"Fair" Thee Well: How to Make the Most of a College Fair

Many people think of fall as football season, but I think of it as college fair season. College fairs can be a great way to research colleges you know you are interested in and to meet some schools you haven’t yet considered. But getting the most out of a college fair means going in prepared. Here is some football-themed advice to make the most of your 100-yard dash through the convention center hosting your local college fair this fall.

Ready? Break!

Parents and students often attend fairs together, but you will cover more ground (literally) if you divide and conquer. Have mom or dad stop by the tables at the big state universities where you are less likely to make a personal connection or have a one-on-one conversation. Parents can sign up for the mailing list and grab a brochure just as well as a student can. The student’s time is best spent chatting with reps from smaller schools more likely to take “demonstrated interest” into account.

Go Long

As soon as the fair doors open, head all the way to the back of the room and then work your way forward. Popular schools close to the entrance get mobbed in the early part of the fair while representatives in the back are eager for conversation.

Go the Distance

Just as you will do well to start in the back of the room and work your way forward, you should prioritize visiting with those colleges you are least likely to be able to visit before you apply. While a school halfway across the country won’t hold it against you that you can’t get to campus for a visit, they might wonder why they haven’t heard from you when they come to your hometown.

Follow the Playbook

Before the fair, you should have given some thought to the questions you wanted to ask of the representatives. If you are just getting started, you might ask open-ended “fishing” questions like, “What kind of student really thrives on your campus?” If you have an idea of what you want to major in, you can ask about what kind of special opportunities the college offers to students in that field. Do they help finance majors setup internships on Wall Street, for example, and what year can nursing students start working with patients? Ask at least one question that gets the representative talking at each school you visit. As soon as you step away from the table, take two minutes to jot down three things that you want to remember about the school (good or bad).

Huddle Up at Halftime

Halfway through the fair, parents and students should meet at a pre-arranged spot to compare notes and switch strategies if needed. Parents can tell students where they have been and what they have learned so far, students can check their progress on the list and re-prioritize if necessary. Have a drink of water, grab a granola bar and then get back out on the gridiron.

Touchdown!

If you are still standing at the end of a three-hour college fair, congratulations, you are a winner! Now, it’s time to head home and get started on those follow-up notes to the representatives at your favorite schools…

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