8 Ways to Show a College They’re Your Top Pick

So you’ve done the research, narrowed your list, and emerged with one—or two, or three—top schools. These are your dream schools, or at least the ones you want to attend the most. The ones where you can envision yourself walking across campus, wind in your hair, smile on your face, synapses strengthening with every class, friends multiplying the moment you step foot onto the green manicured grass of the academic quad. This is where you want to go to college. Case closed.

Now your job is to ensure that these colleges know they’re your top choices. There are a number of ways to do this, but they all boil down to “expressing interest.” That is, you want to a) demonstrate exactly what it is about each college that appeals to you, b) indicate why you think you’ll be an asset to that college (i.e., why should they admit you?), and c) create a track record of actions that show you’ve engaged with the school.

The following list offers 8 ways that you can demonstrate interest in a school and let them know that they are your top choice. Admissions officers are busy people, and they’re dealing with a lot of interested students—not just you. So be respectful of their time, and do your best to research answers to your questions via other routes (the internet, contacting alumni, talking to a rep at a college fair, a campus visit) before emailing or calling an admissions officer.

Now, without further ado, here are 8 ways you can show a college they’re your top pick:

1. Essays. If you’re using the Common App, you will find that schools have supplemental essays where you are expected to be specific about why you’re choosing to apply to that college. No matter the prompt, you should always keep in the back of your mind: Why is the school a good fit for you and you for it? Here are a few ideas to help you come up with an answer: Does your family have a legacy with the school? Is there a specific professor who you’re keen to work with? Is there something unique about the curriculum that other colleges don’t offer?

2. Campus Visit. Not only do most colleges track campus visits as indicators of interest, but a visit will also help you learn even more about the school—information that you can put to good use in your essays and admissions interviews!

3. Admissions Interview. Even if the interview is optional, you should do it. Your willingness demonstrates that you’re serious about attending this college, and in the interview, you can be candid about what drew you to that college and how you became convinced that it would be a good fit. (And don’t forget to add in why you would be a good fit for the college. Market yourself!)

4. College Fairs. College fairs are the easier, cheaper version of the campus visit. Research local college fairs and if your school of interest will be there, stop by their booth and talk to the representative. Be sure to leave your contact information (either by filling out a card, using a barcode found at, or leaving a resume), even if you’re already receiving information from that college—because this is your track record to show you’ve expressed interest!

5. Send Thank-You Notes. It might sound old-fashioned, but thank-you notes are a definite way to stand out. Send them to a rep you met at a college fair, to an admissions officer who interviewed you, to a professor or student or anyone else who helped answer a question you had. This little note will keep you front-of-mind and reflects well on you as a thoughtful, appreciative person. Plus, even for those non-college-admissions officers, you never know who might be asked to weigh in on the admissions decision!

6. Connect on Social Media. Nearly every college these days has a Facebook or Twitter or Instagram account, so connect on your platform of choice and comment or ask questions to show you’re engaged in what’s happening at the school. You might even learn something you weren’t expecting!  However, remember that colleges and universities may review the content of social media, so keeping it appropriate for all audiences is recommended.

7. Request Information. Don’t assume that you’ll wind up on a college’s mailing list simply because you’re a living, breathing high school student. And don’t rely solely on their website, either, because no matter how many times you visit, the college will have no track record of your interest! Send a polite email or sign up online to receive printed brochures and emails from the school.

8. Apply Early. Applying early tells a school that they are your absolute number one top pick. (You can only apply to one school early decision, and if you are accepted, the decision is binding.) However, if you are having trouble choosing between several top schools, then early action shows that you are interested enough to get your application submitted early in the admissions cycle, but, if you are admitted, the decision does not bind you to one school.


Family Tips: How to Help Your Student Prepare for a College Fair (and Then Get Out of Their Way)

As the family of a college-bound student, you want to do everything in your power to get your student to the school of their dreams. And while there is a fine line between “helping” them and “taking over,” there actually are some things you yourself can do to help, such as research schools, look for available scholarships, become financially literate. However, there is also a long list of things you can’t do, including keeping up their high school GPA, taking the SAT or ACT . . . or attending a college fair for them.

