Planning for a College Fair: 10 Tips for Principals

Posted on Wed, Oct 09, 2013 @ 14:10 PM

planning a college fairMany of our students are proactive, informed and self-driven enough to start planning for their college careers early, but navigating such big life choices can be overwhelming, even for the most organized and self-assured students. There are a variety of ways we can start preparing our students for this next stage in their lives, but one of the best ways is by bringing colleges and universities to them. To help you do this, we’d like to share 10 tips for planning your school’s next college fair.

We've adapted these tips from an original article by the Kentucky Association for College Admission Counseling

Planning for a College Fair: 10 Tips for Principals

  • If your student body is small, we suggest forming a regional or county-wide partnership with other schools. A partnership will not only ensure a big turnout of students, it may also cut down on your workload and increase the odds of more prestigious colleges and universities attending.

  • If your school is hosting the event, you’ll be in charge of inviting the institutions you want to attend. Invitations to colleges should go out at least six weeks before the event and should include:

  • Day, date, and time (start and finish)

  • Location

  • Program format

  • Anticipated number of students attending

  • The grade levels participating

  • Contact person at the sponsoring school(s) and the appropriate contact information

  • High schools participating in the program

  • Directions and a map to the program venue as well as parking information

  • Return card or form for representatives to RSVP

  • As you begin planning, gauge the level of student engagement and factor in how many will attend before you determine the length of the event. You want to ensure that each student has enough time to interact with college representatives without feeling rushed or creating backups. That said, an hour and a half should be enough time for a college fair.

  • We mentioned student engagement in the previous bullet point. While you may be tempted to make attendance necessary, we don’t recommend it. Forcing students to participate may distract those who genuinely want to be there. And while it can’t hurt to give students a list of questions to ask representatives, making it mandatory for them to fill out worksheets or get signatures from representatives can interfere with the process.

  • Determine the format of the program. Most sponsoring schools choose one of the following:

  • Arena Format:  Each college is assigned a table. The set-up should provide comfortable space for students to visit with college representatives while allowing for adequate traffic flow.  If representatives are located in several rooms, the sponsoring school should provide a list of the institutions’ locations. 

  • Session Format:  Each college is assigned an individual room for 20-30 minute information sessions. 

  • Combination Format:  Each institution is given the option of choosing their format.  Colleges that regularly receive a great deal of arena traffic may choose to hold sessions while colleges with lighter levels of traffic may choose the arena option.

  • It’s common for colleges to market their institution by giving away gifts—t-shirts, key chains, Frisbees—and hold giveaway drawings. Whether not you allow this is up to you, of course, but giveaways can become distracting and take away from the importance of the event.

  • Find creative ways to market the event. Use social media, contact parents and reach out to local radio and TV stations; they will often advertise your event at no cost.

  •  Skip registration fees. Free = more students.

  •  A meal for college representatives is a kind gesture, but not a mandatory one. A hospitality room with snacks and drinks should be plenty.

  •  Gather a few student volunteers to help assist representatives and other visiting students and families.

We’ve really only scratched the surface here. College fairs are only one way we can start preparing our students for the future. If you’re looking to put together a comprehensive college awareness program, we recommend checking out NACAC’s downloadable guide here.


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Topics: Educational Leadership, Educational Leadership Degree, Educational Leadership Master's Programs, effective principal, educational leaders, Role of Principal in School, aspiring principals, planning a college fair

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