Conquering the College Fair
**NOTE: This post has not been updated to reflect the COVID-era virtual college fairs. Because these are so new, with constant adjustments and updates to the format, we cannot yet confidently write a blog about how best to navigate a virtual college fair. Much of the advice below will still apply though!**
As a student planning to apply to college, you will likely hear about COLLEGE FAIRS. At these events, representatives from dozens of colleges set up tables, hand out brochures and chat with prospective students. Some fairs also include information sessions about applying to college, financial aid and other 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 aren’t able to visit colleges in person.
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
- Register ahead of time. Many college fairs give registered students an electronic scanner that will save you lots of time filling out contact cards.
- Look at the list of colleges that will attend, and write down which ones you want to talk to.
- Write down the 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.
- Bring a notebook, pen, your list of questions and a bag to put all the materials you’ll collect.
- Dress appropriately, because you may meet 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. No torn jeans or sloppy t-shirts please!
- 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
- Warning: Most colleges fairs are crowded and loud. Popular colleges often have lines of students waiting to talk to the rep. Don’t let this discourage or frustrate you!
- Be ready to make a good impression! Smile, stand up straight and look confident.
- Get a map of the tables, and mark the ones you want to visit. Allow time at the end to wander and check out other colleges.
- Be sure to complete an information card for each college 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.
- Avoid giving your contact information to colleges you aren’t interested in. This will reduce the amount of marketing materials flooding your mailbox.
- Take breaks. College fairs can be 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 you could be talking to the same person who will read application (but not always). You never know when a casual meeting could lead to his/her becoming an advocate for you in the admission process.
Remember to smile. Shake hands with the rep and introduce yourself. 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.
In additions to your own questions, here are some good general questions:
- What is the campus atmosphere like?
- What do students do in the evenings and weekends?
- What do students like most about the college? 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. 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.
Pro Tip! Consider sending a follow up email to each rep you meet. Your email can say something like this:
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) College Fair. This offers general fairs, plus fairs focused on STEM and Performing Arts.
For those of you interested in the Western States: Western Association for College Admissions Counselor (WACAC) Fairs
College Board’s Big Future Days is a brand new in 2021, divided by regions of the country, and created to be entirely virtual.