Five College Fair Don’ts

A college fair can be a great opportunity to gather information on a variety of colleges.

If you’re a junior and a college fair is scheduled near you (go here to check) I recommend you attend. To get the most out of your visit and to avoid common mistakes, here are five college fair don’ts:

1. Don’t renew your vows.

It’s easy to make the mistake of visiting only those tables of the colleges you already love. If you have questions to ask, by all means, ask. But don’t forget that this is an opportunity to lean more about other colleges. A related tip: Don’t spend all your time talking to schools who reject most of their applicants. You’ll feel much better if you leave the fair interested in a number of colleges that would be likely to admit you.

2. Don’t ask a college rep to judge (or to advise about) your admissibility.

While it’s a good idea to bring any questions you have about the college, you’re not likely to get answers to questions about your chances of admission, like, “Are my SAT scores high enough?” A college rep isn’t in a position to evaluate your candidacy after talking with you for only 30 seconds. You’re more likely to get straight answers to questions about their process, like whether or not interviews are offered, the ranges of GPAs and test scores for admits, and the importance the school places on essays and letters of recommendation.

3. Students, don’t let your parents talk for you.

Many students at college fairs stand sheepishly in the background while Mom or Dad does all the talking with the college reps. This scene is a bit of a running joke amongst admissions officers. Don’t be one of those sheepish bystanders. You’re going to college, presumably without your parents in tow.

Show these colleges that you’re a maturing adult who can walk up to an adult and politely ask a question. 

4. Parents, don’t talk for your kids.

You’re part of this process, so if you have questions, feel free to ask them. But don’t become your student’s spokesperson. Give your student the space to take the lead and be content to happily support from the background.

5. Don’t force the personal connection.

I often cringe when I read the common advice to students to “establish a personal connection with the admissions officer,” especially when it’s doled out as a strategy for admission to highly selective schools. College fairs are hectic places, especially for the most competitive colleges (you’ll never see a Harvard rep looking lonely at a college fair). And those representatives probably don’t want to become email buddies with you.

Memorable impressions are created from interesting conversations, not from efforts to network. Treat each interaction as an opportunity to learn, to ask thoughtful questions, and to express sincere thanks for the information.

Welcome any personal connections that happen naturally, but don’t force them.

College fairs are great reminders of just how many colleges there are to choose from, and how many of those colleges will happily admit a student without straight A’s, perfect test scores, or multiple product patents. Use the fair as a low-stress opportunity to do some college shopping. No high stakes allowed. This should be a relaxed outing.

A version of this article was published on Collegewise on March 11, 2014.

Author: Kevin McMullin. Kevin McMullin is the founder and president of Collegewise. He is also the author of “It the U Fits: Expert Advice on Finding the Right College and Getting Accepted.” He speaks at high schools and conferences about saner, smarter college planning. 

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