When choosing a college, you need all the information you can get. But visiting each campus can be expensive. And who has time research hundreds of Web sites or call each school individually? That's where college fairs come in. "College fairs are a 'one-stop shopping' kind of experience," says Greg Ferguson, director of the National College Fairs program of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). It's a mini-convention for students and college representatives, designed to give students a chance to explore all their options quickly and efficiently. Where do you find out about college fairs? Your guidance counselor can tell you all about the fairs in your area. The National College Fairs Program (a division of NACAC) sponsors about 35 college fairs at convention centers around the country every year. Six to eight weeks before each fair, NACAC sends a mailing to high school counselors in the area. Ask your counselor or check NACAC's for schedules. What should you expect to learn? "Students get a better perspective on where they want to further their education and the resources they need to achieve their goals," Ferguson says. Although college alumni sometimes speak at college fairs about their alma maters, the primary college representatives are paid admissions professionals. "They have a factual knowledge of life on campus," Ferguson says. What kinds of materials will college reps give you? You'll be able to collect brochures, viewbooks and applications for admissions and financial aid for most visiting colleges. What you won't get are college sweatshirts, posters, pennants or bumper stickers. Selling or giving away promotional items like these is generally a no-no at college fairs, because parents and high school counselors don't want your opinion swayed by which college gave away the best goodies. How should you prepare? "You should have some idea of what type of college you want to attend," Ferguson advises. Consider whether you'd prefer a small or large college, what types of studies you might pursue, whether you want to stay close to home or go somewhere far away, what kinds of sports you'd like to see at a college and whether you want an urban or rural environment. Once you've narrowed down your preferences, then you should do some preliminary research on a few schools that interest you. What do you need to bring? Bring a notebook and pen to take notes. Don't rely on your memory—once you've left the fair, you're bound to forget which college representative told you what. Keep all your notes, brochures, etc. in one place at home, so you'll find it easily when it's time to apply and when you're ready to choose a school. What questions should you ask the college reps? The best thing about college fairs is the one-on-one contact you get with college representatives. Use this time to your advantage. Come prepared with some questions you want to ask:
- What are the application deadlines for admissions and financial aid?
- When must I choose a major?
- How are roommates selected?
- What will a faculty advisor do for me?
- Are there any special placement tests that an entering freshman needs to take in order to place into or out of certain classes?
- What is your enrollment?
So save yourself some time and money, and explore your options - all from the comfort of your hometown at the next local college fair!