Here in the admissions world, there is a wonderful time of year when hundreds of scurrying university employees from all over the nation race about in their economy sized cars with rolling suitcases in tow to set up for college fairs.
You know that college fair you had in your gym a few weeks ago? Every college representative there had already been to about three other fairs that day and probably twelve that week.
We are always on the go during these months, and we are always so eager to meet the best and brightest students.
There are several generalized types of student behavior at college fairs.
1. The eye contact avoider
This student keeps their head low. When the admissions counselor takes a break to sip some water, the student swoops in and grabs a brochure without a word. Then they are gone as quickly as they appeared.
2. The too comfortable
This student thinks that everyone at the fair is their homie… their pal… their peer… their question answering circus monkey. Their first words to a counselor are, “Yo, where this school at?” or the ever popular, “Ya’ll got sports?”
4. The deer in the headlights
This student approaches the table cautiously. The counselor says, “Good afternoon! Can I answer some questions for you about Blah Blah University?” The student stares with shocked eyes and short breath… “Wait, we were supposed to have questions prepared?”
5. The golden child
Ahhh… this student. This student approaches the table with confidence. They politely extend their hand in greeting and say, “Good afternoon, my name is Golden Child, and I am a senior. I am very interested in learning more about your University. What sorts of merit scholarships do you offer?” As they depart from their mutually beneficial conversation, they state, “Thank you so much for your time. Have a wonderful day.”
Okay, so all of these examples are caricatures of actual student interactions, but you get the point. Being prepared for a college fair is one of the most constructive and beneficial things you can do. In order to gain the most from an hour of table hopping, you must recognize what type of school you are looking for (technical, liberal arts, two year, four year, etc.), what the most important factors are in choosing your school (size, location, degree programs, student life, etc.), and what audience you are in conversation with (the people who will determine whether or not you get in). You should always maintain eye contact, offer a handshake in greeting, and feel honored and that this large caravan of traveling academics has made their way to your high school specifically to engage in conversation with you. Because you are important. Because we all want you to succeed.
Here are few “ask this, not that” tips to help you prepare for future fairs.
Ask this: “Can you tell me about your three most popular degree programs?”
Not that: “What kinds of majors do you have?”
Being specific and engaging will get you the information you are looking for and allow you to go further in depth with the college representative. Asking broad questions is often like saying, “list all 50 majors from memory, please”. We put that sort of basic information in brochures on the table.
Ask this: “Were you a student at this school? What was your favorite activity to participate in?”
Not that: “What’s there to do?”
Often personal experiences and anecdotes are the best indicators of student life at a University. Do you really want every representative to tell you, “We have x number of student organizations and x number of sports”? No, you want us to tell you about the time we met the author of our favorite book while he spoke on campus or that time we started an acapella choir.
Ask this: “Can you tell me a little about your men’s basketball program?”
Not that: “I wanna play basketball.”
Understand that admissions counselors can only offer you basic information if you want to play a sport. The majority of that process happens with the athletic staff specifically. We can, however, tell you about the teams upcoming season, their previous records, their special achievements, what it’s like to cheer in the Dawg Pound, etc.
College fairs are a wonderful opportunity to learn. They can be overwhelming. They can be an excuse to get out of class. They can be intimidating. But, in every case, they are a wonderful resource afforded to students. Make the most of them! I can’t wait to meet you all out on the road in the future.
Until then, I’ll be jotting thoughts on post-it notes.