Your dream school is out there, but with thousands of colleges to choose from, there are low odds of blindly picking the perfect one. (And that's saying nothing of the qualifications you'll probably need to gain entry!) You can find a lot of information in pamphlets, websites and admissions guidebooks. But one of the most efficient forms of research is in face-to-face meetings with admissions officers at a college fair. Here are four tips to help you get the most out of the experience.
Plan Ahead of Time
Yes, there will be fewer schools at a college fair than there are in the world. That doesn't mean there still won't be a couple of hundred there! There's simply not enough time to talk to every one of them, so look at the list of who will be coming and narrow it down to the schools you're most interested in (and perhaps a few you'd like to learn more about). Maybe you're drawn to a school's strong lacrosse team, or perhaps to their excellent Biology program. Either way, know who you want to meet before you arrive.
And don't call it quits after you've compiled your list of schools to seek out! Also put together a list of questions to ask each one. Your goal is to make a great first impression by leading a thoughtful conversation about the school. That means choosing questions that show your interest and familiarity with the institution: Don't just ask things that are easily found online.
Don't be Afraid of the Path Less Traveled
I know we just talked about the importance of making a plan, but if an unfamiliar school catches your eye, check it out. Just because you haven't heard of a particular college doesn't mean that it wouldn't be a good match for you. Sometimes a good conversation with an informative admissions officer is all you need to find a school that interests you. Remember: Any research is good research. Finding out that a school isn't right for you can help you better identify what you're not looking for.
Dress to Impress
Now, a college fair isn't an official interview by any means, but that's not a free pass when it comes to dressing the part. You don't need to go overboard (no tuxedos required!), but you don't want to look like you strolled in from gym class. Your clothes should match your behavior: That is, don't do (or wear) anything that might offend your prospective enrollers.
Find Connections to Help You Later
Regardless of preparation, new questions will inevitably occur to you after the fair ends. But that doesn't mean you can't get answers to them! Be sure to ask the admissions officer from your target schools if it would be okay for you to contact them later. With their email addresses, you'll be equipped with the tools to answer all of your pressing questions further on in the process. Plus, staying in contact is one of the best ways to demonstrate your interest — just make sure to brush up on proper email etiquette first.
Attending a college fair can yield great rewards for college-bound students. And as with every part of the college application process, you want to be sure to prepare beforehand. With these tips, you'll be well on your way to making connections that are sure to come in handy later. For help narrowing down which schools you want to target, check out our books on the subject, Best 385 Colleges and Complete Book of Colleges.