If you’ve ever been to a college fair, you know it can be a little overwhelming. There are dozens, sometimes over 100, schools to choose from. You weave through isles of tables with representatives staring you down, hoping you’ll stop and ask questions. Brightly colored signs, banners and booklets with words like “discover” and “opportunity” beg for your attention. It can feel a little bit like a promotional jungle. Don’t worry, though. You’ve got this. Here are five tips to staring that college fair in the eyes with confidence.
#1 Have a game plan. You should not approach a college fair like window shopping. That approach leads to one of two things: #1 getting overwhelmed and finding yourself paralyzed by all of the options or #2 walking around aimlessly and wasting valuable time. Find out what schools are going to be there and make a list of the schools you’d like to visit. If you’re not sure what schools interest you, you might consider reading these posts first on the importance of self-assessment and strategy for finding the best fit college.
#2 Research. The key to making the most of a college fair is to do research beforehand. You can learn a lot of the basic information (location, size, major offerings, etc.) about a college from the website. This may be your only opportunity to speak with a representative from many of the schools you are considering, so you want to make the most of that time by asking for information you can’t learn from a website. Ask questions that get to the heart or ethos of the institution – what kind of student is your school looking for; what does your institution believe the purpose of an education is; how invested are faculty in the lives of the students? If the representative is an alum, ask about his/her experience.
#3 Make a chart. This is a great opportunity to compare/contrast information. Make a chart that includes statistics and information you want to gather from each school to have in one place. The chart could include things like: number of students, student/faculty ratio, male/female ratio, placement rate, graduation rate, return on investment (ROI), retention rate, cost, average class size, average GPA/SAT/ACT, etc. (If you Google “college comparison worksheet,” you will find several printable charts to use.) It’s helpful to fill out this chart beforehand, using information from the website so that you know exactly what information you need to get from each school.
#4 Target a few schools you’ve never heard of. A college fair is a great setting to get to know schools you weren’t planning on visiting in person. Just because you’ve never heard of the school doesn’t mean it’s not a great school. Two years ago, I was recruiting at a college fair in Lancaster, PA and a gentleman approached my table to introduce himself. We started chatting, and he explained that he worked at a local engineering firm and had never heard of Grove City College until he started getting to know some of his co-workers. He claimed that the top 10 engineers at his firm were all GCC graduates! When he reflected on his own college experience he said, “If I had known about Grove City, I would have gone there in a heartbeat.”
#5 Create a résumé. I guarantee that every college representative you talk to will ask you to fill out an inquiry card of some sort. This is a good thing, because you will receive more information from the colleges that interest you. If you have contact information already made up, you don’t have to waste time filling out a card for each college you talk to. The résumé should include as much information as you think will be useful for the college so they can send you information that is specific to your interests. Consider including: full name, email, phone number/s, home address, major/s you’re interested in, extracurricular interests, name of your high school, year you will graduate from high school, etc. The information will probably take up about half of a normal 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper.