As a high school counselor, you want to prepare college-bound students for the road ahead as best you can. This means helping them to recognize the opportunities available to them, enabling them to complete the coursework and testing required of them, and guiding them through the process of selecting and applying for schools.
One important, early step that students need to take in the college applications process is finding colleges and universities that will be a good match. There are many ways to do this, from conducting Internet searches to visiting college campuses. As a school counselor, you probably have plenty of pamphlets and brochures filling your office, and you might even teach students how to best conduct their college search. But one more way you can help students is to encourage them to attend a college fair.
College fairs provide excellent opportunities for students to survey many schools at once. Therefore, while they may seem intimidating—after all, students need to be assertive in speaking with college representatives and asking questions!—college fairs can be very advantageous to students who are still early in their search. And even if a student already knows precisely where he or she wants to apply, college fairs offer opportunities to make a good impression and demonstrate interest in that college.
Here are three important ways you, as a school counselor, can encourage students to attend a college fair.
First: make sure they know!
The first and arguably most important step in encouraging your students to attend a college fair is to get the word out. After all, if they don’t even know a fair is happening, they can’t possibly want to attend!
The simplest “analog” method of raising student awareness is to post fliers on bulletin boards around the school and to include the details of the fair anywhere else that information is disseminated to students. This can include social media outlets (such as Twitter or Facebook) or via school listservs that are used to inform both students and parents of school news and upcoming events.
Second: incentivize them.
Once they know about the fair, and even if they recognize the benefits of attending it, students can have trouble getting excited about something as intimidating and time-consuming as a college fair. Therefore, it falls upon you, their school counselor (and, of course, on parents, teachers, and other mentors in their lives) to incentivize them.
The most appropriate and effective incentive depends upon when the fair is held. If the fair happens during school hours, then the incentive is virtually already built in: getting out of class and/or going off campus for a field trip. However, if the fair happens outside of the school day (in the evening or on a weekend), incentivizing students gets trickier. One idea is to make registration for the fair a competition between homerooms. You could also set up a competition between students to see who can talk to the most representatives. Offer extra credit for attending a fair. Be wary of offering material incentives, however, because the fact of the matter is that attending a college fair is something that college-bound students should be doing on their own, anyway. If you’ve helped students to understand the importance of choosing a college where they will succeed, as well as the usefulness of a college fair in their selection process, then that knowledge should be incentive enough!
Third: make attendance as easy as possible.
Once students know about the fair and are interested in attending, the final hurdle is getting them to the fair. While many students may have a car or parents who can drive them to the fair, this is certainly not the case for all students. Therefore, if the budget is available, a great solution is to offer to bus students to the fair. (Plus, if you want to go one step further, you can incentivize them to register online for their GoToCollegeFairs barcode by treating that as a “bus pass,” so when they arrive at the fair, they’re ready to go!)
Another, more time-intensive possibility is to organize your own college fair. Depending on the size and resources of your school, this could be an in-house event for only students in your district, or it could involve working with nearby high schools and school counselors to recruit colleges and to develop the event. Either way, the payoff is that the colleges will come directly to your doorstep—and no college fair is easier for a student to attend than one in his or her own back yard!
Helpful tip: Encourage your students to create a dedicated email address for the college admissions process. They will be bombarded with emails from colleges and it’s wise to separate those so they are more manageable. This is important for them to do even prior to the PSAT or SAT as the College Board does share the student email with colleges. Having one place for all admissions communications really helps!
Have you successfully encouraged any of your students to attend a college fair? We’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.