A college fair may not feature popcorn and carnival rides—sorry, folks!—but they are a great source of information for prospective college students. Coming prepared with a detailed plan, including a list of questions to ask at a college fair, will make sure you get the most out of your experience. This is often your first chance to meet with a school's representatives, so use that time wisely!
The most important thing you can do to make the most of a college fair is to prepare ahead of time. Don't go into a college fair with no idea what you're doing or why, or you'll be wasting the college representative's time as well as your own.
This collection of college fair questions and tips will help you have a better experience at your next college fair. This type of event is primarily a low-pressure way to learn more about schools that interest you, but having questions to ask at a college fair can also give you a head start over other applicants.
You won't find any of these cuties at a college fair.
What Is a College Fair?
You won't find any prized livestock at a college fair, unfortunately. These events consist of college admissions representatives ready to talk with prospective students about attending their schools. You can find local college fairs through your high school, admissions counselors at colleges, college mailing lists, and the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC).
College fairs are great for not only getting more specific information about the colleges you already know about, but also for finding schools you've never heard of. That's why it pays to have questions ready ahead of time; your perfect school might not be one that's on your list!
The real benefit to college fairs is that you can get information straight from the source, including answers to questions not available online. Any bit of extra info can help you make an informed decision about which college you want to attend, especially if you're looking for specific information about campus life, program specifics, and other nitty-gritty details.
Will Attending a College Fair Help Your Admissions Chances?
Here's the short answer: visiting a college fair probably won't make a huge difference in getting into a college. Meeting with a representative at a college fair isn't going to astronomically raise your chances, but it will give you the extra information you need to make an informed decision about what school is right for you.
So what effect can attending a college fair have on your application? For colleges that factor demonstrated interest—that is, showing interest in attending a college through visits or other means—it could mean you register a little brighter on their radar. If you really want to make an impression, consider following up with colleges after the fair; this shows that you're not just interested in any school, but that one in particular.
Lycoming College Admissions Director Jessica Hess says, "Calls to the college, campus visits, attendance at local area events, whether or not they open our emails and how many links they click on, research, attendance at high school college fairs—that all counts as demonstrated interest."
That said, not every school factors in demonstrated interest. Even for those that do, it's just one part of a successful college application. Meeting with a college at a college fair might be a positive, but it won't help if you don't already have a stellar application. Instead, focus on getting as much information as possible from a college fair—information will be far more beneficial in helping you choose the right school and tailor your application effectively.
"Demonstrated interest" makes you a bigger blip on the radar.
How Should You Prepare For a College Fair?
First, you'll want to be able to say, off the top of your head, what your GPA is, what honors or AP classes you're currently taking or plan to take, and any activities you're interested in or currently involved in. This information can help a college representative give you more helpful answers to your questions.
Next, you'll want to set some goals. Be realistic, here—college fairs run around three to four hours, so you'll need to prioritize. Don't worry about talking to every single school there, and don't approach a college fair as a means of selling yourself directly to the colleges in question. First and foremost, a college fair is for you to learn more about the schools.
You should use this event as an opportunity to get information, not as a trial run for your application. Schools will be meeting with many students in just a few hours, so you're unlikely to make a lasting impression. Use your time to learn rather than putting on an impressive show.
With that in mind, think about questions like how many schools you want to talk to and what information you want to get out of them. Also, be sure to preregister! Not only will you get advanced information about what colleges will be there to help you plan better, but if you register through NACAC, you can get a barcode containing all your personal information. Colleges can scan that and make it easier to connect with you afterward.
Consider which schools you'd most like to talk to, and compare that to the list of schools that will be attending. Create a list of around a dozen schools to visit, but don't feel like you need to get to every single one of them, because it's also important to spend a little time meeting with schools you haven't heard of.
Prioritize! Which colleges on your list do you already have enough information to make a decision about? Those ones can go lower on your priority list, unless they're a dream school—then you should use the opportunity to speak to someone face-to-face about attending. But more than anything, you want to spend your time getting answers to questions you can't find online.
Once you've made your list of schools you want to visit, make another list of things you'd want to know before committing to a college. This can be anything—admissions rate, what clubs they feature, whether your major is even offered there. Then, spend some time Googling to find the answers yourself. When you have a school representative in front of you, use them to answer the questions the school website can't!
Check school websites and other sources to eliminate the most basic answers, and cross those questions off your list. With only a few hours, you're going to need to maximize your time. Questions to ask at a college fair shouldn't be things you can easily find online.
The Best Questions to Ask at College Fairs
It can be helpful to group your questions to ask at a college fair into categories. Organization will help you make sure you don't miss anything as you're talking with admissions officers. Here are some possible topics and sample questions you might want to include:
- What programs are you most proud of?
