March 22, 2011 | Suzanne Shaffer | Leave a comment Nothing says spring like those annual spring college fairs. If you have ever attended one or look forward to attending one this spring, you know they can be a bit overwhelming. Faced with the daunting task of connecting with admissions representatives from numerous colleges, parents and students need a plan. Approaching a college fair without a plan will leave you frustrated and disappointed at the end of the event. College fairs, when approached properly, can help you in the beginning stages of the college search process. More importantly, however, they facilitate those all-important contacts with college admissions officers. Those connections can be used in the future when visiting campuses, connecting with the colleges via telephone or email, and even as a “cheer leader” when you college application is submitted for consideration of admission. Spring college fairs are important tools in your arsenal of preparation during the college admissions process. If you approach these fairs with the proper planning, you can use the information you gather and the contacts you make to your benefit. Preparation prevents panic As with any college-related task, preparation is key; and the college fair is no exception. Here are just a few tips to consider as a part of your preparation: Do some research about the colleges who will be in attendance. Educate yourself regarding the basic information: campus size, majors offered, location, etc. This will help you make a good impression and appear knowledgeable when talking to the representatives. It will also help you when preparing a list of questions to ask. Decide what you will wear: first impressions are important. Don’t show up in tattered jeans, a dirty t-shirt, and flip flops. Treat the connections you make with the college representatives as a preliminary interview. Set up a college email account: [email protected] Use this email address for all your college-related connections. Doing this will convey a positive impression and help you keep your emails separate and organized. Make self-stick labels that contain your legal name, mailing address, email address, year of graduation, and intended area of study.Â This will speed up the process of filling out inquiry cards, allowing you more time to talk to the college representative. Map out a strategy When you arrive at the fair, take a look at the physical map of the location and where each college is located. Take a few minutes to map out a strategy and decide which colleges you will have conversations with the representatives in attendance. One Florida admissions officer compared a spring college fair to a buffet: there will be more there than you can take in, but not everything is to your taste. As with a buffet, it is best to scope out your choices before you start adding to your plate or gathering your information. Don’t waste time with the colleges that don’t interest you. You’re on a missionâ€”stay focused. Take notes and gather business cards Bring a notebook to the fair and take some notes as you speak with the college representatives. After your conversations, ask for a business card. This will be your first contact with the college and an important one. Turn the card over and make some quick notes after you leave about the person you spoke with. This will serve as a reminder when you make a follow-up contact after the college fair. Ask questions This is your chance to ask some questions and conduct your own mini-interview of the colleges. Don’t waste your time asking questions that can be found on the college websites. College admissions representatives learn just as much about you from your questions as they do having a conversation. If you did your homework and prepared, you should have some specific questions in mind. Use this time to gather information and learn things about the college you might not find on their website. Attend information sessions If the spring college fair is offering information sessions, make plans to attend some of them. Many fairs have sessions on the search process, applications, financial aid and other issues run by experts in the field. These sessions are a great place to ask general questions about the college admission process. Follow up After the fair, spend some time organizing your information and going over your notes. Grab those business cards you collected, along with the notes you made, and send an email to the college representative letting them know how much you enjoyed speaking with them. This will serve to cement your meeting in their mind and provide an opportunity for further connections. Find a fair near you Speak with your high school guidance counselor about local college fairs, or find a fair near you sponsored by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling. If there aren’t any fairs in your area, you can attend an online fair sponsored by College Week Live. Have you ever attended a spring college fair? Do you have any tips to share with high school students and their parents?