It seems like just yesterday that I was waving as Madison boarded the bus for preschool. But it was far from yesterday… it was August 2007. So much of what we did back then was a first. I tried to start making a list of those early “first” memories but it’s really hard to type when you are staring at the screen through tear-filled eyes. It doesn’t matter though because that list is still growing. Except all the new things we’re adding to the list these days involve the next major step in our children’s lives: First job, first college exam prep class, first time our teens drove out of state alone… first COLLEGE FAIR. Give me a minute while I sit and reminisce…
Last Thursday that is exactly what we did. Our first college fair. Well, HER first college fair. As with everything we do, we like to plan it out. Prepare as best we can to ensure we’re going to get the most out of the experience. Whether we’re trying to figure out what to pack for Disney or planning for a cruise, the more information and groundwork you take care of in advance, the better. It’s hard to know what to do so I started by scouring the internet for ideas. Between what I learned ahead of time and what we experienced on site, these are some tips to help you formulate a plan!
Decide Questions in Advance
I compiled a list of almost 70 questions then gave it to Madison to sift through. Her task was to decide which of these questions were the most important to her. Some had to do with finances, others academic, questions about campus life and additional involved job placement.
Once she had narrowed down her list, I dropped them into a form and added some additional fields to jog her memory about the conversation. My goal was to make a form that would help make the college fair experience as productive as our printable house-hunting checklist did for the multiple times we have moved. Once the form was created, I made copies for her to take with to the fair. She didn’t ask every question at every meeting, but rather used it to jot notes throughout the conversation then used it as prompts for additional information. We were surprised to hear many positive comments from the recruiters!
At the same time, I read that it’s important to create labels that included many things she would need to fill out on forms while meeting with recruiters. These included her name, address, phone, email, high school, graduating year and prospective major. But Scott and I discussed it and from a professional standpoint, it didn’t seem right. It isn’t like she’s entering a raffle and they simply need to know how to get in touch with her. Most of the cards are personalized and asked for information specific to their location. Using a label would have covered up some of those questions. Besides, some places collect information digitally. So while it sounded good in principle, we opted not to do it. Instead, we encouraged Madison to bring a reliable pen and plan to write nicely. Most of the forms are sitting on the table so make use of your time and fill it out while you’re waiting for your turn to speak with the recruiter.
There’s a big range between the how you dress and present yourself for a school dance and showing up in shorts and a T-Shirt. You only have one chance to make a first impression so it’s important to be presentable. Wear dressy pants, a nice shirt and sensible shoes. Sure you can show up in whatever you want, but some recruiters take notes on who they meet!
Research the college institutions
The time is limited at a college fair and it’s a hard truth that you cannot visit every booth. Go through the list in advance and determine which ones you want to see first. Head straight there. On the flip side of that argument, don’t be surprised if you end up discovering that some aren’t a good fit at all. Once you have visited your top picks, talk to people at universities with shorter lines. Not only will you hone your presentation skills, but you may find a school that’s the perfect fit.
Check your impatience and emotional baggage at the door and prepare to be bumped and nudged due to the crowds. it isn’t that people are rude, simply that space is usually limited. When the doors open, head straight for your first pick so you’re at the front of whatever line begins. Expect it to be crowded and be mindful of how much time you spend asking questions when you know there are people waiting behind you.
Bring a Tote Bag
You’ll be picking up a lot of information so be sure to bring along a tote bag or string backpack to hold all the flyers and business cards you accumulate. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but it can be difficult to juggle stacks of brochures while trying to take notes.
As you get ready for this next step on your journey, keep an open mind, ask questions and listen to answers. Take notes then go home and evaluate. The next steps you’ll need to take involve visiting colleges and that’s a different “first” for another time.
What’s the most important thing to you when selecting a school?