How to Master College Fairs: Making College Reps Remember You
Picture This: You Enter A Brightly-Lit Hall Lined With Dozens Of Booths And Smiling College Representatives...
Your eyes sweep the room, taking in the colorful brochures sitting on the tables and the large banners hanging from the walls. Suddenly, you feel like a tiny ant in a great abyss of noise and activity.
- “How am I supposed to stand out? “
- “What am I doing here?“
- “How should I act?”
It’s no wonder that college fairs can feel like a daunting task for many high-school students. As we move into an age of quick, instantaneous access to information and interaction through the web, it’s quite common now to feel the need to escape face-to-face encounters and retreat to the comfort of our devices. After all, you may feel exposed and judged in the space of a college fair, doubting whether or not the things you say are intelligent or charming enough to impress the college reps.
But, what if we told you that you don’t have to impress them?
You see, the reason you attend a college fair is not to boast about your accomplishments or to “sell” yourself—your mission at these fairs is to strike genuine conversations and gain real insights into what these colleges are truly like.
Of course, this still isn’t easy. It may be difficult to stay calm as you speak with college reps, so we’re here to walk you through the ins-and-outs of mastering college fairs and how you can best prepare before attending one.
What You’ll Find In This Article:
- What are College Fairs?
- How to Prepare for a College Fair
- The Best and Worst Questions to Ask a College Rep
- Why You Need to Follow Up With College Reps
- Your College Fair Checklist
- A Final Note on College Fairs
What Are College Fairs?
Simply put, college fairs are events that allow students and college representatives to engage with and learn more about one another. These fairs can vary both in size and focus, with some featuring dozens or even hundreds of schools, while some are dedicated only to specific majors or academic programs.
What’s so great about these college fairs is that they’re a great opportunity to learn more about your favorite colleges and even discover new ones before college applications are due..
Here, you’re encouraged to pose questions you’re not able to find the answers to online, hear stories and personal insights into campus-related topics and issues, and build a network of college reps who may be able to help you when application season rolls around.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF COLLEGE FAIRS
College fairs were first popularized in the U.S. in the mid 1970’s, and soon became the NACAC’s (National Association for College Admission Counseling) primary means to both gain a steady source of income and, more importantly, create a channel for students, parents, and colleges to more easily and directly interact with one another. Today, college fairs have continued to gain traction and are often a first step for students readying themselves for the college application process.
Participating schools will usually provide introductory pamphlets and brochures highlighting their programs, campus opportunities, and prominent organizations in order to entice and educate interested students. In addition, the representatives present are more than happy to speak with you, answer your questions, and share their personal experiences and stories with you.
Because of these more personal interactions, it’s very beneficial for students to attend these college fairs. Many online resources (virtual tours, forums, etc.) will not be able to offer you such in-depth resources and information as college fairs..
In the end, you should aim to gain information and develop relationships with the people present at these fairs. It can seem like an impossible task as students often visualize an invisible barrier that separates you from these esteemed professionals. But, at the end of the day, these reps are just as excited and curious about you as you are about them.
HOW TO FIND COLLEGE FAIRS
There are a number of ways you can discover college fairs in your area, but make sure to keep these tips in mind:
- Speak with your school counselor to find college fairs. This not only helps you get more information about college fairs, but also creates an open dialogue between you and an experienced school official. The more people you talk to, the more insights you will gain!
- College fairs typically occur in the fall and spring seasons.
- College fairs are usually free and accessible to the public! However, you will need to register ahead of time to save a space!
Here are a few resources for researching college fairs:
- The NACAC offers a broad range of fairs, including: national college fairs, performing and visual arts college fairs, stem college and career fairs, as well as international universities fairs
- They are free and open to the public.
- The search tool allows you to filter depending on what kind of fair you want to attend as well as your location in order to find the options closest to you.
- CTCL offers a series of information sessions and fairs that last about two hours long, beginning with 30-minute eye-opening presentations
- Participating cities include: New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, and many more
- Students need to pre-register for events
If for some reason you are not able to attend a college fair in person, there are also online fairs that provide students with a similar experience and opportunity to meet with college representatives:
- College Fairs Online: Fairs are offered in every U.S. region twice a year (Fall and Spring).
- The Big Virtual College Admissions Fair: This site provides convenient access to virtual college fairs for students unable to attend physical ones.
WHAT ARE YOU HOPING TO GET OUT OF A COLLEGE FAIR?
Before attending a college fair, you want to have a clear idea of your reasons for attending. Yes, the thought of being surrounded by so many professionals, parents, and fellow students is stressful. You may feel that you have to act fake in order to be noticed and respected—which is all the more reason to have a clear goal in mind.
