College fair season is approaching. The National Association of College Admissions Counseling holds some large fairs all around the country. Take a look at their schedule and get one on your calendar.
Also, see what local fairs will be held in your city. The high-tuition college prep high schools usually combine efforts to put on a city-wide fair where all the top schools send representatives. Take a look at the school websites for details. Here’s an example of an announcement of one of these fairs. These are generally open to the public.
College fair season is approaching. Getting familiar with talking to school representatives now will help you as you make final decisions about where to apply in a couple years. You don’t need to spend a lot of time thinking about this, but you should take 10 minutes and have a conversation with your parents about when and where you can attend a few fairs.
Why Go To A College Fair?
That’s a fair question. The reality is that most students will go to a college that they’ve never heard of before their senior year. They’ll discover interesting private schools along the way that value their strengths and interests more than the large public 4-year schools like the USC, UCLA, or The Ohio State University. The big schools can be exciting and dominate the college marketing landscape. But you’ll just be a number taught by a low-paid grad student or adjunct professor for the first two years in those environments. The college fair can expose you to interesting aspects of private schools that could drive you to greater success in your academic career. A college fair will give you an opportunity to get a first look at those colleges without having to spend the time and money to travel.
How To Prepare
The fair will usually post a list of the schools that will be there. Do a google search on college topics that interest you and cross-check those results with the schools at the fair. Those will be the schools you want to talk to at the fair.
For example, if I’m interested in schools with lacrosse programs I might search for “NCAA Lacrosse” and get this list. So I’ll know to visit the Gonzaga, Duke, or St. Lawrence booths. Or if I’m interested in sustainable farming I’ll get this list and know to visit Prescott, Green Mountain, or Unity colleges.
Bring a bag to carry the information you get, and a pen and paper to take notes.
Make A List Of Questions
The person manning the booth at a college fair usually doesn’t work for the college unless the college is local. Colleges usually ask local graduates to act as ambassadors for their schools at the college fair. What’s nice about this is that you can get personal answers to questions that go deeper into the college experience.
So create a list of questions that you can’t get answers to on the college website. Don’t waste anyone’s time asking the simple stuff that you can find on your own.
- Ask questions that pertain to your interests. But know the person doesn’t work for the college and may not be able to provide a specific answer.
- Ask questions about travel to and from the college, the surrounding community, the relationships between students and instructors.
- Ask why the rep chose to attend that school.
- Ask about after graduation: what sort of support does the alumni network provide and what has their experience been using it.
Get On The Mailing List
You’ll register for the college fair either online or when you get there. Before you register, setup an email address that won’t embarrass you. Use this email for your entire college search process.
The fair may give you a number or a card that can be scanned at the booths. Don’t lose this. You can use it to easily be added to the school’s mailing list. And as we’ve talked about before, when the schools know that you are engaging with them they will take you more seriously when you apply.
Sit In On Information Sessions
You’ll find that in addition to all of the college booths, the fairs also provide information sessions on financial aid and academics. Arrive early and plan some time to sit in on these important sessions. The more you know now, the better prepared you’ll be when you face these things.
Get Your Notes Into CollegeTicket
You want to be able to compare notes as you attend more fairs and explore more colleges. Get your notes into your CollegeTicket Shortlist so you can remember what you were thinking when you have to make these comparisons later.
But Private Schools Are Expensive!
Harvard students paid an average of $12,000 for tuition in 2014. Private schools many times have the largest endowments, and they’re required to give a percentage of this money away every year. When you’re a good match for the school, and they agree, you’ll find that a private school education may cost about the same of less than a public school education.
And if you’re looking at schools away from home you bring an aspect of geographic diversity to your college application that may play to your advantage when applying.
What Goes On At A College Fair
In case you’re interested, here are a couple videos of the college fair experience.
Getting Ready for NACAC College Fairs – Part 1
Getting Ready for NACAC College Fairs – Part 2
Your College Shortlist
Hopefully you’ve found a fair in your area and are making plans to attend. Or you got on the list to talk to college reps coming to your school or a nearby school. Now that you’re finding out about colleges, which ones should you put on your shortlist of schools to consider?
