What NOT To Do At The College Fair

Attending a college fair is an important part of the college admissions process. The college fair is a great opportunity to jump-start your college research. It might be your first opportunity to talk to someone that is affiliated with the colleges you are interested in attending. And, it might open your eyes to other colleges you weren’t even thinking about researching.

Did you know that the impression that you make at the college fair could follow you through the college admissions process? Many colleges keep notes on their applicants. With the acceptance rates going lower and lower at colleges, it is important to make yourself stand out positively to the colleges. This includes making a good impression at the college fair.

As a former Admissions Counselor and Admissions Director, I’ve attended hundreds of fairs. I know what will and WILL NOT impress the person on the other side of the table.

Here is a list of things NOT to do at a college fair:

  • Don’t dress inappropriately. You don’t have to dress up in a suit and tie or a business suit. You can come to the fair in casual clothing like what you wear to school. But…
    • Don’t wear clothing that is too revealing.
    • Don’t wear clothing that has words or pictures that could offend someone. Wearing your favorite sports team, or even your favorite college isn’t bad; however, don’t wear something with curse words or inappropriate phrases or pictures.
  • Don’t disrespect the person behind the table.
    • Even if it is a college you’re not interested in attending, your actions could reach the college representatives at the colleges you are interested in attending. Many college representatives know each other and talk. You see, the college representatives were probably at the same college fair the previous night and they’re all going to another college fair the next night. They are probably friends, hang out outside of the college fairs and talk.
    • If the person behind the table is “just” an alumni representative or current student, it doesn’t mean you can treat them with disrespect. They will go back to the Admissions Office and share their thoughts on the people they met at the fair.
    • If you meet an Admission Counselor at the fair, they are probably the person that will make the decision on your application.
    • No matter who it is at the table, treat them with respect. Keep in mind – they may be keeping mental notes that will eventually find their way to your file.
  •  Don’t Talk or Text on Your Cell Phone While Talking to the Representative.
    • It’s rude and disrespectful.
    • If you have to pick up your phone while talking to the representative because it’s very important, excuse yourself and let the representative know you have to take the call.
      • Keep in mind that “important” doesn’t mean that your friend is calling to tell you where they are at the fair. Think before picking up the call – if it can wait, let it wait.
  •  Don’t Go Into The Fair Too Early.
    • Many of the larger fairs, like the NACAC Fairs, will have “guards” at the door and will not let anyone in until the start of the fair. But, smaller fairs, like the ones held at high schools, don’t hold students back from entering the fair before the official start time. Give the admissions representatives this time to prepare their tables and prepare for a few hours of talking with interested students. They need this time.
  • Don’t Stay After The Fair.
    • College fairs have specific hours for a reason. Arrive at the fair at the beginning so that you can visit all of the colleges you want during the official fair hours. Don’t stay late and keep the admissions representatives after the fair.
      • If the fair is in the day, the admissions representative might have to drive to another event and does not have much time to spare.
      • If the fair is in the evening, the admissions representatives probably had a long day of college fairs or high school visits and needs the rest. Plus, they might have a long drive ahead of them after their fair.
  • Don’t Cut In Line.
    • You’re not the only person in a hurry. Most people will have a list of colleges they want to visit before the end of the fair. Be respectful to the representative at the table and the other people at the fair.
    • If the line at a particular table is too long, you might want to go to the next college on your list and return to that college a little later once the line has become shorter.
  • Don’t Use A College Tables To Fill Out an Information Card for Another College.
    • Only use a table if it belongs to the college you are getting information from. If you use the table of another college, you could be in the way of someone that is truly interested in that particular college. Be respectful of their space.
  • Don’t Come Unprepared.
    • Most college fairs are only a few hours. Although it may seem like a lot of time, once you’re there, it will go quick and you’ll be asking yourself, “where did the time go?” by the end. If you come prepared with the list of colleges you want to see and the questions you want to ask, you’ll leave feeling good.
    • When you come unprepared, you’ll probably seem unprepared to the college representative. Being prepared when talking to college representatives will make a great impression; being unprepared will ALSO make an impression (and it will not be the impression you’ll want to make!).
  • Don’t Let Your Parents Do All The Talking.
    • It’s great that your parents are attending the college fair with you. But, you’re the one that will be attending college. Ask the questions you have for the representative. Your parents can ask questions too, but you shouldn’t stand back and be shy. Remember, the college fair is a great place to make a good impression on the college.
    • Also, don’t be rude to your parents at the college fair. This could be very awkward for everyone, including the college representative you are trying to impress.
  • Don’t Grab-and-Go.
    • As I said before, the college fair is a great opportunity to speak face-to-face with someone on the “inside” at the colleges you are considering. Take the opportunity to ask your questions and make a good impression on the representative at the table. You might not have this opportunity again.
  • Don’t Steal Pens or other Give-Aways.
    • Even when you’re trying to be sly, most of the college representatives see you. I don’t know how many times people would walk by the table, not make eye contact with me, put their hand at the table, grab a pen and keep going. If they would have asked, I would have been happy to give them a pen. This behavior just upset me when I was a representative.

