A Night at the (College) Fair

by · January 14, 2019

By Dan Fenyo

College fairs are my absolute favorite events to attend as an admissions counselor. If you’ve never been to one, they’re generally held in high school gymnasiums or cafeterias and provide students and parents an opportunity to speak with representatives from various colleges. At a typical fair, you can expect to see anywhere from 25 to 250 different institutions from the surrounding region and beyond. If you aren’t careful, a fair can turn into a circus all too quickly. . .

Today I want to talk a little bit about some of the common mistakes I see parents and students make at college fairs and what you can do to avoid them.

#1: Do Your Research

If you and your family walk into a noisy room with 200 tables set up in alphabetical order, where do you start? Fair organizers will usually provide students with a list of colleges present prior to the event. If you have a list of colleges your child is interested in, check to see if they’ll be represented at the fair. If you attend a fair with the hope that your uncertain student will have an epiphany and suddenly know where they want to go to college, keep dreaming. If you don’t have a list of schools in mind, you can start developing one based on distance from home, cost of tuition, or available academic programs. The latter is especially wise if your student has their heart set on a niche program or major. Not all colleges offer a major in biomedical engineering with a minor in underwater basket-weaving; identify your options early to cut down on time spent wandering through rows of tables.

#2: Manage Expectations

It’s easy to think that you might talk to every single college representative at a fair. It’s also very foolish to do so! College-searching can be exhausting. Everybody has a breaking point; your child is no exception. While you may know how important it is for them to take advantage of face-to-face time with admissions counselors, I can assure you that there is nothing less productive than dragging an overwhelmed high school student through a fair. In the same vein, when you feel yourself growing weary of the event, communicate that with your child and consider heading home for the evening. Pace yourself. If your child starts their college search early, there isn’t any reason to rush. Just make sure you visit Mount Saint Mary College’s table to say hi to me 🙂

#3: Ask Questions that Matter

The internet is an amazing tool. In a moment, you’re able to look up any given school and know nearly every fact about it. When you come to a college fair, make sure that you and your child are using this time to answer the questions that can’t be Googled. Many college representatives will cover every inch of their table space with signs, brochures, and booklets. The most valuable source of information though is the person standing behind the table. Instead of asking about a school’s total enrollment, tuition cost, class size, or other easily searchable data, take the few minutes you have with an admissions counselor to ask open-ended questions with answers that can’t be found in a pamphlet. One of my favorites is “What are the first five words that come to mind when you think of your school?” Try asking a counselor at your next fair that question and see their eyes light up! We love having the opportunity to participate in engaging and productive conversations, so take advantage of the time you and your child have to meet us!

What do you think about College Fairs? If you haven’t attended one yet, what are some of the questions you might have for college representatives when you finally do? How can I help you have a more productive and engaging experience at your next Fair?


Daniel Fenyo has been an admissions counselor at the Mount since September 2018. A lifelong Hudson Valley resident, he enjoys reading, writing, and all things nerdy in his free time.

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