Sep 28, 2011

A Few Simple Tips for Getting the Most Out of a College Fair

Ditch 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. Be purposeful and serious about the business of getting to know colleges.

All of this is good advice, but there are a few more secrets from college fair organizers on how you should approach these events.

“Students shouldn’t just start at one end of the fair and work their way down a row of tables,” said Marian Kendrick, organizer of the FCPS College Fair and College Night events. “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 to get the most out of a college fair, follow these other simple tips:

  • Pre-register. For fairs offering the opportunity to pre-register online, feel free to go ahead let them know you’re coming. 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 out labels with your name, mailing and email addresses, phone number, and year of graduation. Then use the labels to stick onto registration cards and mailing lists. This simple tip will leave you more time to have “meaningful” conversations with college reps. Even if 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. Even though many colleges are going increasingly “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, by all means note locations in the conference hall and think about how you’ll get from one exhibit to another.

  • Prepare. Have 3 to 5 questions ready to ask. Don’t look foolish by asking for information that’s readily available on the college website or in print materials. Probe for insight and ask follow-up questions to deepen your understanding.

  • 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.

  • 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 file everything you think might be useful later.

  • Start early. Don’t wait until fall of senior year to attend your first college fair event. Get familiar with the “fair scene” by visiting local events early in your high school career.

This is the third in a series of articles on fall college fairs.

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