College fairs offer excellent opportunities to browse “what’s out there” and get answers from college representatives. However, this experience is for the student. Let’s repeat: the college fair is for the student, not the family. Your student is the one ultimately choosing where to spend the next four years of his or her life, so they need to be the one taking charge of the college search and, in this case, the task of attending a college fair.

That said, there are several things you can do to help your student get the most out of their college fair experience.

Review the list of participating schools. There is a lot to be said for going into a college fair with a plan of attack. Sit down with your student and help them to look through which schools will be in attendance and prioritize accordingly. Circle the “don’t-miss” schools and highlight others that might also be of interest. This will ensure that, on the day of the fair, your student doesn’t become overwhelmed and waste their opportunity to research schools and make a good impression.

Brainstorm questions to ask each school. College fairs can be intimidating. Lots of students are vying for the attention of a limited number of college representatives, and when they finally get the floor, students can suddenly freeze, forget everything they were going to say, and squander the opportunity to learn what they really want to know about a school. One way to help your student avoid this “blank-out” is to brainstorm with them ahead of time and write down the questions they want to ask. These questions can be applicable to all of the schools they’ll speak with, or specific to a particular school. A few example questions include: What kind of student does your college try to attract? Is your school known for a particular program? What sorts of activities are popular in the community off-campus? What public transportation is available?

Listen and (if asked) offer advice. If this is your student’s first college fair—or even their hundredth!—they may be nervous. Listen to their concerns and, when appropriate, offer advice. The college search can feel grueling, so reassure your student that you’re in this together . . . and that it will all be worth it in the end.

Then, back off! This is an information-gathering session for the student. College reps want to talk to your student, not to you. So if you’re in attendance, stand back, observe, offer moral support, and let your student gain as much information as they can for the long, formative journey they have ahead.


The 6 Things Incoming Students Need to Know About FERPA

As a brand new college student, the term “education record” probably sounds neither scary, nor sexy. After all, that’s just grades right? And your senior year English teacher used to staple A+ papers to the classroom bulletin board, so there’s no real confidentiality when it comes to who earned what . . . right?

Well, in fact your education record is more than just your grades, and there’s a whole law written to protect who can see it. So now that you’re a college student, and before you get too wrapped up in library study sessions or Frisbee on the lawn, it is a good idea take a few minutes and learn what this FERPA stuff is all about. You never know when it might come in handy!

  1. What is FERPA? (And why should I care?)

FERPA stands for the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act. It was signed into law in 1974 to protect the privacy of students’ education records. Basically, thanks to this law, you get to control who sees your information (with some exceptions, of course), and if you find any mistakes, you can take formal steps to have them corrected.

  1. Why do we need this law in the first place?

Education records started back in the 1820s, when schools in New England started to record data on their students. By the mid 1900s, those records had grown to monstrous proportions, with little regulation. School officials could add nearly any comment or anecdote to a student’s record at will, no matter how slanderous or damaging, and often without the student’s knowledge. There was no process to have these judgments challenged or removed. Parents could be denied access to their student’s records without explanation, while other third parties were given access with almost no questions asked. Finally, in 1974, FERPA was drafted and signed into law by President Gerald Ford in order to address these issues of privacy of and access to education records.

  1. What exactly is my “education record”?

The term “education record” is defined as those records that are: (1) directly related to a student, and (2) maintained by an educational agency or institution (or by a party acting for the agency or institution). Because this definition is so broad, it’s actually easier to list what an education record is not.

An education record is not:

  • Legal records maintained by a law enforcement unit
  • Medical records
  • Employment information unless your employment is contingent upon you being a student (e.g., work-study)
  • Information obtained after you’re no longer a student (e.g., alumni records)
  • Directory information (see the last paragraph)
  1. Can anyone access my education record without my consent?

Yes. School officials (defined as “those who engage in instruction, supervisory, advisory, administrative, governance, public safety, and support functions of the institution”) may access your education record whenever doing so is necessary for them to perform their duties to the school. Also, certain U.S. officials (e.g., Attorney General, Secretary of the Department of Education) may access your education record without your consent. Then, there are two circumstances under which your records may be disclosed: in the case of a health or safety emergency, or if the school receives a judicial order or subpoena specifying that you not be notified, it may disclose your record without your consent.

