A bird's eye view of a college fairAttending a college fair is a great opportunity for students and their families to gather information from a broad range of colleges. In short, it is a one-stop shop for assessing a range of diverse menu options. Although these events are typically large, they are an efficient, cost-effective (read: free), low-pressure way to meet representatives from many campuses in a short period of time. That said, getting the most from a college fair takes some advanced planning, and these helpful hints will assist you in making the best use of your time.

Prep for Success

Before the fair, spend some time thinking about what you would like from your college experience: where are you likely to feel comfortable and find the greatest success? Consider what you already know about your academic experience to determine what you would like to recreate on a college campus and what you would like to change. This information will guide you as you design your list of target schools.

TIP: Create a college-specific email address to use exclusively for college-related correspondence. Pack a notebook and a pen to jot down notes, names, answers to your specific questions, and your general impressions of the school.

Design A Game Plan: Map It Out

Review the list of attending colleges and outline which schools you would like to target. Most college fairs arrange the schools in alphabetical order, so you will know where to find Allegheny College vs. Wittenberg University. If it is crowded, you may want to approach the schools in reverse alphabetical order. Those schools at the end of the alphabet may not be as busy early in the fair.

TIP: Grab a fair map and bring a highlighter to chart a plan of which colleges you would like to visit to ensure you connect with your target schools.

Make Meaningful Contact with Admissions Representatives

If you are really interested in a specific college, the admissions counselor is your most valuable resource. Start the conversation with a handshake, an introduction, and a question relevant to your interests. Be intentional, and ask insightful questions to glean information above and beyond what is available in the college literature.

TIP: Ask the colleges you are most interested in for a business card. While the admissions representative may not remember you from the hundreds of other students he or she met that day, you will have a specific admissions contact to whom you can direct follow-up questions.

Be Open to Possibility

The college search is an exciting adventure. Once you have connected with your target colleges, branch out and visit some schools that you have never heard of or know little about. You may find yourself interested in a school you never considered that matches your academic pursuits.

Finding a good fit can be a lengthy process but well worth the effort. A college fair provides a snapshot of the realm of possibilities. After the fair, continue to research colleges that piqued your interest. Explore their websites, schedule a campus visit, and meet with college representatives who visit your high school. Investing in the search process will pay off tenfold when you find your fit.

Finding a Fair

To find a a college fair near you, check the NACAC website here.

Alicia LinseyAlicia Linsey is the K-12 Director of Guidance & Counseling for Bedford Public Schools. Alicia has worked in student support and college counseling in the Boston area for nearly 20 years. She is currently serving on the National College Fair Committee and as the co-chair of the Boston National College Fair for the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). She holds a MA in Counseling Psychology from Boston College and a College Counseling Certification from UCLA. Alicia was a member of the advisory board for the college resource book, “The Secrets to Picking a College (And Getting In!),” published in October 2015.