Massive and overwhelming or small and targeted, college fairs can take place in convention centers and arenas or they can be held in school gyms or nearby shopping malls.
And there are many great reasons why students and families should take time out of their busy schedules to participate:
1. Begin the conversation. Fairs bring students together with representatives from multiple colleges and universities—all in one location. Instead of surfing the net for information, students and families experience the very real benefit of beginning a conversation in real time and getting immediate feedback from someone who knows the school and details of campus life.
2. Discover new schools. Somewhere in the collection of colleges and universities represented at a college fair, there are bound to be schools you’ve never heard of or never seriously considered. A fair offers a low risk opportunity for you to learn a little more and to allow yourself to be captivated by something different or off the beaten track.
3. Self-confidence. Fairs offer the opportunity to develop a little self-confidence in your approach to colleges and admissions staff. After that first face-to-face encounter, you’ll find future conversations will become much easier and discussions will flow. You’ll also begin to understand that colleges are truly interested in YOU and what you can bring to their campuses.
4. Budget savings. Driving to a nearby fair is lots cheaper than visiting a bunch of colleges in which you may or may not be really interested. While there’s nothing like setting foot on a campus to get a feel for it, fairs can help travel budgets by whittling down the list of schools on the grand tour.
5. Common interests. Colleges with something in common frequently travel and sponsor fairs together. For example, Jesuit colleges visit cities and make presentations as a group called the Jesuit Excellence Tour or JET for short. The Claremont Colleges and the Colleges That Change Lives do the same. If you think you’re interested in one Jesuit college, get introduced to other similar schools by attending a JET College Night. Along the same lines, get a feel for all of the Claremont Colleges by attending one of their events.
6. Focus. College fairs force students to sharpen their focus on colleges. By asking related questions to a series of college reps, you begin to get a notion of similarities and differences. And for better or worse, these events tend to facilitate simple comparisons based on quality of presentation or the connections you are able to make with staff.
7. Free advice. Many larger fairs have “counseling centers” where students can get guidance and ask questions about specific colleges and programs participating in the events. They also have resources for those seeking information on testing, course selection, and application completion.
8. Financial aid information. Some fairs offer presentations on financial aid and how to obtain financial support for college. Colleges are aware how important this information may be to college choice and frequently offer materials on specific merit scholarships or aid programs.
9. Demonstrated interest. If a student attends a fair and signs up for a mailing list or otherwise is recorded as inquiring about a school, there is a strong likelihood that the college will interpret this initiative as demonstrated interest. It’s no secret that interest counts at most colleges, and this is your chance to show a little extra love.
This is the second in a series of articles on college fairs.