College Fairs are no “sideshow.” They are a resource that comes pretty close to your doorstep, providing you with grand opportunities. With a little planning and by following some simple instructions, you can change what might otherwise be a bewildering experience into an extremely productive one. So,
Before You Go
- Plan ahead. In advance of the fair date, get a list of the colleges attending, and then identify those whose representatives you’d like to meet. You’ll have a plan of action when you enter what will become a crowded fair space, and, because the colleges’ tables tend to be arranged alphabetically, you’ll be able to activate your plan easily.
- Make business cards (you might try VistaPrint online) to give to the reps so you don’t have to sign-in at every table. Or, if you don’t have time to get that done, make sticky-back address labels that you can pull off a sheet to affix to a college’s sign-in book. Business cards or labels should be simple: your name, address, email, phone number, school, and the year you’re graduating. You can also indicate your potential major(s) and even add a graphic to reflect some aspect of yourself (perhaps on the flip side)..
- Dress for success. Look sharp. Wear a bright-colored shirt or blouse that will make you stand out from everyone else who’s probably wearing black, white, or another plain color.
- Bring a small shopping bag in which to collect school brochures, flyers, pens, and other giveaways. Not all fairs provide bags, and without one it can get cumbersome lugging around all the stuff you collect.
- Bring a pen and notebook to jot down some key facts you learn.
Browsing the Tables
- Introduce yourself at each table with a firm handshake, great eye contact, and a big smile. Keep your attitude and words upbeat. Remember that people respond positively to positive people, and that you’ll have only one chance to make a first impression.
- Unless you have some remarkable talent or attribute, it will be far better for you to show interest in the schools during the fair than it will be trying to get the schools interested in you. Remember that you want the reps to be your friends, and, as Dale Carnegie wrote, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
- Ask good questions that the reps will have a chance to answer meaningfully in the very short time you’ll be at their tables. Try some of these:
- What‘s your favorite thing about the college?
- What’s your least favorite thing?
- What’s the student vibe like? What can you tell me about the kind of person who’s a good fit? [open-ended questions]
- What’s your best piece of advice to me for the application process?
- I’m interested in studying XXX. Where can I find information about doing research in XXX, or getting an internship related to XXX? Is it possible for you to connect me with a current student who’s majoring in XXX?
- How does your career center help students find internships and jobs?
- What kind of undergraduate research opportunities are available?
- Are there any upcoming Open Houses or other events at which I can learn more?
- Which social media platforms might give me more insight into campus life?
- Avoid asking questions like this, as they reflect laziness to do your own research:
- Tell me about your school [meaninglessly broad].
- What’s [anything that you could learn easily by Googling it or visiting the school’s website]?
- IMPORTANT! Thank each rep for his or her time when you’re done – with another firm handshake, great eye contact, and a broad smile.
- If you have time when you’re done with the colleges on your list, visit some of the other booths and keep an open mind. You might well learn about a great college that you hadn't considered.
After It’s Over
- Review any notes you took during the fair.
- While it’s fresh on your mind, ask yourself which colleges stood out and why. Add that info to your notes.
- Organize the materials you collected, and then throw away the pamphlets from of colleges that you’ve ruled out so you can focus on the colleges you’re interested in.
- Show your continuing interest in attending by sending separate emails to the college representatives with whom you spoke, thanking them for their time and reiterating your interest in attending their schools.
- Do more web research on the colleges you’re considering, and in a few weeks send a brief, polite follow-up email to the reps asking for clarification about any issues that your research didn’t make clear. That demonstrated interest can really help!
- Plan a visit to the campus of each school in which you’re really interested, because such visits can be a critical demonstration of your interest and improve your chances of admission, especially at a selective private institution.