College fairs are often overwhelming and intimidating. Hundreds of eager parents and students pack into a convention center, rotating around the room to learn about what colleges all over the country have to offer. Attending a college fair is an opportunity to get to know schools, meet the admissions officers who represent them, and begin the journey of building a relationship that demonstrates your interest and fit for the college.
The unfortunate reality is that many families leave college fairs feeling unaccomplished. The lines are usually very long, making it difficult to speak with admissions officers. Instead, the focus becomes about grabbing as many glossy brochures as one can hold.
I coach my students to use the college fair as an event to better position themselves for admission.
Continue reading for a list of action items — what you can do to make the most of a college fair.
- Start with a College Fair Game Plan. Before the fair, get a list of colleges attending and highlight the college representatives that you want to meet. Do your research to help you speak to the particulars about the college (e.g., major of study, sports, activities, etc.) that pique your interest. Visit their websites and social media pages. Plan your route, starting with colleges in which you’re most interested and working your way to the ones you’re interested in the least.
- Bring your resume. All high school students should have a resume – a one-page snapshot of your academic profile, work experience, extracurricular activities, awards, and interests. Write and polish your resume and bring at least 30 copies to hand to admissions officers. Admissions officers will be impressed that you came prepared with a resume. Also, it gives them something to read while returning home on the plane. The resume can be added to your college file and will begin your trail of demonstrated interest.
- Come with pre-printed personal contact information labels. Purchase adhesive address labels and on them, print your name, phone, email, address, high school, and graduation year. Save time by sticking the labels to information request cards and sign-in sheets at college tables.
- Ask good questions. When you meet college representatives, smile, shake hands, and introduce yourself. Give them your resume and explain your interest in this particular school. It is essential that you have questions to ask. Being prepared with questions shows your enthusiasm and excitement about the school. A rule of thumb is to avoid asking questions that can easily be found on their website. Sample questions include:
- My GPA and ACT or SAT scores are X and Y. Would I have a chance of admission with this academic profile?
- What makes your school unique when compared to others?
- I am interested in majoring in Z. What type of internship opportunities are available to students with this major?
- What types of need-based and merit scholarships do you provide?
- Collect business cards. Before you leave the table, pick up college brochures and the college representative’s business card. You’ll need this to contact the representative immediately after the event to follow-up and ask additional questions.
- Follow up. Immediately after the college fair, organize materials and notes on each college. Draft and send follow-up thank you emails to each college representative you met. Be sure to remind them who you are, perhaps something that you discussed that would stick out. Don’t forget to attach your resume and let them know about any plans you may have to visit the campus in the near future.
Navigating a college fair is an important first step in narrowing down your college list and something you can be proud of when done successfully.