Every year, there are college fairs across the country. These fairs can be valuable tools to help you as you try to figure out which colleges you want to apply to, and eventually, which college you want to attend.
In this article, I'll explain what a college fair is, how to find college fairs, and what you should do to get the most out of the experience.
What Is a College Fair?
A college fair is an event where representatives from colleges come to a school, convention center, or other location to talk to high school students about the colleges they represent and answer questions.
Some college fairs have been described as being like flea markets. Each college usually has its own booth, and the representatives are trying to get you to come to their booths. They give out brochures and try to convince you why you should be interested in attending their college.
College fairs are a great opportunity to get information about the colleges that are represented. The representatives can answer specific questions about academics, campus life, or financial aid.
Also, you can make relationships with the campus representatives. Sometimes students exchange information with the representatives, and the students are able to get further guidance and help with the college admissions and selection process after the fair is over.
There are general college fairs in which all types of colleges are represented. Also, there are more focused college fairs, like college fairs in which all of the represented schools are performing arts colleges or HBCUs.
Why Should You Attend a College Fair?
College fairs can be beneficial in helping you find the college that will be the best fit for you. You can ask specific questions to college representatives who are knowledgeable about the admissions process and the schools they represent. You can get guidance about how to make yourself a qualified candidate for admission, and you can learn about the opportunities that various colleges can provide you.
Furthermore, college fairs can expose you to colleges you may have not previously considered. Often, students are not aware of all of their college options, and fairs provide students with a good opportunity to learn about different schools. There are literally thousands of colleges, but in my experience, many students try to limit their college options to only a handful before doing adequate research.
Finally, sometimes admissions officers are there representing the schools they work for. While most representatives won't remember the vast majority of the students they interact with at the fair, if you have a pleasant conversation and exchange information, you may make a positive impression on somebody who will be reading your application.
How Do You Find a College Fair?
There are a few ways to find a college fair you can attend. First, I recommend talking to your counselor. Your counselor may be able to help you find a local college fair or may be able to set up a fair at your school. Also, each fall and spring the National Association for College Admission Counseling holds free college fairs in cities across the country.
To find local fairs, you can also google “college fairs” and your state or city. If you can’t attend a college fair in person, you can still get the experience virtually at collegeweeklive.com or collegefairsonline.com.
What to Do Before You Go
Before you go to a college fair, you should be prepared. Do your research!
Find out the schools that will be attending. Research the schools from their websites, guidebooks, college finders, and ranking lists. Determine which schools that will be attending the fair interest you the most. Write a list of questions, and put some thought into your questions. The more specific and well-written your questions, the better you’ll come off to the college reps, and you’ll be more likely to get the information you’re seeking.
Instead of asking “How are the parties?”, you can ask about the prominence of Greek life on campus or the frequency and types of on-campus events for students. If possible, come up with a few questions that show you’ve done your research. For example, you can ask about a specific recent on-campus event. You can reference a statistic or some information you learned in your research.
Write questions related to the most important factors for you in picking a college. Ideally, the answers you receive will help you narrow down your list of schools and aid you in the college selection process. Bring a pen, paper, and a bag to hold all of the brochures you’ll be getting.
Make sure the e-mail address you’ll be providing doesn’t sound too silly or unprofessional. Even though firstname.lastname@example.org is a lovely address, college admissions officers may judge you negatively for it.
Research the schools that will be at the college fair.
What You Should Do at the Fair
At a college fair, have a general game plan before you start aimlessly walking from booth to booth. You’ll only have a limited amount of time, so map out a route to ensure that you’ll be able to visit the booths from the colleges that interest you the most. Some of these fairs are in huge convention centers. Some fairs will provide a map, and at other fairs, you’ll have to scan the room to locate the booths you’re looking for.
Then you should visit the booths and speak to the college reps. Ask the questions you’ve prepared, but also be willing to have a conversation with the representatives and ask additional questions based on the information they provide. Be professional and courteous. Make eye contact while the representatives are talking and thank them for answering your questions.
While I believe you should always try to be considerate, you especially want to make a good impression at a college fair. Many of these representatives are admissions officers or have close ties to the admissions offices at the colleges they’re representing. Also, if you make a positive impression, the representative is more likely to want to be helpful. Some students correspond with representatives via e-mail after a college fair, and the students get additional guidance or answers to any remaining questions. However, if a booth is very crowded, you may just get an opportunity to listen to the representative give her pitch or answer questions from other people.
After you’re done at a booth, jot down any pertinent information you received or your impressions of the college before going to the next booth.
Make sure you’re able to visit the booths of the colleges that interest you the most, but be willing to go to other college booths, too. You may learn about a college you’re less knowledgeable about, and you may spark an interest in a school that you hadn’t previously considered.
Additionally, some college fairs offer information sessions. Usually, the information sessions will have a specific focus like filling out college applications or financial aid. If possible, I recommend attending one of these sessions.
Go to the session that's most relevant to your needs and you anticipate will offer you the most helpful information. If you're comfortable with the application process, then going to the information session on filling out applications may not be the best use of your time. You want to try to take advantage of all of the resources available to you at a college fair and make sure you're getting as much out of the experience as possible.
EducationUSA International Virtual College Fair/Flickr
What You Should Do After
After you get home from the college fair, try to figure out which colleges made the best impression on you. Reflect on your conversations with the college representatives. Did the representative say anything that excited you about the college? Did you hear anything that made you feel like that school was a place you could see yourself at? Review your notes you took during the fair. Also, organize and review the material you collected. Make a folder or file for each college you’re considering to help you stay organized.
If you decide that you’re definitely not interested in a school, get rid of its material. You can avoid clutter and focus on the schools you’re interested in.
Then, continue to research the colleges that interest you. You can discuss your college options with teachers, counselors, and parents. If you know any current students or alumni from the colleges, talk to them about their experiences.
You can also use Niche, a website that provides college rankings, offers student reviews of colleges. The reviews are about every aspect of the college, including financial aid, academics, parties, and the overall experience.
Finally, if possible, plan campus visits. If you’re able to visit a college, you can get an official campus tour and often schedule a meeting at the admissions office. Sometimes you’re even able to sit in on a class. There’s really no better way to determine if you’ll enjoy attending a specific college than by actually spending time there. Attending a college fair is a good step to decide which schools you want to visit.
If you're still trying to decide what you're looking for in a college, check out these articles on the most diverse colleges, party schools, and whether you should attend a school in an urban, suburban, or rural area.
If you're in the process of finalizing your list of schools to apply to, review these posts on reach and safety schools.
Also be sure to check out our nifty infographic on how to apply for college.
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Justin has extensive experience teaching SAT prep and guiding high school students through the college admissions and selection process. He is firmly committed to improving equity in education and helping students to reach their educational goals. Justin received an athletic scholarship for gymnastics at Stanford University and graduated with a BA in American Studies.