The College Fair Dump From College Admissions

College fairs are a college’s weapon of mass instruction, a tactical way for colleges to dump their sales literature in one place like a bombing raid over friendly territory.

Reluctantly and recently, I attended one of many college fairs in Massachusetts. I noted that several of these colleges didn’t send their own admissions people, but instead sent folks with dated perspectives: alumni with sweet but irrelevant memories to share with an unsuspecting 16-year-old who didn’t know an adult was actually auditioning to be a used-car salesman.

Perhaps guilty of such bad marketing were colleges like Villanova, Hamilton, Hobart & Williams, Wake Forest, and UMaine. Or, maybe they knew something about college fairs that made it worthwhile NOT to send their admissions people.

I couldn’t help myself. As a marketer-on-the-spot, I devised my own subjective categories by which to judge those colleges represented. So here are the college fair colleges that impressed me the most:

Bridgewater State: Most creative and practical presentation catalog

Holy Cross: Most influenced by a student’s interest in their college (HINT: keep in frequent contact with admissions people)

UMaine, Orono: Most informative catalog so you don’t have to visit campus (or send a rep to a college fair)

Endicott: Most bang-for-your-buck (3 required internships)

Illinois Institute of Technology: Most worth-looking-into engineering college

Eckerd: Most noticeable college for creative writing (a better choice would be Lafayette, but they weren’t represented).

Eastern Connecticut Univ: Most attractive for accounting and math majors

St Michael’s: Best packaging for college fairs – superb!

Northeastern: Most frequented booth

College fairs should be attended only by students (read: parents should stay home) so they can meet the admissions people. It’s a way of getting a first sense of the school, but hardly enough of a sense to establish an informed opinion (read: students should stay home).

The college fair is a classic Show & Tell: “Here’s our fantastic, drop-dead catalog! Love us because of these three hundred and sixty-seven reasons, which means you should feel incredible excitement about spending your parents’ life-savings with us.” 

For some balance to my admittedly one-sided perspective, I’ve included an opposing view here from college-blog writer, Wendy David-Gaines.

If you must, collect literature and free pens because that’s about all you or your student are going to get out of it. I suspect 16- and 17-year-olds are more savvy than the colleges: they discovered the internet a long time ago, and they can order all the college’s marketing stuff online.

Plus, a student makes a far greater impression by visiting the campus, not a college fair. That was the “inside” info I received from these admissions people who showed up.

But I already knew that. I should have stayed home.
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