Spring is here and it’s time for college fairs! At these events, representatives from dozens of colleges set up tables, hand out promotional material and make themselves available for interested students and parents. Some fairs also include information sessions about applying to college, financial aid and other related topics.

College fairs are wonderful opportunities for students to meet college admissions representatives and learn about colleges from the people that know them best. College fairs are also especially useful for students who don’t have time or resources to personally visit colleges.

Another important tidbit about college fairs – the people who staff the tables are often the same people who read applications and make admissions decisions. It’s a fantastic opportunity to start developing a relationship with your local representative, and to show “demonstrated interest” which can give you a leg up for admission.

Without further ado, here are my tips for making the most of your time at a college fair!

Before the Fair

  1. Register ahead of time. Many college fairs give registered students an electronic scanner that will save you lots of time filling out contact cards.
  2. Look at the list of colleges that will attend, and write down which ones you want to visit.
  3. Write out questions you will ask the college reps. Hint: You will make a good impression if you know something about the schools already – so do a little research ahead of time.
  4. Bring a notebook, pen, your list of questions and a bag to put all the materials you’ll collect.
  5. Dress appropriately, because you’ll likely be meeting college reps that have influence over admissions decisions. You don’t have to get dressed up, but how you appear will leave an impression — good, neutral or bad. A nice shirt and khaki pants are always good for guys, while girls can opt for a professional skirt, pants, blouse or sweater. No flip-flops, torn jeans or sloppy t-shirts please!
  6. Collect basic information about yourself, including your GPA, test scores, number of honors and/or AP classes, and a list of your extracurricular activities. If you have one, bring a copy of your activities resume.

At the Fair

  1. Be ready to make a good impression! As you enter, smile, stand up straight and look confident.
  2. Get a map of the tables, and mark the ones you want to visit. Decide how much time to spend at each table, allowing more for the colleges you are most interested in. Allow time at the end to wander and check out other colleges that intrigue you.
  3. Be sure to complete an information card for each of the colleges you are interested in. This will allow the college to follow up with more information, and make sure you end up on their list of interested students.
  4. Avoid giving your contact information to colleges you really aren’t interested in. This will reduce the amount of marketing materials flooding your mailbox.
  5. Plan to take breaks. College fairs can be crowded and overwhelming. You’ll absorb the information better if you don’t try to take it all in at once.

Talking to a College Rep

When you visit each table, remember that the people who staff the table are often the same people who read applications. You never know when a casual meeting could lead to his/her becoming an advocate for you in the admission process.

As you approach the table, remember to smile. Shake hands with the rep and introduce yourself. A good introduction might go something like this:

“Hi, my name is _________ and I’m a senior/junior/sophomore at ________ high school. I’ve been researching colleges and I’m really interested in yours. Do you mind answering a few questions?” 

If you aren’t familiar with the college yet, feel free to say, “I’m just beginning to learn about your college – can you give me an overview? Then, ask any questions you have about majors, activities, sports or anything else. But try to avoid asking silly or obvious questions, such as:

  • Is it true that your college is a great party school?
  • My friend told me classes are really easy at your college. Is that true?
  • What’s the name of your college again?

Here are some good questions to ask a college rep:

  • What is the campus atmosphere like?
  • What do students do in the evenings and weekends?
  • What do students like most? Is there anything you are aware of that they don’t like?
  • What is the area around the college like?
  • How accessible are faculty to students?
  • How difficult is it to be admitted to _______ major?
  • What qualities do you look for in an applicant?

Take notes on their responses, and remember to stay attentive, positive and friendly as you continue to talk to the rep.  Before you leave the table, shake hands with the rep again, thank them for their time and ask for their business card. You want the rep to think, “I really like this kid and would love to have them attend our school!”

After the Fair

You’ll probably have a large collection of shiny brochures to take home after the fair. Don’t just toss these aside!  While the colleges are still fresh in your mind, spend some time reading each one, setting aside those you are most interested in for further research.

In the few days after the fair, it’s important to send a follow up email to each rep you met. Your email can say something like this:

“Dear ____________,

Thank you again for taking the time to talk to me at the __________ college fair. I found the information really helpful and particularly enjoyed hearing about [something specific they talked about.] I’m even more interested in [name of college] now and am looking forward to visiting campus and sending my application in the fall. Please let me know if you ever plan to visit [your school] or [your town] again.


[Your name], [Your high school]”

How to Find College Fairs

College fairs are hosted all over country, most commonly during spring and fall. Start by Googling the words “College Fair” and the name of your region or city. Ask your high school counselor about fairs in your area, or visit one of these websites:

The biggest college fairs: National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) Spring 2015 College Fair Schedule 

For those of you here in the Western States: Western Association for College Admissions Counselor (WACAC) Fairs

Colleges that Change Lives, an organization dedicated to the advancement and support of a student-centered college search process, hosts their own member fairs.

Exploring College Options is a recruitment program sponsored by Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, UPenn and Stanford.