College Fair Advice for High School Students

December 22, 2023

college fair

Without a solid game plan, a college fair can easily become nothing more than a blur of smiles, handshakes, and the accumulation of enough glossy pamphlets to wallpaper your bedroom twenty times over. However, with proper planning, a college fair can be an illuminating experience that will provide you with newfound insight into prospective colleges as well as flesh-and-blood contacts you simply cannot get from paging through a Princeton Review guidebook.  In this blog post, we’ll cover the basics of college fairs, which questions to ask, and how high school students can stand out in a sea of other prospective applicants.

What is a college fair?

A college fair is a valuable and efficient opportunity to collect information about the colleges on your list. More importantly, it’s also a place where you can learn about colleges not currently on your radar. Essentially, representatives from dozens—and sometimes hundreds—of colleges gather in a particular space, ready to engage with students and parents. These fairs may be organized by large national organizations, such as the National Association for College Admission Counseling. They’re also often organized by smaller entities, such as your high school.

College fairs are also an excellent place for high school students to begin seeking answers to their most important questions. Before attending a fair, we encourage students to first think about the big picture of college admissions. The college selection process is not merely about “getting in”—it is about becoming a discerning and thoughtful consumer ultimately capable of selecting an undergraduate institution that aligns with your long-term academic, career, and financial goals. Does the school offer the major(s) you are interested in? Can you afford the full tuition price of your potential destinations or will you rely on scholarships, merit aid, or loans? Does the school you are considering fit in with your post-undergraduate plans?

What should I bring?

On an extremely practical level, make sure that you bring a backpack or other carrying apparatus in which to store materials, a notebook containing potential questions for reps, and a writing implement (although free pens with school insignias will be available by the ton). Be prepared that all schools you speak to will request that you fill out an information card. Students wishing to streamline this process and avoid developing carpal tunnel syndrome may wish to preprint self-stick address labels. These should contain their name, contact info, intended major, and extracurricular interests. Make sure that if you include an email address, it is appropriate. Additionally, if a given school asks for info that doesn’t happen to be on your pre-made label, be sure to add it in by hand.

What should I wear?

Inevitably, you will see some of your peers dressed to the nines in clothes so stiff and unfamiliar that they are moving from booth to booth with a Herman Muster-like gait. This simply isn’t necessary. There is no need to show up to a college fair in a three-piece suit. That said, don’t show up in a humorous alcohol-themed t-shirt and dirty sweats (trust us, some will). Dress for a college fair as you would for a dinner with your grandmother. A “business casual” look will more than suffice.

What questions should I ask at a college fair?

When you have the ear of an admissions rep at a prospective college, take advantage by asking penetrating questions that aren’t easily Google-able. It’s often best to avoid questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” For example, avoid iterations of “Do you have a biology department?”

Instead, find out whether a typical freshman class at their school is a classroom of 20 students intimately engaged in discourse with the professor or whether it involves 300 anonymous faces in a lecture hall. Ask about graduation rates, career services, and research, internship, and study abroad opportunities. Inquire about employment statistics in your field of interest.

It can also be beneficial to ask specific questions about life on campus. What are the options for freshman housing? How does the college select roommates? What are the meal plan options? What is the neighborhood surrounding the campus like? How would you describe the student body? This information can be challenging to find online or in guidebooks but can be easily answered by a college rep.

Of course, any conversation is a two-way street so it is wise to come prepared to talk about yourself. Our tips for acing the college interview will help you brainstorm your answers to common questions. Remember, although you are not engaging in a formal interview, it’s still an opportunity to make a strong first impression.

Final Thoughts — College Fair Advice for High School Students

Since admissions officers typically attend college fairs within their assigned regions, there is a very strong chance the rep that you meet will be one of the people reading your application down the road. Aim to make at least one or two “human connections” at the fair. In addition, stay in contact with this individual in the coming months. Send them an email thanking them for their time and ask follow-up questions as they arrive. Believe it or not, demonstrated interest on the part of a student is a factor in the admissions process.

Hopefully, when it’s all said and done, a college fair will have provided you with several useful contacts and a plethora of useful information that will help you, the college consumer, better determine which schools should jump to the top of your list and which can be eliminated.

Looking to do some legwork before a college fair? The following resources may be of interest: