College Admissions Fairs: Top 10 Questions to Ask and Also Avoid

It’s pumpkin spice season, and that also means it’s time for college admissions fairs! In the world of college admissions, it’s also referred to as “travel season.” This title is perfect because most admissions representatives spend a good chunk of their fall each year schlepping college marketing materials around the country in an effort to attract prospective high school students (like you) to consider their institution (but we love it).

If you’re a high school junior or senior, there’s a good chance that if you read the information your school counseling office is sending you, there’s an invitation to attend the local college admissions fairs near you. Sometimes these college fairs might even be in your own high school gymnasium.

You Should Go

Not only should you go, but you should pick up brochures from colleges you haven’t heard about before. I’m assuming you’ll actually take the time to browse those brochures when you get back home, too! Your radar just may not have picked up your “perfect fit” college yet. This moment could be it!

But for colleges that were already on your radar, make sure you use your time at the college fair wisely. The people standing behind the table have been trained to answer your questions. And guess what? In many cases they are the very same people who will be reviewing your application for admission.

First Impressions At A Fair

Having been a college recruiter and staffed a table at a college fair more times than I’d like to remember, I’m going to share a few tips that will help you make the most of your time. Before I get to the Top 10 Questions to Ask, let’s start with the Top 10 Questions to Avoid:

Don’t Ask!

1.“Do you have nursing (or engineering or business or …..)?” You’ll find these answers in a brochure or on the website. Don’t waste your time (or theirs).

2. “I have a 3.6 and a 1180, do you think I’ll get in?” Nine times out of ten, the person staffing the table is not going to be able to “chance you” on the spot. Also, you can easily access the average GPA and SAT of almost any school using various college search websites. Remember, though, that what you see online are averages. That means a good chunk of the students offered admission to that school had lower numbers than what you see.

3. “What scholarships do you have?” Or “How much will it cost me to attend?” While it shouldn’t be, most college pricing is complicated. In many cases, the amount you see listed as tuition/room/board/fees isn’t what most students end up paying. Importantly, the person behind the table has ABSOLUTELY NO WAY of guessing what YOU might end up paying. They know nothing about your family’s financial situation nor do they know what qualities you have that might match some random scholarship from one of their departments or programs. College fairs should be for exploring colleges to decide which ones interest you enough to apply. Worry about comparing financial aid packages after the offers arrive.

4. “Is Dreamschool University a good school?” The person behind the table is being paid to get you interested in their school. What do you THINK they’re going to say?

5. Similarly… “How’s the food (or sports, or pre-med, or…) on your campus?”

Even if it’s terrible, said person behind table is going to tell you it’s great.

6. “Why should I come to Dreamschool University?” This one is especially annoying for the person behind the table. First, it’s extremely open ended. And honestly, the answer should be “maybe you shouldn’t.” Without knowing ANYTHING about you, it’s hard for someone to just guess if that college is going to be a good fit for you. Don’t put the college recruiter on the spot.

7. “Is your engineering program better than Dreamschool University’s?” Don’t ask an admissions representative to compare schools. They’ve been trained that it’s in poor taste to “put down” another college in any way. You can research the programs at each of the schools, get the information, and make your own judgment call.

8. “Hi my name is Such Andsuch and I love your school and here’s my resume and let me shake your hand and my aunt went here and I went to a football game once and did you remember that my name was Such Andsuch so you’ll remember me when you review my application?” That resume will never, ever find its way back to the office. Trust me. I’ve seen what a recruiter’s trunk looks like at the end of an 8-week travel season.

What’s Your Rank?

9. “What’s your rank?” That depends. Rank in what? Which rankings are we using? And from what year? And are those relevant rankings? Did they use variables that are important to you? Rankings can be very misleading if you don’t know the context.

10. “My Great Uncle Bob went here and has had season tickets for the past four decades and my Cousin Louise just made a big donation. Is there a place to put that on the application?” Subtle. Real subtle. But right or wrong, sometimes these things are considered. If the college uses legacy in the review process, there will be a place on the application to list any family members who have attended (generally limited to immediate family). If there has been any donation that is in an amount that would be of interest to an admissions office (some colleges consider this, some don’t), they’re going to have been alerted to this by another department on campus. Finally, it doesn’t reflect well on you to flaunt connections or money in a public venue.


And now let’s look at 10 questions you should ask at the college admissions fairs you attend.

1. “I’m getting ready to apply to Dreamschool. Are my chances better if I apply Early Action or Early Decision as opposed to Regular?” At some schools, WHEN you apply can impact your chances. This information is vital, and not always shared on the website. Ask.

2. “Does what major I choose on the application impact my chances of being offered admission?” Again, at some schools it does and it’s not always clear on the website. This is good information to know that might influence how you apply.

3. “Do you have any Open Houses or Visit Days coming up that I should plan to attend?” Usually these are found on the website, but the recruiter might have “insider tips” on the best programs to attend.

In some cases, they may have special invitations to unadvertised programs.

4. “What’s the freshman retention rate for Dreamschool?” And/or “What’s the graduation rate for Dreamschool?” Getting into college is one thing. Staying there is another. You might want to rethink colleges that have a low freshman to sophomore retention rate or low graduation rate. College degrees are what’s in demand, not college attendance.

5. Ask questions specific to the program that interests you. Examples might include “What’s the placement rate for students in your pre-med program into medical school?” Or “Can you tell me about some of the research going on in the engineering program right now?” Or “I want to major in theater and love acting. Do freshmen ever get cast in any of the plays?”

6. “Do all students live on campus?” At many colleges, housing is not a problem. At others, housing is a big problem and it’s going to be up to you to find apartments off-campus. That may be more difficult and more expensive than you anticipate so it’s good to know up front if securing housing each year is going to be on your to-do list.

Average Class Size NOT Student to Teacher Ratio!

7. “What’s the average class size?” Notice I didn’t say “What’s your student to teacher ratio?” Student to teacher ratios are often very misleading. Insider tip: Colleges can count research professors and some administrators who never teach a class in that number! Average class size is a bit more informative, but do understand that number can vary dramatically from freshman to senior year classes or your academic program. So, if you’re a person who thrives on group discussions and Dreamschool has an average class size of 112, it might not actually be your dream school.

8. “Does Dreamschool use demonstrated interest when they review applications?” Some schools do, some don’t. If Dreamschool does, make sure you fill out that information card that’s sitting on the table in front of you or ask for that representative to scan your college fair admission ticket.

9. “If I apply to Dreamschool and don’t get in, what’s the best transfer route?” Not all dreams come true on the first try. But generally when dealing with college admission, if one door closes, another opens. Recruiters are usually very happy to talk with you about transfer options. And sometimes, schools even have guaranteed transfer agreements.

Application Fee Waivers

10. “Is there any way to have the application fee waived?” Only ask this question if the application fee is truly a financial burden on your family. But, by the same token, don’t be afraid to ask for a fee waiver if you really need one. The College Board is doing a great job of providing application fee waivers for students who qualify for SAT fee waivers, but some kids fall through the cracks. In general, colleges never want you to forego applying just because of the fee. They may ask your school counselor to call the admissions office and request the waiver or the college representative might just hand you a waiver on the spot. Never miss out on applying to a college simply because you can’t afford the application fee!

Go With An Open Mind

I’ve seen college admissions fairs be a complete waste of time for students and I’ve seen college admissions fairs serve as the spark that lights an interest… and ultimately a perfect fit. Go to the fair with an open mind and with worthwhile questions. Think in advance about what information would actually help you make a decision. The internet is great, but sometimes a conversation with a real person just can’t be beat!

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