Deciding where to go to college is an important task. Most families can’t afford to visit dozens of college campuses to learn more about the schools and what they offer. That’s where college fairs come in! College fairs are events that give high school students the opportunity to speak with admissions reps from numerous colleges and universities all under one roof.
Representatives from the colleges (and often students who currently attend the schools) set up booths where they can meet high school students and their parents, answer questions, and distribute brochures and other information. High school juniors can benefit greatly because they will have to apply to colleges during the fall of their upcoming senior year, but even sophomores and freshmen will learn a thing or two.
College fairs are usually held in gyms, convention centers or other places that can accommodate a lot of people. This means that a lot of colleges will be represented and things might get confusing.
Here are some things to remember:
1. Prepare yourself ahead of time. Find out which schools will have representatives at the fair beforehand and make note of which ones you are the most interested in meeting.
2. Do a bit of research online. You do not have to know absolutely everything about every single school you’re interested in, but many questions can be answered by looking at a school’s website. Don’t waste your face-to-face time asking obvious questions like, “Where is the school located?”
3. Arrive a few minutes early to beat the crowd, and make sure you dress nicely. First impressions matter. You don’t want to be remembered as the one wearing the tank top and frayed shorts.
4. Bring a notebook and pen or your iPad to take notes after speaking with college reps. Write things down or type out quick notes. This will help you remember who you spoke with, which school they were from, and what information they told you.
5. Bring a folder or bag to keep brochures, booklets, and other literature that is handed out. You’ll probably wind up with too many things to carry in your hands.
6. Visit the booths for schools that interest you, not the schools that interest your friends, boyfriend, or girlfriend.
7. If you have time, speak with people from other schools as well. Don’t totally rule a college out before you learn more, especially if the admissions representative seems interested in you. Remember to be slightly wary, though—they’re there to sell their school, so of course they will make it sound great!
8. Make sure your potential major is offered (you will most likely already know this when speaking with reps from the schools you already researched online). If you aren’t completely certain which path you’d like to take, find out when students must declare a major.
9. Ask about the school’s accreditation and inquire about student retention rates. If half of the freshman class leaves before their sophomore year, there might be a problem.
10. Be sure to ask questions about financial aid and scholarship opportunities. Sticker price is usually far more than the price most students actually pay. Find out how many students get some type of financial aid.
11. Realize that giving a school your name, address, and other personal information means you will be placed on their mailing list. Receiving promotional flyers and letters in the mail doesn’t mean you’ve been accepted.
12. Go through your notes and literature after the college fair. If you have info from multiple colleges, organize it. Send a quick thank you note (an email is fine) to anyone you met from the schools you’re still interested in attending. Thank them for their time and let them know you are interested in their school.
Spring is in the air and college fairs are already happening across the country. Contact your high school guidance counselor for information about college fairs that are scheduled for your school, district, or area. You can also visit the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) Spring 2013 College Fair Schedule to learn more about NACAC fairs.
Even if you’re 95% sure you want to attend your local community college for financial reasons or a state university because it’s only an hour or two from home, do yourself a favor and attend at least one college fair anyway. If possible, go to several. At the very least, you’ll get the chance to practice interacting with recruiters and admissions counselors.
Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
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