College Fairs: A Useful Tool for All High School Students
By Joe Messinger, CFP®
September 2, 2021
We’re honored to be presenting this updated guest blog on college fairs from our friend Beth Probst, Founder and CEO of At The Core. At The Core helps students figure out what they want to do after high school through educational path planning, personalized self assessment, and career exploration. Visit her blog for additional posts. Capstone is part of their upcoming events including “Tips for the College-Bound” and “Smart Money Moves for the College-Bound”.
If you have ever been to a college fair, you know what it is like. You enter what probably is a HUGE hall to find the space filled with table after table of college representatives. Some colleges (maybe even most) are names you have never even heard of. (Note on the “huge” hall, colleges are usually arranged alphabetically. Helpful tidbit!)
Your student may have stood there dumbfounded. Maybe you did too. Maybe you wondered “Well, we’re here…what do we do now?!”
High school students in every grade can walk away with valuable knowledge at the fair. Freshmen can wander, sophomores can identify some schools of interest, juniors can ask specific questions, and seniors can make final selections or ask last minute questions.
Often during the fall and again in the spring, a college fair will be hosted in a location near you. Our newsletter often lists the local ones here in Central Ohio and Cincinnati.
If you’re not the Columbus or Cincinnati area, let Google help you find one or your high school guidance counselor. The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) holds fairs around the country. The Ohio Association for College Admission Counseling (OACAC) also holds a few in Ohio.
With the arrival of COVID-19, in-person fairs transitioned to virtual events. We’ll discuss those in a bit more detail below. Here is the NACAC virtual college fair link and the OACAC page as well.
College fairs are a great opportunity to dip your toe into different college choices.
Without traveling from school to school, you can start to get a feel for what is out there. What programs and opportunities are different schools promoting?
Fairs are also a great chance for your student to interact one-on-one with an adult they don’t know. This skill is a challenge for many students. Practicing a few interactions ahead of time will give them some confidence to shake hands, introduce themselves, and ask their question.
When it comes to questions, refrain from asking questions easily answered on the college’s website like “what majors do you offer” or “how much is tuition.” Ask something more specific like “I’m interested in your ____ program. What are the internship/co-op/research/study abroad opportunities in this major?”
To give you an idea of what we mean, here are some suggested questions to ask from “Hey Guys! Let’s Go to a (College) Fair!”:
- “What is the campus atmosphere like at your school? What do students do in the evenings and weekends?”
- Ask if the rep can provide the names of students with whom you could talk so that you can get a sense of the college from someone who is already there.
- “What is the area (town, city) around the college like?”
- “How accessible are faculty to students?”
- “What do students like most about your college? Is there anything you are aware of that they don’t like?”
- If you have a learning issue, ask about the college’s learning services.
- If you are anxious to do research, ask if that is available to undergraduate students and how?
What other tips do we have?
Many schools will have cards you can fill out to request additional information. Print out labels with your student’s info (name, address, email) to stick on the cards and save time. We’d recommend your student use a “serious” email–not email@example.com! Filling out these forms connects your child to the college and demonstrates interest. This is a good thing to do.
Demonstrated interest is something we talk about often. As the number of college applications rise, institutions want to know that you really like them and interested in what they have to offer. Not all colleges pay attention to demonstrated interest, but some do.
If you can show interest in a school, they will take notice. Ways to show interest include: filling out the interest cards at a college fair, an official college visit, opening the emails they send you, visiting the college rep at your high school, and following them on social media. All show that you are paying attention and are wanting them to notice you too.
Enjoy your college fair visit. It can be fun to explore all the opportunities!
Here are some more awesome tips from College Board:
Before You Go
- Find out which colleges will be at the fair (a list may be posted on the fair’s website) and write down the names of the ones you want to learn about.
- Make a list of any questions you have.
- Bring your list, a pen, paper and a bag to hold college brochures.
- Make sure the email address that you give out won’t embarrass you — remember, college admission officers will see it.
While You’re There
- Get a map of the fair and plan a route that will take you to the booths of all the colleges on your list. If there is no map available, do a quick survey of the room to locate your colleges.
- Visit booths and ask college representatives questions. For example, you can ask, “What kind of student are you looking for?” or “What makes your campus special?”
- Take a minute to jot down any information you think is important before moving on to the next booth.
- Check out some of the other booths when you’re done with the colleges on your list. You may stumble onto a great college you hadn’t considered.
- Attend an information session, if any are offered. Typical topics include applications and financial aid. These sessions are good opportunities to get expert advice.
When You Get Home
- Ask yourself which colleges stood out and why.
- Organize the college material you collected and review it that week while it’s fresh in your mind.
- Go over any notes you took during the fair.
- Throw out the pamphlets of colleges you’ve ruled out so you can focus on the colleges you’re interested in.
- Do more research on the colleges you’re thinking about. Explore websites, contact the admission office or plan a campus visit. If you liked what you saw at the fair, it may be time to see the college in person.
Now, about those virtual college fairs.
Virtual events come with their own benefits and disadvantages. Families don’t have to travel to a fair and deal with crowds. You can pick and choose the college presentation you are interested in seeing. You may more easily discover colleges from across the country that you never heard of before. You can directly ask your question without fighting to get to the front of the line at a busy table.
On the flip side, they aren’t as personal as shaking someone’s hand and making eye contact. Students need to make an effort to pay attention and not mentally wander off. (Taking notes is a good idea.) Be sure your technology is a match for the fair’s requirements to work properly.
This document from NACAC has great tips on how to make the most of virtual fairs. They really are a fun way to explore colleges big and small. Take a chance on a session with a college you’ve never heard of before. You might be surprised.
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