  1. I want to see my education record. What do I do?

Write up your request, being as specific as possible about what you want to see, and submit it to the College Registrar or Ombud’s Office. The school then has 45 days to respond. You will be given access, but don’t expect them to mail you a copy; only if circumstances prevent you from being able to review the record in person will the school send you a copy. So if you do go in person, be sure to take a valid photo ID!

  1. I want to grant someone else access my education record. How do I make that happen?

To grant a third party access to your education record (or a part of that record), you need to provide written consent to the Office of the Registrar or the Ombud’s Office. This consent must include the name of the person(s) you want to allow to see the education record, a description of the record or information that may be disclosed, the reason for allowing that party to see the record, your signature, and the date that the consent was signed.

One last thing to note: while institutions may not release your education record without your consent, they are permitted to release what is called “directory information.” This is information that, if released, would not be considered harmful or an invasion of privacy (e.g., name, address, class year, enrollment status, etc.). If, for whatever reason, you want to keep this information private, you may write to the Office of the Registrar with your request. Just keep in mind: graduate schools or future employers may contact the university, and without that directory information, the university cannot immediately confirm that you graduated . . . or that you were ever even enrolled.


Top 5 Reasons to Make a Campus Visit

Campus visits are often time-consuming, expensive, and, let’s face it, intimidating. However, they’re also a very important part of the college search process. After all, this is where you’re going to live for the next four years. And sure, you’ve seen lots of photos on the brochures, but you wouldn’t buy a house without visiting it in person, would you?

If you’re still not convinced, consider the following five reasons you should consider making a campus visit. And remember: if possible, visit the school while classes are still in session. That way you’ll get the most accurate picture of what your life will be like, should you decide to enroll.

Facts vs. feelings. Bottom line: You need to feel comfortable on campus, and no brochure, slideshow, or virtual tour can give you the corporeal sense of “I belong here” like a college visit. Walk around. Talk to your gut. Your subconscious will have a lot to say on the matter, so make sure you listen.

See if you fit in. What are the students like? Can you imagine yourself talking to them, eating with them, attending a class, throwing a party? These are people who will surround you in the coming years, so make sure you feel at home among them.

Get answers. Not just canned FAQs from a website. Not cold, clinical facts and figures from an admissions officer. Real answers, from the food service workers, the professors, and the students—you know, the people you’ll be spending the next four years of your life with. They’re living your future reality. Ask them what it’s like.

See what’s popular. Sure, the college website boasts “12,000,000 clubs and activities,” and your favorites are on there—but is it actually a club-club, or is it four people meeting in a basement? Does Division I football mean huge tailgating parties every weekend, or is this the sort of school where soccer takes precedence? Visiting campus means seeing posters, bulletin boards, and practice fields with your very own eyes. So if that underwater knitting club is a deal breaker for you, make sure it’s not just two students sitting in a bathtub.

Demonstrate “interest.” Maybe you’re the type of student who seeks the gold star . . . or maybe you aren’t. Either way, if you’re interested in attending a college, it is definitely to your advantage to get your name on their visitation records. Colleges want to improve their yield, meaning that the more students who accept admissions offers, the better. Therefore, the more interested you appear, the more likely (it would seem) you would be to accept an offer of admission . . . which means that the school might be more likely to offer you admission than, say, an equivalent student who did not tour the campus.


5 Reasons to Attend a College Fair

It’s that time of year again. Homeroom bell has rung, pencils are sharpened, and if you’re a junior, you’re starting to think about your college prospects, while if you’re a senior, you’re busy narrowing down schools of choice.

You already receive endless pamphlets in the mail and emails in your inbox. You have ACTs/SATs to prepare for, and grades to keep up. Should you really make time for a college fair?

These five reasons say “yes.”

