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Tips for College Fairs and Visits: In-Person and Virtual

One of the silver linings of Covid is colleges are on their A game when it comes to providing high value virtual visits and college fairs. This saves families time and money from getting on campus. Now, this doesn't mean you might not want to still get on campus in the future (more on this later), but virtual really is the way to start. 

College Fairs

The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) hosts national fairs each and every year and during 2020 pivoted, like most of us, to online. Not only do they host traditional fairs with colleges from across the nation, they also host specialty fairs such as STEM programs and performing and visual arts. 

In the first half of 2021, all fairs are virtual. The full list is here. NACAC isn't the only group to host fairs, but likely the largest and most common resource you'll find. 

Traditionally, fall is the most robust time for fairs and a lighter spring season. LEAP recommends juniors plan to complete college visits by May 1st - we explained why in a different post. In line with our thinking, you'll see the NACAC "spring season" fairs (yes, they start in winter!) will wrap up right around May 1 as well then resume in September. There just aren't many options during the summer months. 

In planning to attend a college fair, we recommend you register in advance (virtual fairs actually require this), check out the full list of colleges attending and determine your target schools for connection, find any special sessions your target schools may be offering, and do your homework. The homework for fairs and college hosted virtual visits are the same as we describe below. 

College Virtual Visits

While currently virtual, these same concepts can mostly be applied to in-person visits as well. 

Colleges offer three types of visits: general information sessions on the school as a whole which includes admission and financial aid; campus tours; academic close-ups. You'll want to plan well in advance as there are caps on the number of people who can attend both in-person and virtually. You'll want a minimum of 2 weeks notice, but when visit season is "hot" such as spring they can fill even 5 to 6 weeks in advance. Plan ahead! 

While things are virtual, you'll find both live and recorded events. Take advantage of both and like the college fairs, do your homework (pre-work) to make the most of your engagement. 

Pre-Work

Besides registering, do a deep dive on the college website and take notes as you go so you can ask good questions during the fair or visit.

  • Do the recorded campus virtual tour
  • Visit the admissions page learning about the process and requirements
  • The financial aid depart will inform about the costs and available student aid for both merit and need as well as deadlines
  • Academic departments will highlight majors and minors, special focuses of their school and other noteworthy items

During the Session

It's really simple: engage! This means asking questions and answering questions of the person leading your session (or using the virtual chat feature). Everyone in admissions is FOR students, not against them, and desire to add value and make connections. This is true from the director of admissions all the way down to the student tour guides. 

Take notes. You might think you'll remember, but as more information enters your head you're likely to forget. If you hear or see something that sparks a thought, emotion, or question, jot it down. 

Post Session Reflection

This really should be completed as soon after the experience as possible as we mentioned before memories quickly fade especially when you move on to considering another college. Your impressions could be ranking certain areas 1 to 5 or perhaps journaling if that's an activity you find helpful. 

Aim to decide how you currently feel and think about the school:

  • Highly interested and will continue to engage
  • Uncertain but will explore more to decide
  • On hold for now or ruled out

Getting on Campus

Some campuses are completely closed and you are asked to not even self tour while others are open for self-guided tours and even some are offering outside guided tours, but no inside information sessions.

Don't assume you can't get on campus - it might just be what you need to decide! And plan ahead, if you do intended to formally tour. 

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