Many years ago when my husband and I moved from our cozy, downtown Boston apartment into our first home with a garden, I remember my mother-in-law telling me that the bright yellow forsythia surrounding our yard was the “harbinger” of spring.” For families with high school students, you have a different rite of spring – the annual college fair.
If you haven’t been to a college fair, you should go. It’s bustling and slightly overwhelming, but with appropriate planning, it is time well spent.
In addition to filling up your bags with college literature, you will have the opportunity to participate in a variety of college-focused workshops on admissions, standardized tests, financial aid and athletic recruitment.
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Make a plan. Research which colleges and universities will be attending the fair at the college fair website (www.nacacnet.org) and be deliberate about how you spend your time. Don’t just assume you’ll walk down every aisle aimlessly. Know which colleges you want to reach out to and specifically who you want to engage in conversation.
Do your homework. Research specific schools and write down specific questions about their majors, their study abroad options, their admissions plans, etc. Don’t ask questions that you could answer yourself by checking the college’s website.
Make a good first impression. Dress appropriately, let the representatives know you’re serious about your college search process. Communicate your enthusiasm. Bring copies of your resume or brag sheet and hand-out, if appropriate.
Connect with the colleges that interest you most. The best thing you can do at a college fair is to connect with specific college admissions representatives. Most admissions offices manage their applicants by geographic territory; which means that the individual representatives at your area’s college fair are responsible for knowing the high schools in their territory. They understand the number of AP courses offered, the grading scale and the point values given to different grades which differ from school to school.
Collect business cards and follow-up. Knowing who your representative is a great first step, but to be effective, you’ll need to maintain a contact list so you can get in touch in the future when you have questions. When you contact them make reference to the conversation you had at the college fair.
Be patient. Don’t be surprised if the most popular colleges have long lines and run out of literature and business cards. It might be a great idea to divide and conquer, by having one of you collect literature from colleges while the others wait and then texting updates when you’re getting close to the front of the line.
Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to: email@example.com; www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com