Getting the Most from College Fairs

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College fairs are great events for gathering college information in one setting within a short time. Admissions officials cannot expect students to visit every distant college. However, if they come to your neighborhood, college fairs are a good way to show your interest. Here is advice on how to get the most from a college fair.

Get the List of Institutions Participating

Find out what colleges are being represented at the fair. Often these lists are posted and updated on the fair organizer’s website ahead of the event. If not on the website, reach out with a call or email to get the list. For regional fairs you may find 100-150 colleges and universities participating, for national fairs, you should expect 200 or more colleges and universities.

Gather Good Data

Take time to identify and highlight which colleges to explore. You might select those within a certain mile radius. Or, you might focus on strong public universities, liberal arts colleges or those with programs that interest you. Then, I suggest you gather a few points of information that will help guide you further:

  • Identify whether the college is public, private, religious, technological, gender-specific, art & design, etc.
  • Check and compare graduation rates for colleges that interest you. Colleges must report graduation rates as the percentage of students who complete four-year degrees in 6 years or two-year degrees in 3 years. Here are U.S. Department of Education’s latest average graduation rates:
    • 59% of 4-year degree students at public colleges graduate in 6 years
    • 66% of 4-year degree students at private colleges graduate in 6 years
    • 30% of 2-year degree students graduate in 3 years
  • Note the student-faculty ratio, which can help you anticipate class sizes and professor access. While not a precise tool for this purpose, it is good to know.
  • Research and compare college endowment values to be sure that there are ample resources to support the educational mission.

Ask Specific Questions

Seek information that will help you know if your needs will be met by colleges. Request contact information for who can help you, if the representative at the fair cannot. Often at fairs, colleges are represented by alumni or new staff; some are better informed than others. Here are potential questions to ask:

  • For how many years is housing guaranteed for undergraduate students?
  • Describe the college’s setting and what amenities are on-campus or nearby.
  • What safety features has the campus adopted in recent years?
  • When are students required to declare a major or minor?
  • What core or distribution of courses are required for a degree?
  • What is your advice for students on how to distinguish themselves in your applicant pool?

Leave Your Mark

College admissions officials may track the number and quality of contacts with students, which can demonstrate interest in an institution. Register for information, let them know that you were there, and leave a good impression. Stay informed about the colleges that interest you. Be proactive about gathering information; do not just passively receive information from colleges that solicit you.

Arrive Early & Come Prepared

I am a door-buster when it comes to college fairs. I like to arrive early with my own large canvas bag. I start at the back of the room, work my way forward, then exit. I am prepared to gather college literature, business cards, introduce myself, and ask specific questions. I try to be patient with marketing pitches, but I typically want data, specifics, and contacts for follow-up questions. My hope is that college officials will be prepared for me, too.