Note: Due to technical issues I haven’t been able to access my blog for several days. My apologies for not being able to publish new content! Believe me, it’s been a vigorous exercise in frustration. Thanks for your continued interest and for sharing this series with others!

College Fairs - Why the ARE worth your time and how to make the most of them - A Guide for Parents of College-bound Children by Robin Dance


Last time, we began a conversation about how to choose the best college for a child, and today we’re going to talk about one of the best ways to learn a little more about a lot of choices: a college fair.

In case you aren’t familiar, a college fair is where a group of colleges and universities exhibit at a central location, staffed with admission counselors and school representatives who serve as goodwill ambassadors of their respective campuses. Think cheerleaders without a megaphone or short skirts.


Whether or not attending a college fair is beneficial begins and ends with you–it can be a total waste of time, or, attended with deliberation, an incredible tool for identifying schools for which you’d like to pay a subsequent visit. Especially if this is your first go-round as a parent of a college-bound student, I’d recommend attending at least one with your child.


A personal note: When my oldest was beginning the college search, we attended a large college fair.  I’ll admit, it was a bit awkward going into a venue full of exhibitors, many representing schools I had never heard of. At first I was hesitant to ask questions, feeling like they might be used car salesmen poised to pounce. That was silly and unfounded. As I relaxed and decided to use this opportunity for fact-finding, I found helpful advocates for the schools they represented, eager to answer our questions; and in the process, they provided clues to the personality of each campus.

When should you attend a college fair?

In my opinion, the best time to attend a college fair is fall semester of a student’s junior year.  If you go before junior year, impressions and information will fade with time, even those things you thought were unforgettable. Wait until senior year and you might not have time for a campus visit before applying. Also, there’s a sense of urgency during fall semester of a student’s senior year and too much information might lead to confusion and second guessing. That being said, if you’ve never attended one prior to 12th grade I’d still recommend going.


There are countless reasons to attend a college fair:

1.  You’ll discover schools you’ve never heard of.

A large fair will attract attendance from all over the country. There are close to 3,000 four-year institutions alone, so you don’t know about more of them than you do know. This may be of particular interest and value for students who don’t score as high on standardized testing because…

2. Entry requirements vary greatly among 2-year and 4-year colleges and universities.

For the majority of colleges, students gain acceptance if their SAT/ACT scores and GPA in core classes are high enough; while other factors are certainly considered – college essay, extra- and intra-curricular activities, interview etc. – these two criteria typically matter most. In light of this I was stunned to discover colleges who are willing to work with students who wish to go to college but whose grades and/or test scores are a challenge; yes, there are colleges who will work with you and spend time getting to know a student and consider additional factors for acceptance if they see genuine interest by the student. An equally surprising discovery was learning…

3.  Think you can’t afford college? Think again.

Just as surprised to discover there are colleges with “creative” acceptance criteria, I was astonished to learn there are some colleges who waive tuition based on your income or at least offer it very affordably. While you can research this information online, nothing beats talking face to face with a person who can explain the process. Don’t mistake great value for poor education, either. Just as paying a lot of money doesn’t guarantee a good education, finding a bargain value doesn’t mean it’s inferior. (Do your homework.)

4. You’ll learn what the institution values.

Listen carefully to what the admissions reps stress; this will provide clues to the school’s culture. Are they all about sports or committed to research? Do professors value building relationships with students or are classes auditorium-style? Come right out and ask the reps why you should consider their school; what sets them apart from every other exhibitor in the hall? Invite them to sell you on their benefits.

5. You’ll make meaningful connection with admissions counselors whose job it is to help guide you through the process.

Getting to know your area rep could make the difference in getting accepted. That was another surprise for me to learn. Admissions counselors are recruiters, looking for the best and brightest, and they want to know you’re interested. Especially if you’re a borderline student, it can only serve you to make darn well sure the reps know who you are (give them your email at the college fair, look them in the eye, shake their hand, ask a question or two). Meeting at a college fair is a first step; we’ll talk about more soon.

6. You’ll eliminate some choices from further consideration.

 Maybe there’s a college you’ve always thought was one you wanted to attend, but learning more about them at a college fair will give you enough information to scratch them off your list. Save time and money from not making the trip to campus.

7. You’ll identify choices for campus visits.

If you’re open to options, if your heart isn’t set on one school regardless of good fit, class offerings and a dozen other criterion, you might just discover a new place you want to visit. In your home state there are schools you’ve never heard of and one of them might be just perfect.

8. You’ll get new ideas.

There’s a lot of information and energy at a College Fair. OF COURSE there is with hundreds of teenagers crammed in one place. Aside from that, just talking to representatives, looking at displays, and noticing exhibitor details will stimulate new thoughts and seed questions.  You’ll begin narrowing the focus of what’s important to you, a helpful exercise when it comes to deciding which schools you want to visit.

Next up, assuming my technical issues have concluded their reign of terror, we’re going to talk about little things that matter. Stay tuned.


Got questions? Have topics we’ve yet to discuss?
DO chime in and let me know your thoughts. I’m listening.

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