How to Prepare for College Fairs

The following piece was written by Rachel Korn. Rachel has been featured in our Admissions Expert series and is a former University of Pennsylvania admissions officer, as well as the founder of her own admissions consulting firm.

Throughout the year, in locations ranging from high school gymnasiums to large city conference centers, colleges and universities gather together to put on large-scale informational/recruiting events for high school students and parents. Schools bring informational brochures or presentations on computers and tablets to capture your interest and capture your contact information for their mailing lists.

The tables or booths at the event are staffed by admissions officers or by alumni who have been asked to represent their schools for the fair. Admissions officers intimately know their campuses and programs and can talk about the admissions process. Alumni, while provided key updated information about the schools to share, can also especially discuss their personal stories of their student experiences. In both cases, you can learn where an education at a particular school can take you.

How should you prepare for a fair?

1. Do your research and plan ahead. Read through the list of attending schools before the event so you can identify the schools that you definitely want to approach. This will allow you to proceed efficiently through the fair and guarantee that you talk to every school that you think important.

2. That said, keep an open mind. College fairs provide exposure and access to schools you might not know about yet – you have the chance to hear about unfamiliar places that might actually be good matches for your interests. Thus, it is wise before the fair to also check out the websites of the schools that you do not recognize. You may find that a school surprisingly corresponds with what you seek and can then investigate it further with the representative.

3. Formulate specific questions. Rather than asking representatives something broad and vague, such as, “So, tell me about your school,” it is wise to ask targeted questions to help the representatives address your needs efficiently and appropriately – and frankly, it will save you all time. Examples of such questions to develop are, “Do you offer a major in Business?” (if you are a prospective Business major); “What division is your athletic league?” (if you are a swimmer who wants to play on the Varsity team); “Do your students live on campus?” (if you are an especially social person seeking an active campus on weekends).

4. Think about how to maximize your interactions with the representatives. Speaking with admissions officers, you may be able to ask deeper questions about the admissions process. Speaking with alumni, potentially your future interviewers, you may be able to learn a bit about them personally – then at interview time, you may feel more comfortable.

5. Prepare to talk about yourself. If you talk about your interests, you will guide the representatives through the information that is most relevant to share with you; moreover, they will get a sense of who you are. Think of the fair as more than just an occasion for you to learn about schools – this is a chance for the school representatives to learn about you.

6. Dress and prepare to impress. You never know who will be representing the schools and who may actually remember you. These are casual events, but you could be talking to the admissions officers who will be reading your applications. Don’t give anyone a chance to think poorly of you. In fact, if you end up making a particularly good impression (just by being yourself – don’t force anything), you could potentially even help your admissions case. Admissions officers truly note and remember the interesting students they meet and excitedly await their applications, rooting for the students and hoping the applications will be strong. Your positive meeting could help in this competitive process.

Bonus tip: Senior admissions officers or experienced alumni who have staffed many fairs can be exceptionally helpful resources. They are not as anxious about performing or selling their schools. They love engaging in conversations with you more than just sharing information and they prefer making meaningful connections – they do not want to just collect your contact details. They may even be happy to counsel you about other schools at the event that you would want to investigate, too. Keep an eye out for these representatives.

Enjoy the college fairs – bring an open mind, share, and learn!

Visit Rachel’s Admissions Consulting site.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.