In the coming week, admissions counselors from around the country will invade South Florida, attending various high school college fairs and then culminating on Sunday, February 19 with the NACAC College Fair at the Miami Airport Convention Center. This free event will feature 170 colleges and universities from all over the nation, and most representatives will be the actual admissions officers who will be reading your student’s application.
You should go… even if your child is only in 10th grade and especially if s/he’s in 11th. Here’s why.
In this incredible age of information where your child is but one click away from filing multiple college applications, the fact remains that the admissions ‘experts’ actually doing the selecting for these said colleges are humans and therefore are capable of making human-like, emotional decisions. Your student enjoys a great advantage if she has an opportunity to actually meet face-to-face with one of these human experts. You see, when an admissions officer can connect the applicant’s name to a face and a voice, it brings depth and dimension to the candidate. I have personally witnessed times where personal contact has converted a borderline candidate to a front-runner and/or a front-runner with a poor financial aid offer to a recipient of an ‘institutional grant’ at the 11th hour.
Now on the flip side: Much is written about how competitive it is to get into college today; but the fact is that competition among schools for good students is just as fierce. The college fair is your student’s opportunity to be recruited and wooed. The fact is that students cannot visit every college — especially our students who are geographically-challenged in that regard. Local college fairs allow them to meet, shake hands, and converse with admissions officers and trusted alumni, as well as the opportunity to gather information and learn about different educational opportunities.
So, what should you do at the Fair? Admissions officers LOVE to meet students who are engaging, asking questions, and inquring about their school. Here’s what I tell my clients about attending a college fair:
1. Students should take initiative, allowing (helicopter) parents to play wing man at best.
2. Have a good attitude – greet people with a smile, a firm hand shake, and with tempered enthusiasm.
3. If you see a school you haven’t heard of, don’t be afraid to approach and inquire further. This may be your diamond in the rough.
4. Be conversational and welcoming. Often these folks are in from out of town. Make them feel welcome by engaging them in conversation about anything that might make them feel comfortable.
5. You should have at least a general idea of your favorite academic subjects so that you can inquire about specific majors of study. Make sure the school offers what you desire academically (regardless of their success on the gridiron or hardwood).
6. Get business cards and send brief, follow up notes (email or letter) to those admissions officers who represent schools where you have interest.
Above all, remember that the admissions process involves people making decisions about other people. In an admissions process that has become increasingly competitive, technology-driven and financially motivated, you DON’T want the admissions committee to first find out about your student when his application arrives at their office. Admissions officers face pressure, they have goals to meet, they compete with other schools, they can be moody, they face disappointment, many are away from home a lot of the time and they just want to be loved. So if you want to improve your chances of receiving that Thick Envelope some day, go out there this week and show them some love!
P.S. While personal contact is important, your students’ grades and course selection in school remain the most important determinant of their admissions chances (by a large margin). But when everyone your child is competing with share similar grades and scores, personal relationships certainly tip the balance in their favor.
P.P.S. NACAC holds another local college fair in the Fall, in Ft. Lauderdale. This February event, though, is great for 10th and 11th graders who are (and should be) canvassing the college landscape.