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How to Work College Fairs, School Visits, and Information Nights

September 16, 2016

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Fall is the time of year when college admissions reps hit the road and start crisscrossing the United States, and indeed the world, to talk about their colleges or universities and engage with interested students at college fairs, school visits, and information nights. If you are lucky enough to have colleges come to your city, here are some do’s and don’ts for successful interactions.

College Fairs

  1. Research some of the visiting colleges BEFORE you go. Find out which colleges might be interesting to you. If your school uses Naviance, Guided Path, or other college planning software, research what these colleges seek in students. That information includes range of grades and test scores of the average accepted student profile and the acceptance rate. You can also ascertain which colleges are test optional by looking online at fairtest.org. If you are working closely with your high school counselor, or with an independent educational consultant, try to fine-tune your list of potential colleges before going into the fair.
  2. Are there schools that might be new names for you? If so, don’t be afraid to explore some new opportunities by stopping by tables to talk to admissions reps.
  3. When approaching the table, remember that first impressions count. Look at the admissions rep in the eye; extend your hand for a handshake; announce your name, school, and grade. Allow the rep to respond with an introduction and say, “Pleased to meet you.” And smile! So few students smile; it is a great way to be remembered!
  4. What are some good questions to ask? You might try asking what kind of student would do best in their college, and what kind of student would not be a good fit.
  5. Be respectful and listen to what the rep has to say. If there is a way to leave your contact info, leave it – remember this conversation is your first step toward showing demonstrated interest.
  6. You might want to ask the rep if the college has any standout flagship programs that many people don’t know about.
  7. If you already know the subject area that you would like to study, you might want to ask specific questions about that and whom you could email to learn more. Same goes for any special interest you might have.
  8. The conversation does not have to be long, as there might be others who are waiting to speak to the rep. Upon leaving, thank the rep for his or her time.
  9. Fill out the info card and take some materials to review later. You might also want to follow up with an email, so take the business card of the person you met.
  10. Follow up by “liking” their Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, or other social media accounts.
  11. As someone who works with colleges, I also need to work the college fairs when I attend conferences. I know it’s not easy and sometimes I need to take a deep breath before I enter the gauntlet. It can be noisy, crowded, and overwhelming. But once you get the hang of it, trust me, you will benefit.

Now, to follow up with the “do this” list, here are some “don’t do this” tips. Many of these tips were part of professional discussions I heard from college admissions officers.

Don’t ask:

  1. Is your athletic team /major/food (fill in the blank) good?
  2. Do you have my major? (Look it up before you approach the table – it is on the website and only takes a quick Google search. An example might be “Underwater basket weaving major Big State University” and that should yield a quick result.
  3. What’s this college all about? That just comes off as rude….
  4. How do I get a free ride? Again, rude…instead you might ask “What kind of financial aid, scholarship and/or merit aid opportunities do you have? (This information is also always on the website under “Financial Aid and Scholarships”)
  5. Don’t walk up to the table, take the free pens, chocolates, swag, etc, and just walk away. Again, this approach doesn’t show proper etiquette.

School Visits

I would like to say something about the school visit, especially the international school visit. I have known many admissions officers from a wide variety of universities who embark on “around the world” journeys to represent their school and talk to students. THEY WANT TO MEET YOU! Yet, I have also seen students blow them off when they come to their school and not even show up for the presentation. This attitude makes your school look bad and the next time the college needs to make a hard decision about what school to visit and what school to skip the next year, the rep might just bypass your school. That doesn’t mean you have to go to every single visit, but it does mean that as a student body, you all need to be conscientious about these visits.

Information Nights

Many colleges will do an information night in the form of a reception. These nights give interested students the opportunity to meet college representatives in a smaller setting and perhaps even engage in meaningful (and memorable) conversations. If a college that interests you is coming to your city and you have the opportunity to go, take advantage of it!

The payoff for interacting with college admissions representatives can be great, as you find new doors open to you that might not have been present before. So don’t be afraid to put yourself out there!

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