Are College Fairs Still Worth Attending?

Back before the days of the internet and before College Board and ACT would sell your information to colleges so they could send you (lots of) marketing materials, families had to attend college fairs. Many colleges would visit a high school gym, hotel ballroom or convention center–each with their own table. Families would go from table to table learning about the school and what it had to offer.

From the admissions side, colleges have seen student attendance at fairs dwindling over the years. Students are busy and often have other ways to build a list of colleges they might apply to or attend. When Covid hit, many colleges were able to take their presentations virtual. College fair organizers also arranged virtual events–and did a great job in many cases.

In-person fairs are back and many students ask, should I attend? I’m going to give my favorite answer, “it depends”. If you are just going to walk around taking pens and brochures (you probably won’t read) and not speaking to any reps–don’t go. But here are a few cases where attending college fairs makes sense.

-If you are interested in a specific school and have questions that would be helpful to discuss with an admissions representative, attend and discuss them. This could include what coursework they recommend to be competitive for admission or a discussion of whether or not to apply test optional. But remember, depending on how busy the fair is, they may not be able to go in depth with you about a personal situation and may need to address more general comments for the entire crowd.

-There are fairs for special topics or populations–LGTBQ+ friendly schools, performing arts fairs with auditions, multicultural students, STEM. If you are looking for schools that are serving a particular population well or cater to a certain major, attending the fair is probably worth your time.

-If you are interested in schools that consider demonstrated interest (demonstrated interest means you have shown you want to attend the school by interacting with them), speaking to a rep at a college fair and allowing them to collect your data (whether through completing an interest card or using a bar scan provided when you registered) will get you added to the database and calculated in the demonstrated interest formula (although visiting campus or attending an on campus event may count more in their demonstrated interest formula).

Prior to the fair, visit the organizer’s website to see which colleges will be attending. If the colleges are ones you wish to visit/learn more from, pre-register. Do some research on the schools so you have questions to ask the reps. Some of the common fair organizers include:

National Association for College Admissions counselors — college fair webpage

Many states and region have a state affiliate of NACAC such as INACAC, NYACAC–google your state and Association for College Admissions counselors to find local fairs to your state. NACAC also has STEM and Performing Arts fairs.

Campus Pride (LGTBQ+ friendly) fairs– webpage

National Diversity College fairs webpage

Each year new fairs are launched–whether at a high school, through a community organization or even a group of like colleges (the Big 10, the 7 sisters, etc). Keep you eyes on your mail and email to see if any of the particular events may be a good fit for you.

If you need help with your college search, Coffman Consulting is always happy to help. We are currently contracting with rising juniors and a limited number of rising seniors to assist with the college application process.

Published by Kate Coffman

Kate has worked in admissions, financial aid, college and career readiness for over twenty years. She most recently served as the Vice President and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Franklin College. Kate has also worked in admissions at Butler University and Indiana University. Kate has presented at numerous schools and conferences helping families, educators and those who work with youth understand how to be college and career ready, how to apply to college and how to afford their education.

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