You’re here to have genuine conversations, learn more about the many colleges you might attend, and make connections to help you get into the right school down the road. Remember that these face-to-face interactions can’t be replicated, and that the representatives you meet are truly excited to tell you about their school. By letting go of your anxieties and going in well-prepared, you can have a great experience at any college fair you attend, regardless of whether or not you’re a college’s “ideal” candidate. Perhaps you’ll even discover a school that’s a perfect fit for you and who you never would’ve found otherwise!
To get you ready, let’s talk about how to prepare for college fairs so that, with enough research, time, and practice, you’ll be able to walk into that room feeling confident!
How To Prepare For A College Fair
While college fairs may seem like an endless, intimidating maze, it’s actually not as complicated as it might seem. Luckily, we’re here to break down a few key steps you’ll need to prepare for the fair.
STEP 1: HOW TO PLAN FOR THE FAIR AHEAD OF TIME
To get started preparing for your local college fair, research which colleges will be present! This is the most important step in the planning process, because you want to create a list of schools you’re interested in speaking before attending the fair. You can determine this list based on factors such as: location, majors, campus organizations, tuition, and more. Make sure to have a list of about 8-10 schools with notes that reference why you chose them—this will come in handy later on.
Additionally, make sure you have a professional email address to give out at the fair. Usually schools will have email subscription sign-up sheets at their booths, and you’ll want to use an email that’s appropriate for an academic setting (hint: don’t use the email you made in middle school!)
Finally, prepare a list of questions! Asking questions at a college fair is extremely important as it demonstrates thoughtfulness, curiosity, and the desire to learn. We’ll have pointers on creating the best questions later on in the article to help you out.
STEP 2: FIGURING OUT WHAT TO WEAR
While college fairs aren’t casual events, they aren’t extremely formal either. College reps value your personality and sincerity above all, but, believe it or not, your attire can heavily influence how you express those traits.
For example, think of a day where you couldn’t be bothered to spend any time on your appearance and, as a result, dressed more slouchily. It’s likely that you kept to yourself more and were less willing to initiate conversations with others. On the other hand, your attire and appearance can significantly boost your confidence when you dress well.
With this idea in mind, here are some general guidelines for what to wear at a college fair:
- Wear what you feel most confident in, but avoid overdressing. Opt for business casual wear that is clean and simple, but still comfortable.
- Keep your hair neat and out of your face so that it doesn’t interfere with your ability to make eye-contact and speak comfortably.
- Jeans are okay! Go for a pair that are undistressed and unrevealing, as you want all the attention on how you carry yourself. Try to balance them out with a more formal or presentable top.
STEP 3: WHAT TO BRING WITH YOU
There are a few things you’ll want to have on hand when you head to your local college fair. To start, make sure you have the list of colleges from Step One. This will keep you on track as you walk around the fair.
Note: Don’t let your list limit you! Feel free to wander to other colleges that are not on the list so you can explore all of your options.
Alongside this list of colleges, bring a list of meaningful questions, paper, and a pen. While there will be many brochures offered, it’s always useful to have paper on hand to take note of anything else that interests you. It can also be useful for keeping track of certain dates and reminders.
Finally, make sure to have water and a snack on hand. Some fairs last for several hours, so you want to make sure you stay hydrated and well-fed so you have the energy to engage with the many college reps around you.
Note: Make sure your bag is comfortable, while still carrying everything you’ll need at the college fair. It may be wise to take a smaller bag, since you’ll likely need to walk through large groups to navigate the fair (i.e. canvas bag or smaller backpack).
The Best And Worst Questions To Ask A College Rep
“There’s no such thing as a dumb question”.
We’re sure you’ve heard this before, and it’s true for the most part. However, when it comes to asking college reps questions, there is a distinction between efficient and inefficient questions. To have more in-depth conversations, pose questions that can be answered with meaningful experience and limit ones that can be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
BAD QUESTIONS TO ASK A COLLEGE REP
Is your biology program good?
Why it’s a bad question: First, since you’re speaking with a representative from that school, they are highly unlikely to tell you anything other than ‘yes’. Furthermore, there isn’t much substance that can be offered to answer this question—there aren’t any layers to it.
- Alternative: Can you tell me about the strengths and opportunities for the biology program? What do students find difficult about it? (This gives the rep a chance to show you what’s unique about their biology program)
Is your school better than (insert another school)?
Why it’s a bad question: This actually violates the NACAC Statement of Principles of Good Practice which all college reps are bound to, so you won’t get the conclusive answer you might be looking for. Moreover, each college has its strengths and weaknesses, while still offering environments where you can thrive academically and socially.
