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Preparing for a College Fair

03/13/2012 Published by: Suzanne

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Categories: Your Child's Ages & Stages, Student 2 Student Programs Worldwide, Transition to College

The season is upon us . . . that time of year when many school districts organize a college fair for high school students and their parents to attend.   If your district is anything like ours, several colleges and universities will be present to offer information and answer questions.  So . . . where to begin?  How can you make the best use of the time allocated?  We’ve got some great tips, so let’s get started!

When thinking about the whole idea of searching for a college, are any of you as overwhelmed as we are?!  The very thought of working on this issue wears me (and my teenagers) out before I’ve/we’ve even gotten started!  Perhaps you are a student (or have a son or daughter) who knows exactly what you want to study in college.  Congratulations!  It would seem that your search will be easier as you can zero in on schools that specialize in your field of interest.  However, if your major is undecided, never fear . . . you are not alone and you can still begin your college search now.  In fact, the process of evaluating your college options may result in giving you a better idea of your interests and strengths!

Some things to consider in getting ready for your college fair:

Who Should Attend?

The focus at these events tends to be more on high school juniors as this is the appropriate time for them to begin talking with colleges and universities. However, it is a great idea to bring freshman and/or sophomores with you for exposure so they can begin thinking about what is available.

*Note:  If your student attends a private high school (especially if your school doesn’t hold a college fair of its own), contact your local public school district to see if your family can attend their fair.  You can also check on whether your closest community college will be hosting one as well.

What to Expect?

Check with your individual school to see how their event is going to be organized.  Each institution typically sends one to two admissions representatives who will have their own table.  (Our school plans to have them arranged alphabetically.)  If there is a line of parents/students waiting already, you will wait in line to speak with someone. If the line seems too long, you’re welcome to skip and go somewhere that doesn’t have a line and then revisit the original table when the line doesn’t seem as long.   Typically, you don’t need to bring anything with you; however, you may want to have a transcript along to refer to if they ask for your student’s current GPA, etc.  Giving them a transcript, however, is not necessary as you will need to provide them with an updated transcript at the time of application to each school.  Be prepared to receive all kinds of handouts/pamphlets with information about each school which will cover a variety of information.  You can browse through them at home!

Pointers for Managing Your Time/Staying Organized

  • If you can, get a list of the schools that will be there in advance so you can prioritize the schools you want to be sure to speak with (Public v. Private, Large v. Small, In-state v. Out-of-state, 4-year schools v. 2-year schools v. Technical/Vocational schools). 
  • If a map with the location of each institution will be available, be sure you get one when you arrive!
  • Bring along the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC) College Fair Checklist (See “Suggested Questions to Ask” below for more information about this).  Consider making several copies of the second page for taking notes on each school OR make several copies of the checklist itself and write each school’s answer down on your copy of the list!
  • Bring preprinted labels to stick on college information request cards.  (Include the student’s name, address, email, phone, high school, year of graduation, intended major(s) and extracurricular activities.  *This tip brought to you by the NACAC and College Answer.

Suggested Questions to Ask

College Answer and the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC) partnered to provide a College Fair Checklist which includes an excellent list of questions to consider asking each institution.  Along with these, our team has compiled an additional list to consider:

  • What does your school offer that others may not?
  • What safety guidelines, etc. are in place at your school?
  • What is the ratio of money your school spends on education v. on athletics?
  • What is the average number of years students attend before graduating with a degree?  (You may find that in some cases the average student takes 5 years v. 4 to earn their bachelor’s degree . . . a good thing to know when budgeting ahead for how much it will cost to graduate!)
  • What do you expect of a student’s senior year grades after they’ve already been accepted to your school?
  • My student is undecided when it comes to their major.  How do you recommend they evaluate school options and what should they enroll in their freshman year of college to get a better idea?  What services do you have in place to help students find their career path?
  • Does your school offer in-state tuition to military-connected students?

Things to Keep in Mind When Selecting a College

Once you’ve attended your college fair and received some (probably a lot!) of information, it’s time to zero in on those you’ll actually apply to and select from.  Here are some thoughts to consider:

  • Plan a campus visit.  Many institutions have specific events that are designed for high school juniors and their parents.  All schools should be happy to set up a personal visit at your convenience if you’re not able to make an organized event.
  • Keep in mind your student’s “online activity” as many colleges and universities are now monitoring prospective students in that arena.
  • It is helpful for students to know what types of settings they like best (small v. large, urban v. rural, secular v. religious) so they are prepared to decide between the options they’re given.

In the end, it usually comes down to more visceral things when a student makes their final choice.  For example, “Do I like the town it is located in?  Do I like the campus?  What are the students and professors like?  Who is going to give me the best student aid?”  As with any big decision, knowing what is important, what the deal-breakers are and what areas are more easily compromised helps tremendously, especially when faced with one of the following scenarios:  What if the school you have your heart set on does not accept you?  What if you do get accepted, but then can't afford it?  What if a completely different school offers you terrific financial assistance?  Being open to all your options is important!

Good luck to all of you, and be sure to let us know if you have any additional tips and/or questions to consider when preparing for a college fair!

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