The first time you step into a college fair can be intimidating. Hundreds of conversations swirl around you, creating an indecipherable din. Dozens of schools line your high school gym or cafeteria, each bright banner advertising a different college, a different experience, a different life. Walking down the aisles, you see all sorts of marketing materials: pens, lanyards, buttons. And, of course, topping it off are all of those brochures, each one showing the same images: a science lab, students having class outside, scenes from a football game. How can you manage all that chaos in order to use a college fair to help find the perfect school for you?
Know what you’re looking for
The biggest key to success is to have an idea of what you’re looking for. This will help you pare down your search before the fair even begins. If you’ve always dreamed of going to a school in an urban location, you can focus on those types of schools. If your goal is to become an engineer, ask the counselors at each table if their school offers an engineering degree. While it’s possible to stumble on your dream school at a college fair, you can learn more by doing online research. A bit of work before the fair can go a long way towards making your time useful.
What’s important to you? Know what you’re looking for in a school and ask questions about it. If you really want to live on campus, ask about a school’s residence life. If you value the opportunity to conduct independent research, ask! By knowing a couple of specific things you’re looking for, you can get those most out of your time.
Do your research
You can find the answer to a lot of basic questions online. Use your college fair to ask the deeper questions that aren’t so easily found on the internet. Every school has scholarships and financial aid, and you can find basic information about them on pretty much every school’s website. But your college fair is a great time to ask more about how those scholarships and grants work together. A website can tell you if a school offers a nursing degree; use the fair to learn about what the clinical look like.
Admission counselors are people
To go off my last point, the counselors on the other side of the table at your fair are people. More importantly, they’re people who might have gone to that school, and have definitely been trained by their institution. This means that we’re the experts on what the school is actually like. Ask us questions about what the college experience is like! You can get great information from many sources, but admission counselors can tell you much about the culture of a school. Ask questions like, “what’s your favorite part of this school”, or “what are the actual classes like” and you’ll learn more than what a brochure or website can tell you.
Sign up for information
Many schools will have prospect cards that you can fill out. These will put you on the mailing list where you can get more information from different schools. If you find a school that catches your eye, put your name down and schools can continue to reach out. Additionally, a lot of schools do track demonstrated interest, so fill out a prospect card even if you’re already getting information, just to let them know that you were there and talked to them. It helps!
The biggest piece of advice I can give in regards to attending a college fair is simple and applicable to your entire college search: enjoy the process.
Applying to colleges can be stressful and there will be times when you want to pull your hair out. But just remember, you only get to go through the process once, so try to relax, enjoy it, and enjoy the moment. And if you’re at a college fair and you see someone from TCU, please come say hello!
Dalton Goodier is a Freshman Admission Counselor. He works with students in Arkansas, Oklahoma, the greater Austin area, East Texas, and a few parts of Houston.