The college fair is an important part of the college admissions process. To make it a successful fair for you, don’t do any of the things listed above!

Good luck at the fair!


Above Photo Credit: “College Fair 27” by COD Newsroom licensed by CC BY 2.0 |Text added to original.

9 College Fair Tips

Attending a college fair can be intimidating, especially if you don’t come prepared. Depending on the college fair you attend, you could see anywhere from 15 to hundreds of colleges in attendance. Where will you start? Who will you talk to? What will you say? If you don’t come prepared, you probably won’t get the most out of the college fair. Here are some tips that will help you prepare for the college fair.

1. Get to know yourself and what you want in a college.

Depending on the size of the college fair, you won’t be able to go to every table at the college fair. Get to know what type of college you would be interested in attending. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What locations would you consider? Do you only want to be a certain amount of miles away from home? Do you only want to consider colleges in certain states?
  • What majors are you interested in studying? It’s okay to have multiple interests or not know at all. If you have multiple interests, I recommend finding colleges that offer all of your interests in case you change your major in college.
  • What size college do you want to attend? There are colleges that have only a few hundred students to colleges that have 50,000 students. What sizes are comfortable attending?
  • Do you want to attend a college with religious affiliation?
  • Is there an extracurricular activity that is very important to you that you want to participate in when getting to college?

2. Find out what colleges will be attending the fair.

You can find this answer by checking with your high school or the college fair website. Keep a copy of this list and highlight the colleges you want to make sure you talk to while you’re at the fair.

3.  Do a little research ahead of time.

Find out what colleges offer everything you are looking for in a school.  A great tool you can use is Collegeboard’s Big Future College Search function. You can plug in all of your preferences and you’ll get a list of colleges that meet your preferences. Definitely visit the colleges that met your preferences and needs.

4. Have your information ready.

  • Many college fairs, especially the large fairs, are moving towards having students register before attending. Instead of writing out all of your information on the information cards at each college table you visit, the college representative will just scan a barcode that you print out after registering online. There will be stations to sign-up at the college fair, but save time (because the lines will be long) and do it before you arrive at the fair.
  • In addition to registering before the fair, prepare labels with the following information: Your name, address, phone number, email address, high school, graduation year, intended start term (ex. Fall 2015 if you’re graduating in 2015), intended major(s) and extracurricular activities you have an interest. Small college fairs won’t give you the opportunity to register. In addition, you want to be prepared in case the scanner the college representative is using doesn’t work. These labels can be used to place on the information cards the colleges will have at their table. Instead of handwriting all of your information, these information labels can be placed on the information cards, and you can spend your time at the table asking the representative questions about the college.

5.  Be patient.

  • Again, depending on the college fair, you might have to wait in line to talk to a college representative, especially at a “big name” college. Be patient and wait your turn. Talking to the representative is very important when trying to narrow down your list of colleges you will investigate further.

6.  Get the college information and Admission Counselor’s business card.

  • Get the information the college is handing out at the college fair. The brochures are great help in your investigation into the college for more information.
  • Get the Admission Counselor’s business card. The Admission Counselor will be a great resource to you in your college selection process. You will be able to contact them when you have questions about the college. In addition, the Admission Counselor is the person that might be making the decision on your application. Make a good impression.

