I have to admit when I was looking into colleges, I really didn’t take advantage of college fairs. In hindsight I wish I had. College fairs are a wonderful resource for you and your child to gather information on prospective colleges you are already thinking about and some you may have never heard of.
What is a College Fair?
You have heard of book fairs, which can basically be called a gathering of books for sale. You have heard of job fairs where you are selling your skills while companies are selling themselves. A college fair is basically the same thing. Its a gathering of colleges on a local, state or national level. Genreally speaking it will most definitely have colleges from your local area but it should also have colleges from around the country. You can find them at local high school campuses or college campuses but there are also some fairs that are put on by outside curricular entities. Your child’s high school counselor can always help your child find local fairs. You can also hit your Bing Search Bar and surf the net for other fairs. Another option: check out www.nationalcollegefairs.org to search for upcoming college fairs in your area.
What to Expect from a College Fair?
College fairs can be a great information gathering experience. As a parent, its the perfect opportunity to ask about the school’s financial aid procedure and opportunities. Not all financial aid is the same. For example, the University of La Verne offers merit scholarships, athletic scholarships, need based loans and grants, federal and state aid, and work studies. On the other hand, Cornell only offers financial aid based on financial need.
For students, its the perfect chance to look at colleges and universities they may not have heard of. They can ask school recruiters tons of questions such as questions on college life at their campus, various extra curricular activities and athletic opportunities, sorority and fraternity life, whether freshman (sophomore, etc.) are required to stay on campus and any other question that they can come up with.
Before You Go
Make a plan to attend more than one college fair to get a full breadth of colleges and universities. If possible find out what colleges will be present at the fair and number the list down to the schools you want to specifically learn about. (Note: Don’t discount schools you have not heard of. I suggest that you take a quick look at the colleges you are not familiar of to see if they meet some of your basic requirements for a school.) Make a list of the questions you want to ask the colleges your child is interested in and make sure they have their own list of questions. Colleges generally have tons of material that they give away so having a bag to carry it all is definitely a must.
This next is just a general tips for teens. Make sure their email address is appropriate. College admissions officers, college recruiters and even prospective employers and job head hunters will see their email. And as someone who did hiring and interviewing for my department at both of my former corporate employers, emails like sexyhotchick@hotmail/gmail/yahoo.com do not make a good impression. A good and simple email is something like their first name and last initial or last name and first initial or similar combination and gives a nice and professional image.
When You Are There
If there is a map, grab it. Note where your choice universities and colleges are located. Smaller college fairs have about 50-ish colleges represented. Larger fairs can have in excess of 400 colleges and universities present. Its not uncommon to have college banners covered up by throngs of people too so knowing where you are going is a good idea. Remember, its not necessarily quantity by rather quality that you are seeking.
Ask your questions and have your child ask their questions. Avoid questions such as “what type of students are you looking for?” as that can make your child seem desperate. Remember how it feels to have someone desperately cling to you. Colleges are the same. The same is true for questions on essays, admissions and college entrance testing, and application questions. These are better left for breakout sessions and high school counselors.
However, questions such as “what is a typical day for a student at your campus?” or “what kind of non-academic activity opportunities exist for students?” are good and important questions for your student to ask. Make your questions count and fact finding. Remember that no school is going to tell you what’s bad about their programs or campus so asking a general open ended question such as “Would you recommend this school?” or “Is your engineering program good?” really don’t get you far. Rather, ask “what sets this campus apart from college x?” or “Could you compare your engineering program to others and what make its better?” Make sure you and they jot down any important information that you learn from the representative while still at their booth. You move on and you will forget. The faintest ink is greater than even the most retentive memory.
Some college fairs host information sessions. This is often true at high school fairs. Plan to attend. You can learn valuable information on a variety of subjects such as financial aid, application and admissions timelines, interviews and so much more. As these sessions are run by experts, its the perfect chance to get the inside scoop.
Often but not always, the college representatives present at college fairs are also the representative that may be reviewing your application. Its not inappropriate to ask if you may get their business card and/or contact information to follow up with them in the future. Reach out with thoughtful and intelligent follow up questions as they come up. This shows interests. However, there is a balance. Restrict your follow up to concentrated efforts versus a question here and there. That can read as a person who is unorganized.
What colleges stood out for your child? Both of you should look at your notes and discuss the colleges that stood out, why they looked promising and decide on which ones your child will do more research on. Remember its just as important to find out what you don’t want as well as what you do want. As you look at your notes, its important to be discerning on what is going to be a good match for your child.
During the next several years, your child will receive pounds upon pounds of recruiting material from colleges. Recycle the material from the colleges your child is not interested. Add the college material from the schools that they are interested in to their expandable college folder.
Lastly, its not a bad idea to start doing college visits with local schools and campuses. Nothing replaces walking a campus. It gives you first hand experience of where your child will be potentially attending. If you can swing it, schedule out of the area for campuses that are among the top three or so schools. If there are several in the same general area, don’t limit yourself/your child to just three. However, if you can not make an out of area trip happen, see if the college has a virtual tour.
College fairs can bring a wealth of information and should not be missed as a information gathering opportunity for your child. Its one to not pass up. But it is just a start…not the end of the journey.
Until next post!