How to Talk to College Admissions Reps at College Fairs

Barry Lenson

How to Talk to College Admissions Reps at College Fairs

We just spent two days manning a table at the 2011 New Jersey National College Fair at the New Jersey Convention and Exposition Center. If you stopped by the StraighterLine table, we would like to say how much we enjoyed speaking with you.

When we were not talking with prospective students and their parents, we fanned out, watched what was happening, and spoke with admissions representatives from some of the nearly 400 colleges that were in attendance. As a result of those conversations, we came up with some advice for students who want to present themselves effectively to colleges at fairs.

Why present yourself effectively at a college fair? Because even in a setting where college reps are speaking to hundreds of potential applicants, you can still be memorable and enjoy a slight advantage in getting accepted to schools that interest you.

Here’s our advice . . . 

Project a professional attitude.  If you look around the floor at college fairs, you will notice that even the youngest representatives from colleges are dressed professionally, and acting professionally. So even if it seems overly formal, walk up to a booth, shake hands, make eye contact, and introduce yourself using your first and last names.  Remember that you are selling yourself, not just collecting information.

Don’t dress too casually. Few colleges will expect you to arrive in a jacket and tie. Still, it is wise to dress in neat casual clothes – even neat jeans – if you want to create a good impression. And another thing – leave your hats and baseball caps at the door before you come in, or stash them in your pocket. The reason? In gyms and convention centers the light comes from ceiling fixtures. If you wear a hat, your face is going to be in darkness – and it is very hard to be memorable if nobody can see you.

Come prepared with some good questions. If you want to major in graphic design, for example, come prepared to ask some insightful questions about that program at schools that interest you. If you want to major in accounting, or physical therapy, or political science, the same holds true. The smarter the questions you ask, the more memorable you become.

If a college really interests you, say “I am really interested in your school.” That makes you stand out from the crowd of other students who shuffle up to a table, collect some brochures, then shuffle away. It is also a great way to start a conversation in which you really learn something about a college.

Make sure to establish a line of communication with schools that interest you.  The easiest way is to take a business card from an admissions rep, then email him or her the next day. You can say, for example, “I really enjoyed speaking with you at the National College Fair last night and as you suggested, I am emailing you to see if you can put me in touch with the lacrosse coach.” When you ask a question that requires the representative to reply, you have started a conversation that can work to your advantage as an applicant.

Loop back and visit interesting schools a second time. Simply stopping by to say, “I am interested in your school and I will seriously consider applying” makes you memorable in the minds of the admissions representatives who are staffing the table.

Please visit our booth this weekend at the 2011 New York City National College Fair at the Javits Center in New York.

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