How to "Work" a College Fair

College fairs are the equivalent of Speed Dating. A student/family have about 5 minutes to discuss what a college experience could be for themselves with an admissions rep. It can be a very awkward 5-minute meeting as the student stands back and listens to a conversation between the rep and your mom and/or dad. You pick up a flyer that tells you what they want to tell you. MAYBE you fill in the form for more information. Then you move on to the college that you’ve heard of and repeat.

I attended one last night and learned many valuable lessons.

1.    Wear comfortable shoes Mom and Dad. It’s about two hours of standing.

2.    Bring a bag for the booklets and SWAG each school offers.

3.    Bring a pen and notebook.

4.    Get an advanced list of the colleges attending and make a plan. The one I attended had 91 colleges, so I had to be selective because I only had two hours. Research as many of the colleges as possible BEFORE you go and develop a list of questions you will ask each college. Put them in your notebook.

5.    Arrive on time if possible and hit the most popular schools first before the crowd gets big.

6.    Shake their hand as you approach them. Tell them you have researched their school and ask them your questions. Write down the answers (or have Mom or Dad do that…). Each rep has their story to tell about their school so listen to what they have to say and note what they DON’T talk about. (A good one is 4-year graduation rates or Freshmen retention.)

7.    Fill in the request more info card or delegate to Mom or Dad. It shows interest!

8.    Say thank you and move on to the next college. If there is a big crowd, come back because time is ticking. (I’ve found the big crowds are around the popular state schools like UGA, Georgia Tech, Alabama and Auburn. Sneak in and fill in the info card and move on just in case you don’t get back.

I can’t stress the importance of researching colleges ahead of time. Know that the college has the basic values you are looking for in your college experience. Otherwise, you are wasting your time and maybe missing out on a college that could fulfill your goals.

As I went around to the 15 or so colleges I could fit into the time line, I asked each of them 2 questions.

1.    What questions are students asking you the most?

2.    What question do you wish they would ask you about?

The top two questions asked were: “What are the minimum requirements to get in?” and “What’s the weather/food like?” Good questions but probably ones you could easily find out on their website.

The top questions they believe should be asked were: “What scholarship money is available for me?” and “How can your school help me be successful and get my first job?”

Some schools do list their merit scholarship requirements, not all do, and some are removing the information from their website. (LSU) Need based aid is another matter and one that requires a private phone call or visit. The admissions rep should be able to give you more detail on their scholarships and it’s probably listed in their booklet they have on the table. The second question is my favorite. Understanding the support services to help you graduate AND be ready for your first job are key components to selecting a college.

To find fairs near you, check out or search for “Atlanta college fairs” and see what’s out there.