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How to prepare students for college fairs

By educating students on fair etiquette and expectations, counselors can help students find their perfect fit

How to prepare students for college fairs

The college fair visits circuit is rigorous, time consuming and expensive. That makes it extremely important that high school students get the most out of them. Here’s what you can do to help students prepare.


Inform students of the fair process


The number-one question most college recruiters hear from students is, “What is this about?” The second most common question is, “What programs do you have?” This tells me that a lot of students go to fairs unprepared for college visits. Students need to know what they are attending and why they are attending it. Let them know what colleges to expect during the fair so they can find the school that is going to be the best fit for them. Explain the difference between two-year, four-year and proprietary colleges. Let them know that every college will have contact cards to fill out. Tell students what they are used for, and stress the importance of filling them out completely and legibly. Most importantly, explain that the college fair process is all about finding the perfect fit for the students in relation to programs, size, cost, activities, location, housing, etc.


Help them establish goals


For students to get the most out of college fairs, they need to be informed of what to expect and a reason to be there for preparing college visits. Many high schools use assignment sheets to encourage fair participation. Though that shows a good intention, they are not very productive. The majority of students fill out these assignment sheets in large groups, with one person asking the questions and the rest of the group frantically writing down the answers. If you are going to use assignment sheets, I suggest having them complete the assignment sheets before the college fair by researching colleges online. This will help them come to the fair prepared and ready to visit colleges that are relevant to their area of interest. An alternative to the assignment sheets is giving students a “priority list,” which can help them find the perfect fit based on their priorities: programs, size, cost, activities, location, housing, etc. Once students have priorities, they have a reason to participate during the fair and tend to ask better, more targeted questions. 


Set up the tables effectively


Make sure there are plenty of tables available for the college reps.The layout of the tables is also important for traffic flow. The best layout is a C-shape or square design, with the middle tables being placed back to back, which allows for a steady flow of traffic without students walking behind the admissions representatives. Place the larger universities in a location where a long line of students won’t cut off traffic to other colleges.


Teach fair etiquette


We understand that there are some students who will be pen and material scavengers. But please encourage your students to get information for success, and then take a pen after they have received that information. Too many students are in a competition to gather the most pens, and too many students are incorrectly filling out contact cards just to get pens. And at the end of many fairs, there are too many materials left on the gym floor.


Encourage follow up


Admissions representatives hope that fairs help students become more informed about what our colleges have to offer. We also hope that students are able to narrow their selections to the schools that will best suit their academic goals. Encourage your students to take a campus tour after they have identified potential colleges at the fair. 


Also suggest they take full advantage of college visit days and open houses. Encourage students to carefully read over materials on the college tables instead of just grabbing one of everything available.


Derek Mogensen is a full-time admissions counselor and has been with Colorado Northwestern Community College for nine years. Contact him through Emily D. Quinlan is an academic advisor SUNY Cortland. Previously, she was an admissions specialist at Arapahoe Community College.




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