  1. Find a starting point. If you have no idea what sort of college you might like to attend, a college fair is a good place to start. These events bring together multiple colleges and universities under one roof, so you can attend one event and get an idea of what’s out there without conducting aimless Internet searches or passively reading whatever brochures arrive in your mail.
  1. Get more bang for your buck. Visiting college campuses—whether to collect information and/or get face time with admissions officers—can be both time-consuming and expensive. College fairs bring the schools “to you;” therefore, they can be more convenient and cost-effective than going on multiple campus visits.
  1. Get answers to your questions—fast. If you’ve already investigated a number of schools, you’ve presumably learned enough about each to know what you don’t know. Google is great, but asking a college representative in real time is better, and oftentimes faster.
  1. Discover schools you may not have considered.  According to the US Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, almost than 6,000 accredited colleges and universities exist in the United States. Therefore, attending a college fair can expose you to institutions you’ve never even heard of . . . and one of them might just be the college of your dreams!
  1. Earn “extra credit.” So you’ve done your research, you’ve whittled down your list, and you know where you intend to apply. Now it’s time to make yourself stand out. And believe it or not, colleges keep track of how much interest prospective students express in attending their institution. Therefore, attending a college fair and getting face time with a college representative from your school of choice can actually make a difference in your likelihood of being accepted to that school. Call it “extra credit” if you will, but in the competitive landscape of college admissions, every little bit counts!

College applications: how many is too many?

Let’s face it: getting admitted to college is hard. Admissions are competitive, and even if you’re a top student with tons of extracurriculars, getting into your first or even second-choice school is not even close to guaranteed. Therefore, most college advisors will recommend mitigating the risk by applying to several different schools. But while “several” might have once meant 3 or 4, you now hear stories of students submitting 10, 15, even 20 applications. Is that crazy, or is that the new normal?

There is no question that the number of applications a student submits has risen substantially over the years. Based on data collected by The Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, approximately 71% of students were submitting applications to 3 or more schools already back in 2005. By 2014—almost a decade later—that number increased to 83%. Now, even if that increase seems reasonable—after all, more students are applying to college, so competition is arguably fiercer—consider this: in 2005, just 17% of students were submitting 7 or more applications. By 2014, that figure more than doubled.

So 35% of students are submitting 7+ applications, and 83% of students are submitting 3+, but those are just numbers. Ultimately, what you want to know is: Is there a magic number of applications you should be submitting?

There does seem to be a magic range: 6–8. Submitting six to eight applications will ensure that you can apply to a range of schools based on how likely you are to get in. A good mix is to split it into approximate thirds: 2–3 safety schools, 2–3 match schools, and 2–3 reach schools.

But maybe you need to be convinced. After all, while that 6–8 applications strategy might sound logical, why shouldn’t you apply to more schools? Isn’t more better? Or what if you do apply to fewer schools? What, really, are the consequences?

If you apply to too few schools

This one’s easy. Take the most extreme example, where you only apply to one college. Maybe it’s your first and only choice, or maybe you are 99.9% confident you’ll be accepted. But then that letter arrives, and that 0.1% chance becomes reality. You didn’t get in. Now what? You have no other choice of schools, because you didn’t apply anywhere else. At this point, you can take a gap year to travel, or enter the workforce, but if your sole post-graduation plan was to go directly to college, you’re going to be out of luck.

If you apply to too many schools

On the other side of the equation, it may seem counterintuitive to limit the number of schools you apply to. After all, applying to multiple schools is easier than ever with the Common Application. Why would you limit yourself?

Well for starters, applications can get expensive. College application fees can run as high as $100, and if you start multiplying that fee by ten, twelve, fifteen applications . . . that’s money you could be saving to buy books your first semester!

But even if application fees are not a barrier, consider the tension that so often exists between quantity and quality. If you’re applying to just a handful of schools, you can spend more time and attention on each of those applications. When you aren’t trying to push so many applications out the door, you can afford to customize and personalize each application, and that extra time and care may very well be the difference between being accepted to and being rejected from your school of choice.

There is one final and very good reason not to apply to schools en masse. Often, students find themselves applying to a ton of schools because they don’t know where they actually want to go. This seems innocuous until, come April, you’ve been accepted to most or all of them but still have no idea which one you want to attend—only now you’re down to the wire. You have to make a decision.

