College Fair Planning 101

When planning for a college fair for recruiting students, your guiding question should always be… “What do the students in my area need to achieve a successful college-to-career journey?” To answer this question, start by getting the information from the source – HIGH SCHOOLS! Talk with counselors, principals, and students. From casual conversations to more formal surveys, this is where you dig for gold.

Once you know what the students in your area need, find out if there is a “circuit” in your state. Connect with neighboring counties to see if they are part of a schedule where college reps travel across the state to meet with students. (This is important before you set a date for your student recruitment event to make sure you are not in conflict with any other fairs and thus competing for reps.)

Now that you have a date and an idea of what to provide, begin networking with community partners who may want to co-sponsor the event. Once you know who is on board and how much funding you have to produce the program, set a budget and secure a location! (Depending on the size of your county, you may need a venue that can accommodate anywhere from 200 to 8,000 attendees). If you decide that a physical (face-to-face) fair is not feasible or ideal, consider a virtual college fair! So many improvements in the world of technology have been made in just the last few years and a virtual fair may be the perfect fit for you.

So, at this point, you know what your kids need, you’ve set a date, you’ve secured the funding and you’ve reserved a location or decided on a virtual college fair… now it’s time to nail down the details. Here are some things to consider as you move through those next steps:

  • Do I need to assemble a planning committee?
    • It’s highly encouraged! More heads are better than one when planning large-scale events. Reach out to local colleges and high schools to recruit admissions reps and counselors to be on your planning team.
  • What colleges should be invited to this fair?
    • As many as you can fit/afford! The more variety the better for your students. Start with all the local institutions and branch out from there. (Private, state, community, specialty, military – ask them all!)
  • Should we offer breakout sessions?
    • These are a GREAT way to give targeted information to your attendees on subjects like Financial Aid, Scholarships, Admissions (for different college and university types), First Generation College-Bound Student Support, etc… / you will likely get a lot of ideas for sessions during your initial research! (HINT: Have your planning committee each take a subject area and be the lead planner for that session! EXTRA HINT: Consider recording one or more of these sessions and make them available on your website for students unable to attend the college fair.)
  • What time frame is best for a college fair?
    • It depends on the target audience! If it’s a small fair at a school site targeted to just those students, it will likely be during school hours. If it’s targeted to multiple schools, students and guardians, you’ll want to consider an evening fair after work hours. If you have a VERY large audience, consider multiple days.
  • How will I get everyone registered?
    • If you’re not requiring students to register and you just need to keep track of your colleges, you can probably handle this with a simple Google doc requesting all the information you need. For increasing student recruitment AND college registration, it’s best to partner with a resource like GoToCollegeFairs to help you. They provide online registration services with college matchmaking benefits if you utilize their registration portal.
  • Should I charge a fee for participating colleges?
    • If you can afford not to, don’t. You never want a reason for a college NOT to attend your student recruitment fair. But you can certainly charge for “premiere” space (better location or more tables) and advertisements in your event program.
  • Should I create a printed event program?
    • This is great for an in-person student recruitment fair as it can have a floor map of the participating colleges and a guide to your breakout sessions. This is also an opportunity for participating colleges to put in an ad to help fund the fair!
  • Are there any guidelines or rules I need to be aware of?
    • Yes!! Depending on your location and type of fair, there are guidelines that participants must adhere to i.e. staying behind their vendor table, not recruiting in walkways, etc. So, it’s important to research these guidelines and provide this information to your participants. (HINT: Most college reps are already aware of and follow these rules.)

Last bit of advice… college fairs are FUN events. So, make sure the planning and execution reflect that at all levels. Consider closing the street outside the venue and hosting music and food trucks an hour or so before doors open. This is also a great opportunity to get students registered and hyped for the event. It’s also a good way to engage your sponsors and the community with volunteer opportunities. Bottom line… this event is what you make it. You are providing a wonderful resource to students in your area where they can CONNECT, ENGAGE and DREAM… and I hope you (and they) enjoy every second of it!