Remember childhood treasure hunts? The really good ones had clues to follow, a map, and a big X when you found the treasure. Attending a college fair is a lot like that. The clues are all the questions you’ll ask college reps, the map is your design to maximize your time, and the prize is finding colleges that will be a good fit for you. Ready to start the adventure? Follow these tips to make the most of your college quest.

Create a game plan. Before you attend the fair, get a barcode at Print or save the barcode to your phone so college reps can scan your demographic information. This will save you from completing info cards for each college that interests you.

Next, consider what you’re looking for in a college. Make sure it offers academic programs that match your interests and skills, is the right distance from home and is the right size for you. These are all things that you need to discover. Some students feel comfortable living far from home, and others thrive in or near their hometown. Some prefer a large urban setting and others like mid-sized or smaller towns.

Create a list of questions to ask. As you compile a list of questions to ask college reps, think about things that are hard to find answers to online. For example, ask about clubs and activities that interest you, if there are new buildings or programs that will be ready when you’re on campus, and if students tend to stay on campus most weekends or head home. It’s no fun to be far from home at a college where most kids spend weekends at home. Also, ask for the average ACT score so you’ll know how you stack up academically. Check out this list of questions to get your creative juices flowing. Ask your parents to attend the fair with you so everyone has a chance to ask questions.

Arrive early and create your plan of attack.

Most fairs last two hours so plan to arrive when the fair opens so you have time to visit all the colleges on your list. First, stop at the EducationQuest table for a bag and an event map so you can find the schools you want to visit. Next, notice which schools have long lines and plan to visit them later in the fair when the lines are shorter. If possible, start with a college on your list that does not have a line yet. Take notes so you can compare the schools after the event is over. 

Talk to at least one college you haven’t considered yet.

If time allows, expand your search and talk to a few reps from colleges you have not considered yet. If you’re not sure where to start, look for a school counselor booth and ask for recommendations based on criteria such as major, location, and enrollment. Try to be open-minded – this is the time to explore all your options!

Unpack your college fair bag and take the next steps.

When you get home, review the college materials you collected and start grouping the schools by your interest level. This is a good way to narrow your college choices. Next, plan campus visits at your top colleges so you’ll get the true flavor of the school. Also, follow your top colleges on social media to see what current students are doing. This will help you know what to expect from the social climate. Finally, keep in contact with the college reps and ask about scholarships and special events for potential students. They will also keep you informed of deadlines for your admission, scholarship, and financial aid applications.