The Five Ws of College Fairs

It has been said that the five Ws and an H are the only questions that human beings can ask each other: who, what, where, when, why, and how. Having raised two boys, I’m pretty convinced that there’s another H that should be added… “Huh?” Nevertheless, I’d like to share the 5 Ws and an H about college fairs. If you are wondering about choosing a college, or don’t know anything about college fairs, this article is a good place to start.

When?

Are you going to your State Fair? In the Pacific Northwest where I live, fall is fair time. My family looks forward to seeing the animals, riding the crazy rides, and eating the great fair food! It’s all a lot of fun. But state fairs are not the only fairs in the fall. College fairs are in the fall, and they are even more important for high school students and parents.

Why?

Attending a college fair is the most effective and efficient way to come up with a list of potential colleges to consider. Instead of traveling all over the country to visit different schools, they all come to you! You’ll find all sorts of colleges in one convenient location. If you’re looking for that ‘perfect fit’ college for your high school student, look no further than your closest college fair to begin your search. Even for those who live a little too far away from a big city to make a day trip possible, it’s worth the investment to travel to your closest city to attend a fair, even if it takes a day or two. The opportunity to find out about so many schools in one location is really worth the investment of time and money.

What?

College fairs are a lot like your typical homeschool convention. The company comes to you! You’ll see lots of booths, workshops, people, noise, and hard concrete floors. However, instead of homeschool curriculum, the product being sold is a college education. In addition to colleges, you will find other companies and organizations affiliated with college admission and scholarships, such as The Princeton Review, the College Board, and others like them. Stop by their booths and pick up their free samples! Take classes on different topics related to college admission and scholarships. These might include seminars on SAT preparation, financial aid, college life, admissions, etc. These are worth attending, as the more you know about these topics, the better prepared you will be to help your student succeed.

Where?

Homeschoolers who live close to a large city should have an easy time finding a college fair nearby. If you search online for ‘college fair’ and the name of your city, you will probably find several options. In addition, there are larger fairs put on by private organizations each year. The biggest are the National Association for College Admission Counseling (www.nacacnet.org), and the North American Coalition for Christian Admissions Professionals (www.nccf.us). There are also specialized groups that have fairs. Exploring College Options Consortium represents Ivy League schools (www.exploringcollegeoptions.org‎), Colleges That Change Lives (www.ctcl.org‎), Historically Black Colleges and Universities (www.hbcufair.com) and Performing and Visual Arts fairs.

Who?

College fairs are for both students and parents. Students need to ask questions and explore possibilities; they need to introduce themselves to representatives of schools, and find out whether a school has what they think they need—whether that’s a swimming pool, a French major, or pizza in the cafeteria. Encourage your student to be conversational and friendly in their interactions, and to dress neatly and cleanly for the day. Parents have important questions too! What is the college’s homeschool policy? Do they accept CLEP or AP credits? Do they offer whopping big financial aid?! What are the average SAT/ACT test scores for this school? These questions will help you determine whether a school will be a good fit for your student.

How Much?

Financial aid is a topic on many parent’s minds as they wander through the aisles of a college fair. Fortunately, a college fair is a great place to find a school that will offer your child assistance. Most schools are pretty up front about what they’re looking for in an applicant; find one that’s looking for what your student has, and you may find some pretty attractive financial aid. And it’s not always academic accomplishment they’re looking for. At one college fair I attended, I overhead a school representative say they were looking for a student from Nebraska, so they could say they had a representative from every state in the union. You can imagine what good scholarship money they were offering to any Nebraskan applicant! Another school I know of offered a great scholarship to an applicant who was an accomplished pianist, because their choir really needed an accompanist. If you find a few schools you’re interested in at the fair, be sure to ask them what they’re looking for from their applicants, and see whether your student just might fit the bill.

No Fair!

If you simply can’t make it to a college fair, don’t despair; there are a few other options. The College Board (www.collegeboard.com) has a very user-friendly college search program, and other resources like Fastweb and US News and World Report can help you find colleges that match your student’s interests and abilities. If your child will take the PSAT soon, have them check the college search box to receive college information, and colleges who are interested in your student will send you admission information. Even though online searches are very helpful, they can’t replace attending a college fair. Typically dozens, and sometimes hundreds of schools are represented at a fair, and nothing beats a face-to-face encounter with a representative who is familiar with their school. In addition to attending a fair, educate yourself as much as possible about the college admission and scholarship process, so that you will be prepared when the time comes.

My new book, The HomeScholar’s Guide to College Admission and Scholarships is a great place to start learning about this process. It covers all the critical topics necessary for college success, including how to search for colleges and interpret college statistics, how to visit the colleges and evaluate what you discover, and how to receive merit-based scholarships and market students effectively to the colleges of their choice.

Lee Binz is The HomeScholar. Her mission is “helping parents homeschool high school.” Her free mini-course, “The 5 Biggest Mistakes Parents Make When Homeschooling High School,” is a great introduction to high school essentials. Her free newsletter provides monthly encouragement and support. Her homeschool transcript solution teaches parents how to create high school transcripts for every homeschool style. You can get a daily dose of high school help at her blog, The HomeScholar Helper, recently voted as the “best homeschool business blog.” You can find Lee online at www.TheHomeScholar.com and on Facebook.com/TheHomeScholar

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