Early in your senior year you will have cut your list of colleges to which you plan to apply to 6 to 8 schools. Until then you want to work on identifying maybe 20 or 30 schools that could be a good fit for you. The process of doing the research on these schools will help you understand what kind of colleges are out there, what makes one college different than another, and why a college may or may not be a good fit for you. 20 to 30 seems like a lot of schools, and you don’t have to take a deep dive into each one, but getting broad exposure to many colleges will help you when you choose the schools you will apply to. You’ll base your decisions on a lot of data rather than very limited information. In the end, this data will help you make a choice that is truly a better fit for you as a student and what you hope to accomplish in college.
Use the CollegeTicket shortlist under College Application => College Shortlist to add new schools to your shortlist as you find them. Or use the shortlist feature in the CollegeTicket mobile app.
Explore Public, Private, and Community Colleges
While it may be difficult to get into a school like Harvard or Stanford, once you’re accepted you’ll find tuition and college costs are about the same as the well-known public universities like UCLA, the University of Georgia, or The Ohio State University. Private schools generally have much larger scholarship endowments than big public schools, which means more scholarship money. And they spread that money across fewer students meaning students can get larger awards at the private schools than they can get at the state schools. In the end you may find that attending a very nice private college costs less than attending the big state school.
Still, the state schools have benefits of their own. Given the sheer number of students they serve and the large tax base, the state schools have large budgets. They may have a particular degree program that most private schools just can’t afford to offer. Or they may have more access to grant funding that would allow you to get paid to work for a professor on an undergraduate research project. You’ll also get more exposure to a diverse student body on the big college campuses. The application process may be more cut and dried, but if you’re a decent student near the cutoff of getting accepted to some of the private schools on your list, you may find that you have no problem getting into the public university.
Maybe community college isn’t even on your radar. But if you’re the kind of student into non-traditional or vocational education you may find more original and unique degree programs at the community college. Many times you’ll find the community colleges host culinary institutes with partnerships and internships at renowned hotels and resorts. Or you’ll find degrees specific to niche markets like the hospitality industry that you may not find at the larger institutions. And you can always transfer to the 4-year school after earning an associates degree.
So don’t limit yourself as you explore different options at this point in your process.
Colleges are in the business of academics. They look for students who excel and challenge themselves. The stronger you perform academically the better bet the college can make on you. They want students who will perform well and graduate from their school.
What subjects do you like in school? Are you a writer? Look for colleges like Kenyon in Ohio that have interesting high school summer programs that could introduce you to the college. Or Google colleges that specialize in writing and start looking through the results for schools that you may want to consider.
Maybe you’re thinking about engineering. Here’s a list of schools that have engineering summer programs. The results at the top of the list are schools like Duke, Columbia, and Cornell. Getting these schools on your list might point you in some new directions and help you think about interesting alternatives.
Colleges are all about academics, but they also know you’ll learn as much from other students as you will from the professors. You’ll build some of your strongest skills and relationships outside the classroom during your college experience. And it’s not unheard of to earn scholarship money at colleges that don’t even offer degree programs in the space. I spoke to one young woman who received $7,000 annually from Wittenberg because she could dance – and they needed her talent in the annual productions. She wasn’t a dance major, and Wittenberg didn’t even have a dance program.
Try searching for colleges that could use your talents and skills outside of the classroom. Here the US Equestrian Federation describes the equestrian college search. And these lists of schools host study abroad programs.
If you have a niche personal interest, chances are there is a college out there that could be a good match for you.
Maybe you already know your career choice. In that case you can get focused quickly and get down the road to finding the right match for you while earning some great scholarships. Search for the schools that are top in your career choice, get them on your list, and dive into the research. Start building the relationships with department heads and professors by asking them about their research. Get on these campuses now and meet instructors and admissions counselors face-to-face. Show your interest in them early and get on their radar.
Reach Schools, Good Matches, and Safety Schools
In the end you’ll narrow your list down to 2 or 3 reach schools where you’re not sure if you’d be accepted, 2 or 3 schools that you feel are a very good match for your interests and talent, and a few safety schools that you know are a slam dunk. We’ll worry about narrowing your choices down later in your junior year. For now, take a good look around and start building your college shortlist.