Ultimately, you’re better off doing your research early in the application process, narrowing down your college selection, and then spending the time and attention it takes to create a really outstanding application for each individual school.

Having trouble narrowing your choices?

Consider these eight factors when reviewing your schools of interest:

  1. Size (student body, average class size, campus size)
  2. Location (including weather, proximity to home)
  3. Rankings & reputation
  4. Cost/financial aid
  5. Campus culture
  6. Majors offered & curriculum
  7. Local internship and job offerings
  8. Study abroad opportunities

If you really put in the time and effort to weigh these factors, your list will almost certainly shrink to a manageable size. And do you really want to waste time applying to schools you never intend to attend?


Top 5 questions to ask a college recruiter

You’re at a college fair, waiting to talk to a certain college rep. You’ve been in line for what feels like ages, and you’re finally at the front of the pack. The college rep looks at you, smiles, and waits for you to say your piece. But wait—what is it you wanted to ask???

Here are five key questions that, should you draw a blank, will always help you learn what you want to know about a school (which is, of course, 1. Will I be happy there? and 2. Will they accept me?)

1. What do students like most about your school? The answer to this question can be very insightful. For instance, if the college rep cites academic well-roundedness, but you’re looking for an in-depth biomedical engineering program, this school might not be quite the right fit. Also, a fantastic follow-up question to “what do student like most” is: What is the biggest complaint from current students?

2. What kinds of students are happiest at your school? Here, you’re looking to find out whether you’ll fit in. Obviously you can’t ask the college rep whether you will be happy at their school, but if the description they provide sounds a lot like you, that’s a good sign that you, too, will be happy attending this college.

3. Do admissions officers make decisions based on numbers, or do other activities really matter? This might sound like a fairly blunt question, but for any school that might be a reach, it’s worth asking to avoid wasting your time (and money) applying if they’ll never look past an SAT score or GPA that doesn’t meet their standard.

4. How does your career planning department compare to other colleges/universities? This question accomplishes two goals. First, it shows the college rep that you are already thinking about life after college—which is good for them, because it means you’re there to be successful and prepare for a career! But second, their answer will tell you what level of priority that school places on placing students in jobs after they graduate. The more resources they cite, the better your chances of getting assistance and guidance when you begin the process of making your post-college plans.

5. Can you give me the names of a few students whom I could talk to about their experience at your school? This question is a little tricky, because college reps can’t give you the names and contact details of just anyone at the school. However, there are often student ambassadors who volunteer to talk to prospective students (and sometimes host them for an overnight visit!), or alumni who are happy to tell you about their experience. If the rep is unwilling to connect you with anyone, that’s probably a bad sign . . . so don’t take no for an answer!


9 Uncomfortable-But-Necessary Financial Aid Questions You Need to Ask

No matter who you are or how much you have, talking about money is awkward. But it’s especially awkward when you’re asking for it.

Unfortunately, most students need to ask for money to attend college. And the number one beneficiary they’re asking? The college itself.

Navigating financial aid can be tricky; you need to know what questions to ask. Therefore, we’ve compiled a list of ten key questions to ask your colleges of choice about their financial aid policies. Some of these may not apply to you, and there may be others you need to ask based on your unique situation. These ten, however, should get you off to a great start.

  1. What is the average total cost—including tuition and fees, books and supplies, room and board, and other estimated expenses—for the first year?
  2. How much has this average increased over the last three years?
  3. What percentage of students graduate with debt?
  4. What is the average amount of student loan debt for graduates?
  5. Are there on-campus work opportunities for work-study students? What if I don’t quality for a work-study job?
  6. How is financial aid affected if I apply early decision or early action?
  7. If I am awarded a grant, can I expect it to remain constant all four years (assuming my financial circumstances don’t change)?
  8. If I win a scholarship, will you reduce my financial aid package? If so, will you reduce the amount of loans or the amount of grants?
  9. Do you provide financial aid for summer classes or study abroad programs?

Whether at a college fair, on a campus tour, or in an admissions interview, you need to find an opportunity to ask these important questions. Ultimately, the amount of aid you receive may dictate what school you are able to attend, so make sure you get answers! And the best way to make sure you do? Schedule a meeting with the financial aid office!


