The possibilities! The buzz and hum! People going every which way with smiles and expectations! It’s a college fair, and it could prove to be a very valuable step toward realizing your dreams of finding and getting accepted to your favorite school. But if you’ve never attended a college fair, what are the expectations? How will you get the most out of it? Who should you talk to, and what questions should you ask? Will they do an admissions interview on the spot?! Plus, what in the world do you wear to a college fair?
Hold on – let’s calm down. College fairs are mainly about you and what you need as you make your decision about schools. Let’s face it – it is a buyer’s market out there for undergraduate programs. You have a lot of choices, and schools need students due to an overall dip in the number of graduating seniors. Colleges and universities are looking for bright and articulate students who will add something to the school, who will improve the education of their fellow students, and who will represent the school well during and after graduation. Hey, that sounds like you, doesn’t it?
A college fair is like browsing your favorite store with countless options and decisions to make. However, to make it a really valuable use of your time, you need to approach the college fair with a strategy – not just pop in to browse. It takes some pre-planning to make the most of a college fair. Even a little preparation will help immensely to give you a great experience.
Here are a few tips to make the most of a college fair:
1. Learn About the Attending Schools
Long before you show up at the college fair, get a list of schools who are attending. This information is usually known well in advance. You should begin researching these schools as early as possible. A great first step is to eliminate as many as you can as soon as possible. If you would never plan to attend the school for one reason or another, don’t waste your time. With the list of schools left, start learning about them, their programs, their campus, their reputation, etc.
2. Start a Notebook of Schools
Keeping notes will help you organize your thoughts and make it easy to compare schools later. Take this notebook with you to the college fair and add to it as you learn more. You may see a lot of schools during the college fair, so notes will help prevent them from all blurring together at the end of the day. Your research and notetaking will be really useful as you prepare for the next step.
3. Ask the Right Questions
The schools you’re researching might become your home for the next 4 years or longer, so make sure you know what you are getting into. Asking smart questions does double-duty: It gives you answers that lead to real insight into the college, and it impresses the admissions folks because they can tell you’ve done your homework and are serious about the college search. Digging into the school’s website and talking to alumni are two great sources for questions; wherever there is vague information, ask about it. Find out. There is nothing wrong with having a check list of questions for each school. Keep it with your notes and write down the answers you get.
4. Gather Contact Info and Follow Up
If you have any questions or need information later, you need a specific contact at each school. It’s much better to have a face, a name, a phone number, and an email address than to have to go through the switchboard looking for someone. Some of these schools are huge organizations, so a personal contact is always an advantage for you.
5. Use the College Fair to Schedule a Campus Visit
There is nothing like being on campus to get the feel and vibe of a school. These are those intangibles that don’t come across in a brochure or even in a video. Use the time at the college fair to fully arrange your trip. Many schools let you customize parts of your visit, or even all of it, so work with the representative in the booth to plan something that’s right for you. It’s easier to work through this in person than on the phone or by email.
6. Prepare for an Interview
Even if your favored school does not conduct interviews at the college fair, you should be prepared with responses to questions that would likely be asked during an interview. Why? Just in case they do offer on-site interviews, of course, but also because they might ask you some of the same questions during conversation. Remember – the evaluation begins the moment the conversation starts, interview status or not.
7. What to Wear
It never hurts to look your best. You don’t have to wear suits and dresses, but clean, ironed, and modest clothing will put you in the best light, and will make you feel good about yourself. Confidence comes across!
With a strategy that includes some research, notetaking, question development, and maybe even some ironing, you will be ready to take on college fairs like a pro!