Here at CollegeVine, we’ve frequently posted about how to compose a compelling college application that will wow admissions committees. However, if you’re planning to attend college, you know that the process of finding the right college begins long before you start filling in those blanks, and getting started early is never a bad idea.    

Before you apply to any colleges, you want to find out as much as possible about those schools, from their admissions requirements to their community environments. Gathering this information is the only way to have a good chance of finding a college that’s a great fit for you. While a huge amount of data on colleges is available in print and online, often, students want a more personal perspective on what life at that college is really like.

Enter the college fair. These events, in which many colleges come together to present themselves to prospective applicants, allow you to learn more about your favorite schools and even encounter schools that are totally new to you. The knowledge you can gain at college fairs is an essential part of your admissions toolbox.

Planning on attending college? A college fair is likely in your future. Read on for more on what to expect and how to get the most out of the college fairs you’ll attend.

What is a college fair like?

College fairs may be hosted by a particular high school or school district, or perhaps by an organization that’s involved with connecting students and colleges. Some require registration in advance. Some are open to the general public, and others are more limited. Some invite parents to attend as well.  Before you plan to attend, make sure that you’re eligible and that you’ve registered if necessary.

You might hear about future college fairs through a variety of different sources. Your own high school might hold one, or another school in your area might. If you live near a major city, you may have access to an especially large or popular college fair.  

Keep your eyes and ears open for information about college fairs from your guidance counselor, posters at school and in your community, notices in newspapers or online, or tips from older students. If you’re interested in a particular college, you might contact their admissions office to find out if that college will be represented at an upcoming fair in your area.

When you walk into a typical college fair, you’ll encounter rows of tables filling a large space such as a gymnasium. (It might remind you of a science fair.) At each table, a different college will set up shop with printed information, admissions representatives, and maybe even some fun school swag.

As a prospective applicant, you’ll circulate amongst the different colleges attending the fair, picking up information about those colleges that interest you. You’ll have the opportunity to speak to the admissions representatives present, ask them (brief) questions, and get their contact information to use later.

Why are college fairs important?

Attending college fairs is a great way to learn more about colleges than you can glean from promotional information. While visiting campus is of course the gold standard for getting to know a college, college fairs have the advantage of being considerably cheaper, more efficient, and lower-commitment than campus visits, so they’re a useful tool in your college search.

If you already know you’re interested in attending a particular school, meeting its representatives at a college fair can provide you with valuable information with which to refine your eventual application. If you’re unsure where you want to go to college, college fairs will present a large number of schools in a short time. Even if you think you know what college you prefer, you might end up discovering a school you hadn’t even considered before.

Admissions representatives at college fairs can give you a much more personal perspective on a college and its admissions process than you can get from a pamphlet or website. These may be the very people who will eventually read your admissions application, so there’s no better source for insider information. Sometimes, admissions staff are alumni of that college, which makes their opinions even more valuable.

Speaking to a college’s representatives at a college fair is not only a way of gathering information and insight; it’s also a way to show that you’re interested in a particular school. Your demonstrated interest in the school is explicitly a factor considered in admissions decisions at some schools, and even when it isn’t, showing interest is never a bad idea.

You don’t have to be a junior or senior in high school to benefit from a college fair. Especially as top colleges become increasingly competitive, starting early on your college search is never a bad idea. Younger students still have plenty of time to change their minds, but it doesn’t hurt to get some early insight into what the admissions process will eventually require.

Preparing for a college fair

College fairs are usually quite crowded, both with colleges and with prospective applicants, and there’s often a lot of information for you to take in. It’s important that you prepare yourself beforehand in order to make the best of the opportunities that a college fair presents.

Make sure that you take a look at the list of colleges who will be represented at this particular fair well in advance. Look up any colleges that you don’t recognize; this will help you decide which schools seem the most interesting and determine how to budget your time. Make a list of schools that you definitely want to visit at the college fair, and prioritize the colleges that interest you the most.

Consider what questions you’d like to ask of the admissions representatives who will be attending the fair. What is most important for you to learn about the colleges to which you might apply? It’s the job of admissions representatives to know a broad range of information about their schools, or at least be able to tell you where to find more detailed information, so don’t hesitate to ask about anything from academics to admissions policies to campus culture.  

