for this region?  (If not, ask who is and ask for that person’s business card or contact information.  Then, send him or her an email and say you attended the fair and ask any additional questions you have.)

Doing some research before the fair can help you come up with additional questions.  You usually can find out ahead of time what colleges will be at a fair by looking up the fair online.  Then, you can identify colleges you’re interested in, check out their websites, and make a list of questions.

As you’re talking with admissions representatives or immediately afterwards, make some notes so you’ll remember what they told you.  When you finish speaking with them, thank them for their time.  It also can’t hurt to send a follow-up email, especially if you have further questions.  This can help representatives remember you, which, if you’ve made a good impression, will work in your favor when they read your application.

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