- Alternative: What do students enjoy most about this campus, and what about your campus is unique? (This question works because it encourages further conversation, and gives the rep a chance to share their personal favorites about their school)
GOOD QUESTIONS TO ASK A COLLEGE REP
Treat these questions as interview questions—you want to learn the most important and interesting information about your “candidate”. Don’t be afraid to ask hard-hitting or even make-or-break questions so you can more clearly decide if the school is a good fit for you.
Here are some examples:
- Can you tell me about your humanities program and what course topics you offer?
- What are some examples of students’ favorite classes and why?
- What are some interesting extracurricular opportunities offered to students?
- What are some important values to your school and how are they expressed in policies, courses, etc?
- What spots do students often frequent? What is there to do outside of campus?
- What are your favorite programs on campus (study abroad, internship, radio, etc)?
Try to be creative when you come up with your list, and go for questions like these that are more open-ended! These questions work because they prompt thoughtful responses based on the rep’s own experience, and give you a better idea of the school’s values and environment.
Note: These questions are a starting point, but like any good conversation, don’t be afraid to feed off of any interesting points shared with you. If the rep mentions something else that piques your curiosity, follow up with a question about that as well! Let them speak, pay close attention, and engage with what they’ve said.
Why You Need To Follow Up With College Reps
Now that you’ve conquered the college fair, there are still a few things to do. About a day or two after the fair, when you’ve had some time to reflect, reach out to the reps of the schools that most interested you! This follow up is important for fostering relationships with the college reps.
Here’s what you should keep in mind when following up:
- Do it soon. Follow ups should be sent out while the fair is fresh in both your mind as well as the reps’.
- Keep it short and sweet. Thank them for their time and for speaking with you at the fair.
- Include a specific topic or idea you spoke about to jog their memory and to leave a lasting impression.
- End your follow-up email with a question rather than a simple remark so that you open up the possibility of further conversation.
- Finish the email by expressing your interest in staying connected.
Here’s an example:
Dear Mr. Smith,
Thank you so much for your time at the college fair on Friday. I really enjoyed speaking with you about the humanities courses—the topics are so interesting! I would love to visit the campus sometime and, if possible, speak with you again. If you have any recommendations on how to go about that, I’d really appreciate it. Thanks again!
Your College Fair Checklist
Now that we’ve made it to the end, let’s go through an overview of the important components of preparing for, attending, and following up after a college fair! Feel free to reference this checklist and use it as a guide for your future fair visits.
PREPARING FOR THE COLLEGE FAIR
- Ask your counselor or reference the resource websites we provided earlier in the article to find college fairs in your area.
- Once you find a fair you’d like to attend, make sure to register ahead of time to save your spot.
- Research which colleges will be present and make a list of about 8-10 schools you’re most interested in.
- Take note of the aspects of each school that you like and dislike so you have a point of reference for your questions.
- Make sure you have an appropriate email to provide college reps at the fair.
- Plan an outfit for the day! If necessary, you can shop for a few basic pieces that you can use for future events as well.
- Prepare a list of thoughtful questions.
- Pack a sturdy bag with water, a snack, your list of questions, your student ID, registration ticket, a notepad, and a pen.
AT THE COLLEGE FAIR
- Reference your list of colleges and make sure to stop by their booths.
- Stand up straight, take a breath, and approach the reps with a warm smile and a firm handshake.
- Introduce yourself and ask if you can ask them a few questions.
- Refer to your list of questions before you visit the college reps.
- Engage the reps and further the conversation through active listening.
- Take notes of interesting points you learned from those conversations.
- Sign up for email lists for the colleges you’re most interested in so you can receive relevant information in the future.
- Take the brochures and pamphlets offered.
- Stop by other colleges that aren’t on your list if there’s time.
- Ask for the contact information/a card from the reps you connect with.
AFTER THE COLLEGE FAIR
- Take out your notes, pamphlets, and brochures for the different schools and lay them out.
- Reflect on what you liked, didn’t like, and what changed for you after the fair visit.
- Create a new list of updated schools that you liked from the fair.
- Create a follow up email for the reps of these schools, thanking them for their time and reaching out for a visit/future conversation.
A Final Note On College Fairs
Hopefully, you learned a few new things from this article about another aspect of the college application process—the college fair. While these fairs aren’t mentioned much when planning for college, they are useful tools to gauge, discover, and develop your interest in certain schools.
Remember, try to relax and calm your doubts—attending a fair is not so much a chance to show off your achievements as it is a chance to learn from the people at your favorite schools.
If you’re still feel apprehensive, it may be wise to seek support and assistance from experienced people in the college admissions field. Whether you enlist the help of your school’s college counselor or schedule a free call with one of WeAdmit’s own professional counselors, seeking outside help can be a great way to ease your fears and give you confidence in the college admissions process.
After All, College Fairs Are Just One More Step On Your Journey To Attending Your Dream College!
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