College Fair season is upon us. Here’s how to make the most of it!

As college admissions coaches, we are frequently asked by the parents and students we work with whether or not they should take the time to attend their high school’s college fair. For those new to this process, a college fair is an event where multiple (usually between 50 and 100) colleges and universities come to one venue to entice prospective students to take a serious look at their school. Most large high schools will offer at least one to their students. Sometimes, other venues like community colleges, offer similar or larger college fairs. We highly recommend that juniors (and often sophomores) take advantage of this unique opportunity to see so many schools (all in the same room) ready and waiting to answer their most pressing questions.

At The College Advisor of New York, we build a unique college list for each of our students and it is our recommendation that they visit at least half of the schools we recommend. However, we know that now more than ever, families and students are pulled in many different directions, and it is often impossible to make it to every campus before submitting an application. This is where the college fair comes in.

Admissions offices from all over the country send their “A” team representatives to these events and they are ready and waiting to answer your questions. What is the best way to approach a fair? It pays to have a plan. High schools will post the list of colleges that will attend their fair a few weeks prior to the date. This way you’ll know how many schools on your list will be represented and you can plan accordingly. We do NOT recommend visiting every college who attends the fair. This is why you should do some research before you go. We suggest limiting your discussions to 10-12 schools. Don’t walk into the room without a pen, paper and something to hold the multitude of literature you are about to be given. That said, don’t stick to your comfort zone either. This is THE time to branch out and take a look at schools you might otherwise never have considered. I can’t tell you how many of the students we help tell us, “I would never have considered that school, but you put it on my list and I met them at my college fair!”

Parents should let their student take the lead and make the initial connection. Fairs are set up just like they sound – rows and rows of schools right next to one another. Find a school you want to start with and make contact with their admissions’ representative by introducing yourself. Have at least two questions written down and get the answers. Try to think of questions you can’t find the answer to on the school website – this is the time to get more personal and focus on something you might not have found online. Maybe you want to major in Art Conservation, which is extremely rare, and they are one of the few schools to offer it. Ask how many students are currently enrolled in this major. Admissions representatives are well versed in all aspects of the school they work for, and they love to talk to students. If they don’t know the answer to your question, they will find it for you. Usually, they will offer you their business card, and here is a crucial piece of advice for student: If you are interested in “X” school after speaking with them, take these cards home and write a thank you note (or email) to the person with whom you spoke. Sadly, a personal note has gone the way of the dinosaur, but there is enormous value in sending one. And, if you are truly interested in “X” school, they will track this interest. Most colleges monitor a student’s interest whether it is via campus tours, social media or a personalized note.

Some advice for parents: be on the look-out for application fee waivers. Most schools will have a postcard for students who stop by their booths with a code printed on the card. This code, when entered into their application, will waive the application fee. These fees range from $50-$75 PER SCHOOL, so saving on a few of them is nothing to sneeze at!

At the end of the night, it’s wise to take all your material home and organize it into piles: “Interested, Not Interested and Maybe” and make notes. This way, you can keep tabs on schools you want to follow up with and visit if your interest is piqued.

Will a college fair replace a campus visit? No. But it will help to streamline what can seem like an overwhelming process. It allows you to “cast your net wide” and then narrow it down, without ever leaving your high school gym.