These questions may be specific to an individual school, or they may be more general, but they should be insightful in a way that shows you’re genuinely interested in the school. It’s better to have high-quality, meaningful interactions with a few schools than basic, cursory visits with lots of schools.

There may be additional events happening in conjunction with a college fair; for example, a particular college may be putting on an information session down the hall, where you can hear more in-depth information about that school. If the college fair has a website or Facebook event, take a look at it in advance to determine if there’s anything you’d like to attend.

At the college fair

First of all, this is an event where your appearance matters, so it’s very important to dress presentably and act politely. Your job at a college fair is not only to collect information about colleges, but to make a good impression upon admissions representatives, and colleges prefer applicants who take the process seriously.

Come to college fairs prepared with a notebook and pen- there will be lots of information that you’ll want to write down. Bring a bag to carry the college brochures and other materials you’ll collect. It’s also helpful to bring the list of colleges you’d most like to visit, so as to not forget anyone, as well as your list of questions that you’d like to ask admissions representatives.

If the college fair you’re attending has a “counseling center” or other station where you can speak to college counselors not affiliated with a particular school, you may want to visit this station before you start visiting individual schools. These college counselors may be able to give you additional insight on such matters as which schools are best for your intended field of study.

Of course, you should visit the colleges in which you’re most interested first. Once you’ve looked at these schools, feel free to explore whatever other colleges have caught your eye. You might discover a school that you hadn’t previously considered.

Once you’re able to talk to an admissions representative, ask the questions that are most important to you. Use your time with these representatives wisely, and prioritize the questions that benefit most from the representative’s personal perspective. Remember, you can look up basic information like the size of the student body or the average SAT score of applicants back at home.

At this point, you may have the opportunity to request more information, sign up for a mailing list, schedule a campus visit, find out about summer programs the college offers for high-school students, or take another step that shows your interest in the school. If you can do so, go for it! Again, showing interest and enthusiasm is never a bad thing in the admissions process.

Before you thank the admissions representative and move on to the next table, there’s one very important task left: getting the representative’s business card or contact information, including the correct spelling of their name. Having a specific person to contact can be invaluable if you have questions later on, and this reduces the chance that your question or request will get lost in the shuffle.  

After the college fair

Once the college fair is over, you’ll have a mountain of information to go through and a lot to think about as you move forward with the process of considering colleges. However, your work for this college fair isn’t quite done yet. While you may have made a good impression at the fair, it’s up to you to make use of the connections you’ve made.

Remember how we suggested that you get a business card or other contact information for the admissions representative you met at the college fair? This is where that contact information will come in handy. Keeping in communication with admissions representatives can be extremely helpful when you go through the application process, whether that’s this fall or a few years from now.

It’s always a good idea to send thank-you notes to the admissions representatives that you speak with at a college fair. When you send that note, you can also indicate your continued interest in applying to the school. This is a polite thing to do, and might help the admissions representative see you as a person instead of just a name.

If, in the future, you have additional questions about the college or your application, try to get in contact with the individual with whom you’ve already spoken. While that person may not necessarily be available to help you at that time, or may direct you to someone else, doing this will help keep up that personal connection.

College fairs may seem rather large and impersonal, but in fact, they can give you the opportunity to connect with your chosen colleges on a more human level, as well as to discover new colleges that might be of interest. If you come prepared and use your time wisely, college fairs can be an immensely valuable part of your college search.

Are you an aspiring college student? Whether you’re just starting out with your college search, or you’re putting the finishing touches on your application, CollegeVine is here to help. Our experienced mentors can assist you with everything from test prep to essay editing to choosing the best college for you. For a free initial consultation, fill out the form below!

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Monikah Schuschu

Monikah Schuschu

Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Monikah Schuschu is an alumna of Brown University and Harvard University. As a graduate student, she took a job at the Harvard College Office of Financial Aid and Admissions, and discovered the satisfaction of helping students and parents with the often-baffling college admissions process. She also enjoys fiber art, murder mysteries, and amateur entomology.
Monikah Schuschu