Make the most of a college fair

The Uniondale School District held its annual district-wide

The Uniondale School District held its annual district-wide College Fair on Oct. 13. Representatives from over 150 colleges and universities spoke and worked with students of all ages and their parents to promote the importance of a college education. (Oct. 13, 2010) (Credit: )

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With so much information about colleges and universities available through a quick Internet search, today’s tech savvy kids sometimes wonder whether there’s any good reason to go to a college fair.

Yes, there are plenty. Here’s what you can tell them:

If you’re just beginning your college search, attending a fair is the most efficient way to scout out a wide variety of schools in a short amount of time. And if you’ve already narrowed down your list, you’ll have the opportunity to really hone in on your top choices. “Unlike what you’ll find on websites and in brochures, you can be sure that you’ll be getting the most up-to-date and accurate information, coming from someone authorized to speak for the school,” says Andrew Sison, chair of the college fair committee of the National Association for College Admissions Counseling.

But with so many institutions represented at the typical fair—literally hundreds of schools are participating in the October 4 fair at the Nassau Coliseum—it can be easy to wander the aisles in a fog and come away with a pile of brochures and a debilitating case of information overload. These tips will help you make the most of the day:

Know before you go. Think in advance about what you hope to accomplish. Perhaps you’re uncertain about what kind of school is best for you: A 2-year or 4-year college? Big or small? Close to home or far away? (Investigating a bunch of each will help you figure it out.) Or maybe you’re further along in your search and have several options in mind. Either way, find out what schools will be at the fair and make a list, in order of priority, of those you want to visit. But be sure to leave a little time to stop by some random booths that catch your eye. Who knows? You might actually discover a perfect school that isn’t even on your radar.

Bring a small notepad. Come armed with a list of questions for school representatives. Don’t bother with ones that can be easily answered on a website, such as the number of students or the course offerings. Instead, dig deeper with queries like: What makes your school different from other colleges? How would you describe the type of students who do best there? What’s the school’s teaching philosophy? Also get specifics about programs or activities that especially interest you. Make sure to take notes to refer to later on in case you’re overwhelmed by too much information.

Get up-close and personal. If you already know your top schools, try to meet their representatives. “Fairs can be hectic, but you sometimes can make a meaningful connection,” says Sally F. Rubenstone, senior advisor for College Confidential, an admissions website. Ideally, you should talk to someone on the school staff, rather than a student or an alumni representative. Introduce yourself and ask what you can do to maximize your chances of admission. If you make a good impression, this person may remember you when your application comes in. (A quick aside about putting your best foot forward: Dress nicely! No need for heels and pantyhose or a jacket and tie, but definitely lose the shorts, ripped jeans, and the KISS t-shirt.)

Divide and conquer. Parents should attend the fair along with their kids and take advantage of workshop sessions on financial aid, admissions requirements, and so on. They should also check out schools, but it’s a good idea for families to split up. “In addition to letting you cover more ground, you’ll minimize a teen’s mortification factor, like when Mom corners a representative from Cal Tech to extol her son’s kindergarten Lego creations,” says Rubenstone.

Follow up. Afterwards, don’t just toss those brochures in a corner of your room. Sort through them and review your notes. Re-assess your impressions about various colleges, and then go to newsday.com for links to help you further investigate the schools that would be best for you.

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