7.  Represent yourself well.

  • Introduce yourself to the representative.
  • Don’t ask general questions like, “What’s your school all about?” Go to the table with a little knowledge about the school. For example, you can ask, “What can you tell me about the ____ major?” or “What is your acceptance rate?” These types of questions are much more helpful to you, plus it shows the college representative that you are truly interested.
  • Be respectful to the college representative, no matter how they are affiliated to the school. The college fair representative may be an Admission Counselor, Alumni volunteer or a current student. No matter who they are, they may be taking notes on you too. When I was an Admission Counselor, I always kept notes on students I met at college fairs. If they really impressed me, or if they were rude, I made a note of it. I also had student representatives come back after college fairs and share their thoughts on some of the students they met.   These notes might go in your file and used later in the admission process.

8.  Go outside of your comfort zone.

  • There will be colleges at the college fair that you probably did not think you’d consider. But, there is something about their booth/table that is pulling you in. Go for it and ask some questions. You might be surprised and find another college or two that are worth looking into during your college search.

9.  Do further investigation into the colleges after the fair.

  • Don’t let the brochures you picked up just go in the closet or a drawer and forget about them. Go through the information when the information is fresh in your mind from the college fair.

Good luck at the college fair and have fun!


Above Photo Credit (College Fair 13 by COD Newsroom licensed by CC BY 2.0 / Text added to original)

Questions To Ask The Current Student

Current students at the colleges you are considering are very important. When you visit college campuses, the person that gives you a campus tour will probably be a current student. Ask them questions because they will give you insight that the Admissions Office will not. However, keep in mind, that these campus tour guides are trained, and sometimes employed, by the Admissions Office. They are there to sell the school to you. In other words, they might turn a negative into a positive or might avoid the negatives of the school – at least that is what I wanted my student tour guides to do when I worked in Admission Offices.

A very unique perspective can come from the random student or students you meet on campus. It’s okay to walk up to them and ask a few questions. These students, the students that are not trained and/or employed by the university, will give you real answers that are not “sugar-coated.”

Below are some questions that you should ask current students when visiting college campuses:

  • Why did you choose this college?
  • If you could go back in time and go through the college admissions process again, would you choose this college again?
  • What is your favorite thing about the school?
  • What don’t you like about the school?
  • What are the classes like?
  • Do you feel challenged in your coursework?
  • How long will it take you to graduate? Why?
  • How approachable are the professors? The college president?
  • What is there to do on the weekend?
  • What is your favorite place on campus and why?
  • How is the food?
  • How is the surrounding community? Is it friendly to the college students?

Also, ask the student about the things that are important to you. These things could be about:

  • Fraternities and Sororities – What is the Greek life like on campus?
  • Sports – Do a lot of students attend games? How much are the tickets?
  • College facilities or services (fitness center, tutoring services, career center, etc.) – Does the school have _____? And if it does have it, how do you like it?

Asking the above questions will answer a lot of the questions that the glossy brochures, fancy websites and people employed by the universities cannot or will not answer.  Have your list of questions ready when you visit the college. You want to be prepared to make the most of your college visit.

Lastly, if you are a little shy, here are some thoughts. And believe me, I completely understand being shy. I considered myself shy when I was in high school as well and going up to a random person would have stressed me out. Anyway, here are some tips:

  • A college education is going to be one of the most expensive investments you make in your life. You would ask questions when buying a car, right? Pushing yourself to ask questions can be very important in the college selection process.
  • If you just can’t ask questions of a random person face-to-face, consider being introduced by someone:
    • Ask your high school guidance counselor or teachers if there are any former students attending that particular school. They might be able to introduce you to the student.
    • Ask the Admissions Office if they could get you in touch with a current student. They will probably be able to provide you with an email address of a current student and/or have a current student contact you.

Enjoy your campus visit! Have fun “test-driving” the colleges!



Information about photo above – “Campus Tour” by Chuck Taylor is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0


Congratulations, you’re accepted! Now what?

Decision letters have arrived. You now have until May 1 to decide what college you will be attending in the fall. But, how do you make the hard decision of choosing the college that is the best school for you? Here are some tips to keep in mind.