- Are first-year students given priority for picking courses?
- What programs are the most popular?
- How does my favorite class in high school translate into a major?
- What help is there for students who speak English as a second language, who use American Sign Language, or who experience learning differences or other considerations?
- What should I know about competitive majors? Does "competitive" mean there are extra considerations for acceptance, or that there are limited spaces?
- What do students like and dislike about attending this school?
- Are there any students I can talk to about their experience?
Tuition and Cost
- Are there any program-specific financial aid or scholarship programs I should know about?
- What opportunities are available for international, underrepresented, or other students with special circumstances?
- If a club I'm interested in doesn't exist, can I start that club?
- What do students do during their free time?
- What kind of restaurants and activities are near campus?
- What is the workload like for my major?
- What kind of safety measures are there on campus?
- What do graduates of my major go on to do?
- How can I make the most of my alumni network?
Some of the questions to ask at a college fair will be on the general side: things you can ask multiple colleges to compare and contrast what they offer. Other questions to ask at college fairs should be based on specifics, like the details of one particular program.
For example, say you're an aspiring novelist who wants to write fantasy books. What's the English department's stance on genre fiction? This is something that's probably not listed on a college website, but if the college representative knows the answer, you'll have a better picture of whether the school is a good fit—and if they don't know, they can put you in touch with someone who does.
You don't have to ask the exact same questions at every school, but be sure you get all the information you need. The questions to ask colleges at a college fair are ones that will help you make the most informed decision you can about where you want to attend.
6 College Fair Tips
Since you've already made a plan, you're on the right track for getting the best possible experience out of your college fair. But there's still more you can do, too.
#1: Dress to Impress
Don't worry about looking extremely fancy, but do put a little effort into your outfit. Focus on the clothes that make you feel comfortable and confident. Think button-up shirts, skirts, and professional-looking pants like corduroy, khakis, or chinos. Formal wear isn't necessary, but do put in a little more effort than you might on an average day at school.
Now, put on your best confident smile, because you're there to impress!
#2: Bring Supplies
You should bring a bottle of water—you're going to be doing a lot of talking—as well as a notebook and pen. Not only will taking notes help make sure you don't forget each college's answer to your questions, but taking a moment to jot down some notes after each conversation will make sure you remember it better. If you have address labels, these can be a great way to hand out your personal information if you don't have the NACAC barcode.
#3: Arrive Early
College fairs will typically have a fair directory and bag for you to take. If you get there early, you can use the directory to plan out the optimal route to make sure you get a chance to talk to all the schools you want to meet with rather than wandering aimlessly and hoping you stumble upon them.
#4: Be Genuine
When you're talking to representatives of each school, don't worry about being the most impressive person in the room, but do think about being your authentic self. Be honest and forthcoming and express genuine interest. Don't try to impress based on things you don't actually feel, believe, or do, because not only can admissions officers pick up on that, but it's also more likely to lead to a college being a poor fit.
The best college for you isn't always the most prestigious one—you want a school that's going to lead to academic success, a great pathway to a career, and a fulfilling education, not one that's just going to carry the star power of a familiar name.
#5: Check Out Unfamiliar Colleges
You should set aside at least a little time to talk with colleges you may not have heard of. The biggest, most memorable names may not actually be the best fit—smaller schools may surprise you! That's why it's good to have general questions to ask when attending a college fair: you don't want to be left scrambling for conversation when your dream school might be right in front of you.
#6: Follow Up
Be sure to grab brochures, an application, financial aid information, and business cards from representatives if they're available. You can even send a follow-up to whoever you speak to; it's a great way to show initiative and interest. Besides, you'll want all that information later on when it's time to apply—thanks to your hard work and planning, you have everything you need to find the perfect school for you!
You don't have to look extremely fancy, but do put in effort.
Visiting a college fair will get you lots of information, but you still have to do the hard work of applying to college. Using an acceptance calculator will help you figure out your chances of getting into the schools at the top of your list so you know how to up your odds.
Now that you know what you can expect of your ideal colleges, it's time to learn what colleges expect from you. The information you gathered at your college fair will help you better target your application to suit what each school is looking for!
It's also a great time to start researching scholarships. Even if you're a freshman or sophomore, it's never too early to start thinking about how you're going to pay for college, and all the information you've gathered gives you a definite leg up on other students.
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Melissa Brinks graduated from the University of Washington in 2014 with a Bachelor's in English with a creative writing emphasis. She has spent several years tutoring K-12 students in many subjects, including in SAT prep, to help them prepare for their college education.