10 Things NOT To Do at Your Next College Fair

If you’re preparing for a college fair, you’ve probably read countless articles and received endless advice on what to do before, during, and after the fair. Do your research! Go armed with questions! Follow up with colleges you liked! But there’s a flip side to this coin, and that is what not to do. After all, there are a number of things that could unintentionally sabotage your experience or a potential college’s impression of you. Therefore, read on to learn ten things that you should NOT do at your next college fair.

  1. Don’t spend all your time talking to the schools you already like. A college fair is an opportunity to learn about many different colleges all at once. Therefore, don’t miss the opportunity to discover a new school of interest by spending the whole fair talking to schools where you already intend to apply. Definitely stop by those tables, too, but portion out your time wisely. Explore! Discover! But. . . .
  1. Don’t try to talk to every school. When you arrive—or, ideally, before you arrive—look through the list of schools in attendance and try to scope out the ones you think will interest you the most. Plan time for “browsing” schools that are entirely new to you, too, but don’t try to hit up every single table. If you do, you’ll wind up having a lot of brief, superficial conversations that probably won’t help you much in defining your college search.
  1. Don’t ask a college representative to predict your chances of admission. Yes, you should come to a college fair armed with questions for college reps, but skip the ones like, “Is my GPA high enough?” or, “Should I retake the SAT?” The college rep isn’t there to judge your admissibility, they’re there to offer information about the school and help you to determine whether it would be a good fit. Therefore, if you’re dead-set on talking about admissions, stick to questions about the process (e.g., “Are admissions interviews offered?” “How much weight is given to essays or letters of recommendation?”).
  1. Don’t let your family do all the talking. You’re the one going to college, right? If so, you’re the one who should be asking the questions. And if you’re feeling shy, remember: when you get to campus, you won’t be able to hide behind your family anymore; therefore, be assertive, and use this opportunity to show college representatives that you’re a mature, well-informed, college-ready adult that they would be proud to admit to their incoming class.
  1. Don’t skip colleges that seem “too hard.” Ideally, you’ll apply to a variety of colleges that range from “safety” to “reach,” with plenty of likely matches in between. Therefore, use the college fair as an opportunity to explore the whole range, not just schools where you feel confident you’ll get in.
  1. Don’t ask questions you can Google in two seconds. This wastes your time and the college rep’s time. Numbers-related questions (their preferred SAT or GPA, student-to-faculty ratios, etc.) can typically be found on the college’s website, so try to ask more experience-related questions, such as: What is student life like? How is the food? What do students especially like or dislike about the campus?
  1. Don’t fill out a card (or scan your barcode) unless you are actually interested. At each table, college representatives will encourage you to fill out a card with your personal information (or to scan your personal barcode). For each card you fill, you can expect a series of pamphlets to arrive at your door soon after, plus emails in your inbox and even, possibly, voicemails on your phone. Therefore, save yourself the headache (and a few trees) and don’t sign up for this onslaught of information unless you are actually interested in the school.

But. . . .

  1. Don’t walk away from a school you like without filling out a card. If you’re already receiving emails and pamphlets from this school, you might assume that they don’t need your information again. However, filling out one of these college fair cards is an expression of interest—something colleges do track. So if you are interested, definitely fill out a card! It can only help your chance of admission.
  1. Don’t disrespect the fair hours. Larger fairs might have security guards who enforce the fair hours, but whether someone is guarding the doorway or not, don’t march inside before the official start time. You might think that entering early makes you look like a go-getter, but the fair starts at a certain time for a reason: the college reps need time to set up! And staying after the fair has ended is just rude. After all, would you want to be held hostage at your job after your shift ends?

And, last but not least . . . .

  1. Don’t forget your manners. Sounds basic, but manners can be easy to forget. Don’t cut in line. Don’t interrupt another student. Don’t talk or text on your phone in the middle of interacting with a college rep. And don’t grab-and-go. Snatching a giveaway and shuffling away like you didn’t see the college rep standing right there is just rude. Don’t do it!

3 Ways High School Counselors Can Encourage Students To Attend A College Fair

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