Fairs can provide some direction in college search

October 14, 2012 | Posted in: High School

We’ve started talking more seriously about colleges now that our oldest child is a high school junior. She’s got lots of questions, as do we, as she starts to navigate the thicket of post-high school choices.

According to CollegeBoard.com, she has 3,996 college options. To be honest, looking at that number makes the whole process – not to mention the expense – even more intimidating. We can trim that significantly by plugging in a few stipulations. For example, narrowing the choices to four-year co-ed schools brings the number to 2,126, which is … OK, still an intimidating number. But the point is, we can make some assumptions to get the number to a point that we don’t have to become nomads, traversing the country in search of “the” school.

Since this is our first go-round, we’re willing to consider any advice that comes our way. That’s why we’re checking into local college fairs.

Many high schools offer a college fair or college caravan during the course of a school day, providing students (typically juniors and seniors) an opportunity to receive first-hand information about a variety of educational institutions in one spot.

Schalmont High School guidance counselor Chris Bailey, whose school held a College Caravan this week that included representatives from 14 schools, said the college fair/caravan is great as an information exchange: The students learn about colleges while the college representatives get a sense of high school students’ interests in any given year.

“It basically lessens the amount of anxiety a lot of students have about the college planning process. Students can talk with a college admissions representative who is able to give them clear and concise, up-to-date information on that school,” said Bailey.

Guilderland school counselor Amy Arena said students can get a glimpse of a large number of schools by attending a college fair. Guilderland holds a series of three mini-college fairs during the month of October, featuring a total of nearly 100 schools.

“One of the greatest benefits is that students are exposed to some schools they wouldn’t have even thought about,” she said. “The college fair is about information gathering, talking to someone face-to-face as opposed to going on a website and just looking at a college.”

Arena said it’s also a good way for a student to express interest in a school. “Students can apply to so many schools, colleges really don’t know who wants to go there. Talking to an area rep helps them put a face with an application.”

Both Bailey and Arena suggested parents and students should do their homework prior to a college fair or caravan.

“Get a list of schools that will be at the college fair and narrow it down to those that have what the child is looking for. It’s a good way for them to make contact with the school,” said Arena. “Go in with specific questions.” (See CollegeBoard.com’s College Fair Checklist for help.)

Both agreed it’s important to review the list of schools prior to attending a college fair.

“It can be overwhelming to walk into a room with 100 colleges there and not know where to start. It’s always good to have a starting point,” said Arena. She also said it’s important to be open to visiting other schools beyond your punch list, because you might discover that the school set up at a table next to one on your list offers something you had only vaguely considered.

Bailey said he encourages parents and students to visit a college fair together if possible. “The drive to the fair and back offers parents and students the opportunity to have a conversation about what each is thinking. A student may have one idea about where they’re going to apply, and parents may have a different opinion,” said Bailey. “It’s an opportunity for the adolescent to have a conversation with their parent about what their plans are. This includes the parent and makes the parent part of the process.”

Bailey suggested that the conversation should include a discussion about what the family can afford or is willing to contribute. “The number one question is, what is it going to cost and how much is the family going to be willing to afford?” he said.

Arena suggested parents encourage even reluctant students to explore options. “College reps are pretty good about encouraging the kids to talk,” she said, noting that at Guilderland’s college fair, students fill out an information card “so they don’t have to walk up cold. There’s information on that and the reps will carry on a conversation with the kids.”

While the face-to-face conversations that take place at a college caravan or fair are helpful, Bailey said all students should visit a campus before signing on to attend. “Going to college is like buying a car,” he said. “You definitely want to test-drive it first, so go visit the school.”


Your child’s high school guidance office is a great place to start. Check to see if the guidance department has a link on the district website, which will likely have helpful information and links to aid in the college search process.

For a list of upcoming area college fairs, and for additional resources to help you and your child be prepared, visit the New York State Higher Education Services Corporation page

For additional information on the college process, visit online:

The College Board is a mission-driven not-for-profit organization that connects students to college success and opportunity. See CollegeBoard.com

You’ll find hundreds of pages of articles about choosing a college, getting into the college you want, how to pay for it and much more at CollegeConfidential.com

AllAboutCollege.com features links to college and university homepages around the world that offer undergraduate programs.

A number of area schools provide access to Naviance, Family Connection from Naviance, a web-based service designed especially for students and parents. Family Connection is a comprehensive website that you can use for help in making decisions about colleges, careers and scholarships. Check with your child’s school to see if they are using Naviance, or look up your child’s school by zip code.

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