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Preparing yourself to attend a college fair

quad in fall

Each fall, high schools across the country host, sponsor, or co-sponsor college fairs. What an opportunity! Students can explore many colleges in one setting, while college representatives are able to meet dozens, if not hundreds, of prospective students, all in one night!

Attending a college fair is a great way for students to explore different colleges and universities, gather information and introduce themselves to an admission staff member. Whether a student has already narrowed down his or her list of prospective schools, or is just beginning to research, college fair attendance is an important step in the process.

College fairs typically last no more than two hours, which doesn’t give students a lot of time to talk to admission counselors and get their questions answered. Below are some tips to help students make the most of their limited time.

  • Create a plan. Prior to the fair, check online or ask your guidance counselor for a list of colleges that will be present. Make note of any tables you want to visit and the questions you may want to ask. Keep in mind that most college fairs are ordered alphabetically, so it is easy to find the schools that interest you.
  • Do your research. If you have some idea of what matters to you in a college – major, location, extracurricular activities – spend some time at a few schools’ web sites to make sure they offer what you want. If a school doesn’t offer your major, there’s no point in stopping by their table!
  • Introduce yourself. Once you stop at a table, introduce yourself with a firm handshake and confident eye contact to the admission representative standing there. You will impress the rep and he or she very well may remember you when you visit campus or e-mail with a question in the future.
  • Strike up a conversation. Admission reps visit college fairs because they want to meet with you! Counselors want to get to know you and answer your questions, and they are a wealth of valuable information about their institution. Now is the chance to ask your questions!
  • But don’t monopolize their time. If you are attending a busy college fair and you notice a line of students waiting to talk to an admission counselor, ask your questions, but be respectful of their time and move along so others can ask theirs as well.
  • Gather materials. Sure, it’s okay to take one of everything on a table, but you don’t have to if you don’t want to. Look for the view book – that is typically the largest or thickest publication a counselor will have to offer, and it usually will give you the most valuable information. Or, ask the counselor what he or she would suggest you take.
  • Fill out the inquiry card – or, better yet, bring your own! Inquiry cards sit on almost every table at a college fair, and it’s the way that schools gather your contact information so that they can put you on their mailing list. Now, we realize that 1) filling out all those cards during a fair can be time-consuming and 2) you may already feel inundated with mail from colleges. However, if you are truly interested in a school, you really do need to make sure you’re on their list.

The best way to save time at a college fair is to create your own inquiry cards. We’ve seen a number of students do this over the past few years, and it tends to work well. You can create your cards ahead of time, freeing you to talk to admission reps during the fair, rather than filling out a dozen similar cards. However, it’s important to make sure you include all of the necessary information on your cards.

Full name:
Preferred name/nickname:
Home address:
High school:
Year of graduation:
Intended major(s):
Extracurricular activities:
E-mail address:
Parent’s e-mail:

Good luck as you take steps toward achieving your goals and making important decisions!


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