The Art of College Fairs

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!


Katherine Price

Former Admissions Counselor Who Has Attended A Lot of College Fairs

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Published by Mark Montgomery

Mark is a leading educational consultant. His experience as a professor, college administrator, and youth mentor help him guide students from around the country and around the world.

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