Make the College Fair experience work for you.

Hadrian / Shutterstock.comThe College Fair experience is as much a part of the landscape of the college search in America today as is unsolicited mail. You know all the ingredients: a cavernous and impersonal facility, rows and rows filled with representatives of college admissions offices both near and far, and hundreds of high school students brought in by school bus.

You may be there with some friends from high school or your parents – so where to start? The sponsoring organization is likely to be an organization of college admissions professionals from high schools (the “guidance counselors”) and colleges (the “admissions officers”).

There is little doubt this “shopping mall” approach to the college search serves the interest of the colleges more than it does the students and families. When you leave you’ll have a plastic bag, affixed with a college’s logo, filled with glossy publications that will almost certainly end up in the same place as the unsolicited literature you got in the mail. If your hope was to gain a bit of knowledge and possibly reduce your family’s college search anxiety a bit, think again. Too much information will end up being just as stressful for you and your parents as was not enough information.


How to make the college fair work for you?

Step one: Before the college fair.

Have a game plan, a strategy, before you go. Do some research. Find a list of the colleges that will be attending and spend some time sorting through that list. Any that you have already identified as a place you have an interest? Any new-to-you that match what you may be looking for-enrollment? Programs? Part of the country?

Step two: During the college fair.

Be sure to find the booth of the colleges that you highlighted in your “Before” research. Stop at each college’s booth and introduce yourself to the admissions representative. This is not the time to ask detailed questions but it is a good time to show interest and to make contact with someone who may be able to answer more detailed questions by email or over the phone.

If the college did not make your pre-college qualification, save your time and pass that college by.

Step three: After the fair.

Intensify your research. On line? Whether it be the College Board’s “Big Future” website, a website offering student insight like “collegeniche” (formerly College Prowler”) or another source altogether, dig a bit deeper. Know someone, a neighbor, the sibling of a classmate who attended? Inquire there.

Remember, be an educated consumer now, when it matters. You’ll be glad you did.

Next e-newsletter topic?   College Financial aid; you can afford a college education.

David W. Clark, Ed.M. is an independent college admission consultant who has been working with high school students for more than thirty-five years. David is a graduate of the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. His website is and he can be reached there.

More than three years of archived monthly e-newsletter articles can be read by clicking here. Many readers have found my book reviews to be especially helpful. (Be sure to check out e-newsletter #22 from April 2012 and e-newsletter # 17 from November, 2011.)

Please note: In the calendar year 2015 more than 40 families from at least six school districts in Chester County attended one of Mr. Clark’s six well received programs. Mr. Clark is a member of the Pennsylvania Association of College Admissions Counselors (PACAC) and the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA).