Oct 27, 2014

12 key ways to make a college fair work for you

With the availability of virtual college fairs or other internet conferencing opportunities, it can be tempting to take a pass on the crowds and skip attending the annual gathering of colleges at the local community or convention center.

But that would be a mistake.  While sometimes hectic, college fairs present unique opportunities to make much more personal connections with colleges on your list.  And there’s no better way to establish a relationship than to start a face-to-face conversation.

There are a few basic rules, however.  First, lose your friends and don’t consider a college fair a social event. Do a little advance planning and strategize about schools you’re going to visit and what you’re going to say. 

Don’t wander the room aimlessly. Be purposeful and serious about the business of getting to know colleges. And take notes on what you have learned.

“Students shouldn’t just start at one end of the fair and work their way down a row of tables,” explained one veteran organizer. “They should target colleges in which they are interested and not waste time standing in long lines for colleges they know are visiting their high schools in coming weeks.”

And never miss an opportunity to make a good first impression.  It’s quite likely that the smiling face on the other side of the table will be among those reading your application.  So show your interest by returning the smile, making eye contact and being polite.

If a college fair is in your future, consider these 12 ways to make the experience work for you:
  • Register.  For fairs offering opportunities for online registrations, feel free to let them know you’re coming by signing up. Not only will it save time, but for some fairs you’ll be rewarded with a handy barcode you can use to leave contact information with college reps.
  • Print labels.  Print labels with your name, mailing and email addresses, phone number, high school, year of graduation, and area of academic interest—if you have one. Then use the labels to stick onto college-interest cards or lists. This simple tip will leave you more time to have “meaningful” conversations with college reps. And even if you know the fair is “automated,” bring a few labels as colleges frequently appear at the last minute and don’t always have access to the barcode system.
  • Bring a backpack. Although many colleges are going “green” and don’t make as much print material available, a fair is still an opportunity to collect glossy brochures and handouts. Be prepared with a backpack or something similar to cart the stuff home.
  • Be organized. Draw up a list of colleges with which you intend to make contact. If a map is provided in advance, note locations in the conference hall and think about how you’ll get from one exhibit to another. 
  • Ask questions. Don’t look foolish by asking for information that’s readily available on the college website or in print materials.  Do a little research in advance of the fair and have 3 to 5 questions ready to ask on issues of importance to you. Probe for insight and ask follow-up questions to deepen your understanding.
  • Elevator pitch.  Every college applicant should have an “elevator pitch” in which you sum up interests, goals, qualifications, and what you might bring to a college community. But be aware that face time at a college fair will be limited, and the pitch should take less than a minute or no longer than an average elevator ride.
  • Explore. Try to visit with schools you might not have considered or whose names seem less familiar to you. Fairs offer low-risk opportunities for broadening your horizons.
  • Attend information sessions.  Many fairs offer workshops for you to learn more about college search, application completion or financial aid.  This is your chance to ask questions and become better informed about the application process in general.
  • Take notes.  Bring a pen and notebook or a smartphone/tablet.  Fairs can be chaotic, but try to take a minute to make note of any information you think is important.  It may be a detail you want to follow-up later or you may hear something that makes a school especially attractive to you.   These tidbits of information can be very useful when it comes to answering the question of why you want to attend a particular college.
  • Get business cards. For those schools in which you know you are interested or those schools where you made a great connection with the rep, get a business card. Follow-up with a brief email after the event referring to your conversation. Thank you notes are always appreciated.
  • Sort through the material. After you get home, sort through the information you received. Read it even. Then use this information as a basis for further exploration—check out websites, get on mailing lists, or plan a campus visit.
  • Start early. Don’t wait until fall of senior year to attend your first college fair. Get familiar with the “fair scene” by visiting local events early in your high school career.

No comments:

Post a Comment