  • If you haven’t visited the colleges you are leaning towards, visit as soon as possible. You don’t want to base your decision on the pretty pictures that you see in the marketing publications and the university website. You also don’t want to base your decision on what others tell you about the school. You need to experience the campus yourself to see if it feels right.
    • Even if you have visited, it might be good to visit the schools you are leaning toward again. This time while you’re on campus, think about how you feel while you are there. Do you feel comfortable and excited about being there? Listen to your gut on this. Take advantage of the Admitted Student Events – you just might meet your future roommate and classmates.
  • Review all of the financial aid letters. What offer or offers are the best and is the amount you’ll have to pay out-of-pocket doable for you and your family?
    • If you haven’t received the financial aid offer from one or more of the colleges, it should arrive by mid-April. Review your correspondence from the schools to determine when you can expect the offer. If there is no mention as to when to expect your financial aid offer, contact the Financial Aid Office. They can let you know when to expect it and/or if they need other documents before providing the offer to you.
    • Compare all of the financial aid offers. Just because the financial aid amount is more at one school than another doesn’t mean it is the best offer. Find the Cost of Attendance at each school. Cost of Attendance includes tuition, fees, and room and board. Subtract the amount of scholarships and grants (free money you do not have to pay back) from the Cost of Attendance. This amount is the total out-of-pocket you and your family will have to pay. After that, consider the loans you were offered.
  • Talk to the people you trust about the decisions. Parents, grandparents, siblings, college counselor, friends, etc. Talk about the pros and cons on your list for the colleges you are considering. Hearing a different point of view can make things a little clearer.
  • Once you’ve decided, pay that enrollment deposit. It needs to be in by May 1 to save your spot. While you’re at it, pay the housing deposit as well to save your spot in the residence halls.
    • Don’t’ send multiple enrollment deposits to different schools. It is unethical, frowned upon by colleges and could result in the college rescinding your acceptance.
  • Let the colleges you won’t be attending know. I know that it can feel like breaking up with someone, but it’s better that they know.
    • As a former college admissions counselor and director, I can tell you that it won’t hurt the admissions counselor’s feelings. They would rather know. Plus, depending on the college, they will keep trying to contact you until they hear from you. Avoid the awkward phone call and let them know as soon as you know. Colleges make it easy by allowing you to inform them online or by mailing in a response form.
    • When you decline an offer at a college, they might open up your spot to someone on the waiting list. Help someone out by letting the school know as soon as you know.
  • Enjoy your summer. There will be more housekeeping items during the summer, but you can relax for a bit ☺

Above photo credit: Acceptance Letter Envelope" by slgckgc is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Attending the Admitted Student Event


Congratulations on being admitted to college! The dreadful wait for decision letters to come in the mail is over. Now, the ball is in your court and you get to decide what college you will attend from the list of colleges that accepted you.

One of the ways that colleges will try to get you to choose them is by putting on an impressive admitted student event. The whole reason the event exists is to impress you in the hope you’ll choose them. So, be prepared to see the college at its best. There will be fun events, great speakers and the food will probably be amazing! The college will not always look like this, but it still gives you great insight into what it will be like if you were a student there.

If the admitted student event is the first time stepping on the campus, take a campus tour. The Admissions Office will offer campus tours guided by current students.

Once you’ve toured the campus, take advantage of everything the event offers.

  • Information Sessions – departments on campus, such as career services, housing, health services, etc. will share what they have to offer students. If you plan on taking advantages of any of these things, go to the sessions.
  • Learn about Academic Departments – Many professors will be available to discuss the departments and your questions. You’ll probably also have the opportunity to talk to current students in the departments. Talk to the students to find out how they like the classes and professors and learn about the opportunities they have received by studying the major at the university.
  • Club Fair – getting involved outside of the classroom is part of the college experience. The club fair is the perfect opportunity to start connecting with current students before you start school in the fall.
  • Meet with Departments – if you have questions about financial aid, paying for what financial aid does not cover, student employment, the offices will be open to answer your questions. Because many students will have questions, make an appointment when you arrive on campus, or before you arrive on campus, to ensure you get face time with the departments you need to talk to.
  • Have fun – besides all of the official business, there will be fun events such as scavenger hunts, concerts, comedy shows, and/or talent shows. Have fun; you deserve it! These events will also help you connect with other students that are trying to decide if they will be attending in the fall.

Mostly importantly, talk to the current and incoming students. They are your future classmates. You might even meet your future roommate. Meeting students and making a connection at the admitted student event will make attending the school in the fall so much easier. Instead of arriving on campus in the fall and not knowing anyone, you’ll already have friends! Stay in touch after the admitted student event – exchange phone numbers, emails, add each other on social media.

Lastly, have fun on campus! And, pay attention to your feelings while you are on campus. Listen to your gut and the way you feel. If you have a good feeling about the school, then it might just be the place for you. But, if something is not feeling right, that’s okay! You only want to commit to a college you will feel good attending.