Prep Talk Blog > June 2009

In recent years, more and more students have gone online to explore their higher education options, but the "old school" college fair remains one of the most affordable, convenient opportunities to learn about prospective schools. What exactly are college fairs? According to Dave Carpenter of The Associated Press, they are "large, free gatherings of college admissions representatives who sit in convention halls, dispensing information and answering questions. Students and their parents go through aisle by aisle like at a supermarket, stopping at the booths of colleges that interest them." It may seem like a terribly traditional way of conducting your college search, but attending a college fair has several valuable benefits, such as:

Enabling you to demonstrate interest. HowToGetIn.com says that networking can mean the difference between acceptance and rejection if you're in the running for a highly coveted spot. An admissions officer is more likely to accept you if you've talked to the school's representatives, left your contact information, and demonstrated your enthusiasm for the school. These are all signs that you'll be eager to attend if accepted, and colleges -- just like you -- want to avoid rejection.

Saving your family money. Few families can shell out the dough for a two-week tour of the Ivy League, but a trip to the local convention center (for a free fair) is something that most can afford. Before you schedule potentially pricey college visits, get an initial feel for each campus by chatting with representatives. You'll be able to access information on top colleges and universities, all in one room, all at one time. Since the quality of schools in attendance is "unparalleled", says CampusCompare, you'll be exposed to diverse and prestigious institutions without having to leave town. Find out which schools will be in attendance by using the NACAC Exhibitor Search.

Allowing you to practice for the real thing. Now's the time to get any performance anxiety out of the way. Come fall, you'll be writing essays, filling out applications, and selling yourself to colleges on paper and in real life. If you're nervous about speaking with admissions representatives during campus visits or alumni during admissions interviews, then attending a college fair will offer plenty of opportunities to get comfortable with these types of interactions.

Though the college decision process is winding down for graduating high school seniors, juniors are just gearing up for several months of tough choices as they narrow down lists of schools for fall application. You can get started now by checking out the schedule of college fairs offered by the National Assocation for College Admission Counseling, the largest organizer of college fairs nationwide. If you do some planning in the summer months ahead and create a schedule for college fairs and visits for the fall, you can enter your last year of high school prepared to tackle the admissions process with a lot more ease and much less stress.

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