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Going to a college fair? Use these tips to prepare

By Melissa Rowe on Oct 27, 2015 04:02 PM

As a college and career counselor, college fairs are a welcome high point. There’s little that can match the efficiency of having numerous college professionals under one roof. I always recommend a good college fair to any high school junior or senior, and I've even organized a few myself. When trying to decide which schools to apply to or how to differentiate between each institution’s unique value, you can’t go wrong by visiting a college fair.

Fall is college fair primetime, and we have a few coming to Philadelphia this year. The National Association of College Admission Counseling will host a Performing and Visual Arts College Fair on Oct. 29 and the Philadelphia National College Fair on Sunday, Nov. 8. For students and families who are interested in Historically Black Colleges & Universities, the Malcolm Bernard HBCU College Fair will be in Camden on Nov. 17 and then in Philadelphia on Nov. 18.

If you and your child are in the midst of college planning, here are some tips on how to prepare for college fairs.

Register in advance

Some college fairs will require registration, so it’s best to do that before you arrive, if possible. Registration is no longer simply about knowing who and how many students have participated. At some college fairs, electronic registration gives college admission officers access to important student information, like their GPA and test scores. Plus, registering ahead of time can cut down on wait time at the door and eliminates unnecessary lines and frustration.

Have an action plan

College fairs are not buffets and you don’t want to choke on more than you can chew. A clear plan will help you navigate the space and keep track of your progress. Before you enter the fair, it’s wise to identify which schools will be in attendance and whether there will be any workshops or special sessions that you want to participate in. Spend some time beforehand placing schools into three tiers: Must See, Like to See, and Possibly.

Ask for a map. When you enter, pay close attention to how much time you spend at each table.

Do your research

To optimize time, it’s best to make sure that you and your child can identify at least three reasons for why a school has made your Must See list. Does the institution offer your child’s chosen major? Are they located in a geographic area that you both can agree on? Is the campus size or student-to-professor ratio a good match for your child’s needs? You can find this information on most college and university websites. Knowing these things in advance will save you from having to ask the college representative. It also gets you more time to talk about campus life, tuition and financial aid, career services, and other important stuff.

Have your questions ready

At any college fair, you can walk away with bags loaded with brochures, postcards, and trinkets, but before you gather a bunch of stuff that will contribute to clutter in your child’s room, let’s make sure you leave with the real value. In addition to the more general questions about admission criteria and campus life, you’ll want to ask college admission officers about important deadlines, fee waivers, and institutional aid. Check out this list of questions to ask at a college fair.  

Come prepared to impress

Most students don’t know, but the representatives at a college fair are often the person, or one of the people, who makes admission decisions. It’s very common for students to be admitted and receive scholarship offers on the spot. As the old adage goes, the first impression is the lasting impression, so use these tips to help your child stand out.

  • Dress appropriately. Consider wearing a nice shirt with a blazer or cardigan.
  • Take notes. Show the representative that you are taking this process seriously.
  • Bring a portfolio. This is especially important if your child wants to major in the arts or a design field.
  • Have transcripts and test scores. It’s wise to print copies of your child’s transcripts, standardized test scores, and a student résumé. These documents will help you get on-the-spot decisions.


Parents, do you have a college prep question? Email me your questions.


Melissa A. Rowe, M.Ed., is founder of Capture Greatness! – A Scholarship Writing & College Coaching Initiative. As a writer, youth advocate, and educator, she teaches students how to use the power of their personal stories to earn scholarships and get to college. 


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