The fall is college fair season. Held usually at Plattsburgh State University, the Northeastern New York College Fair feature hundreds of college admissions representatives, each with an array of colorful brochures and give-away items. After a few minutes, one table may begin to look like the next. That’s when planning ahead can help you make the most of your time at the fair.

The New York State Higher Education Services Corporation (HESC) offers seven tips for strategizing your college fair visit:

Organize before you go. Review a list of the participating colleges, usually available online or at your high school guidance office. Zero-in on those in which you are especially interested. Make another list of secondary colleges to check out if you have time. You may want to limit your list to ten or so, since you will have a limited time at each table.

Prepare your questions ahead of time. Review the colleges’ websites and prepare questions you would like to ask each representative. College fairs are fairly crowded and you may not have time to get all of your questions answered, so choose questions that are not easily found on the schools’ websites.

Print address labels to bring with you. Save time filling out interest cards and use pre-printed address labels with your name, address, email address, your high school, when you expect to start college and the major(s) in which you are interested. It’s also helpful to bring along a notebook and pen to take notes.

Strategize with a map. When you arrive, pick up a map to help target your colleges so you don’t waste time backtracking. Bags are usually available at the door for all the brochures you’re going to be getting. It’s a good idea to bring a backpack, too.

Remember, in most cases the person staffing the table will be the first person to read your application if you decide to apply to that college. They will talk to many students that night. Try to make a positive impression. Definitely don’t make a negative one: don’t yawn or chew gum; do smile and be polite; shake his or her hand. Dress in class dress code.

Review carefully. Over the next few days, review each college’s materials carefully. If there’s something you really like about the school, highlight it and put a sticky note on the page so you can find it later. If you have a question about something you read, write it down and put it on the top of the pile. If you can’t find the answer in the brochures, check out their website. If you still have questions, send an email to the admissions representative to get more information.

File, file, file. Once you’ve reviewed everything, you may discover that some of the schools you were considering don’t really fit what you’re looking for in a college; bring those brochures back to the guidance office to share with other students. Create a file for each of the remaining schools, so you can add any additional information you receive from them. Your personal college file will become your best tool for making a wise college choice.

Sample questions for college fair admissions representatives:

  • What qualities should prospective students have?
  • When must I choose a major?
  • What is the average student to teacher ratio?
  • Is student housing guaranteed all four years?
  • How are roommates selected?
  • What programs are offered to help students adjust to college life?
  • What other student services are offered (tutoring, career counseling, study groups)?
  • Please estimate the percentage of grants, scholarships, loans and work-study awarded in your financial aid packages.
  • How many freshmen return for their sophomore year?

This is a modified version of “Taming the College Fair: 7 Tips for Making the Most of Your College Fair Visit” by HESC.

See also: Making the Most Out of a National College Fair from NACAC.

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