A few years ago, a reader inquired as to whether it was worth going to the National College Fair. A number of errant links (they tend to break or disappear over time) aside, the advice on the Fair is certainly as valid today as it was then, and well worth repeating.

L.B. of North Merrick, NY writes: 

There's a College Fair coming up at the Nassau Coliseum. Is it worth attending, for college-bound students and/or their parents?

The College Whisperer responds:

A definite maybe. ;-)

In days of old, long before the advent of the Internet and the coming of age of electronic media, other than visiting campus after campus (there were no virtual tours), and relying on snail mail for glossy brochures and, if you were lucky, a course bulletin or two, college fairs were it.

A place to gather much needed information on colleges and universities, far and wide; to schmooze with admissions officers; to pick brains on financial aid, program selection, and where to get a decent manicure in walking distance to the campus. Not to mention more give-aways -- from pens to notepads, rulers to tee shirts -- than you could possibly stuff into a bag, which was also a give-away (go canvas, not plastic).

Enter the era of the worldwide web, and, in terms of connecting to colleges and bookmarking Viewbooks, to paraphrase Walt Disney on the portended decline of the College Fair, it all started with a mouse. [Different mouse. Same idea.]

Today, you can get all the information you need (and much that you don't) on college websites, supplemented by touchy-feely material that schools will be happy to send you (again and again) by snail mail. [And you wonder where all those tuition dollars go!] Many colleges even offer prospective students "live chat" sessions and/or "webinars" hosted by admissions and financial aid officers, providing a virtual cornucopia for students without ever having to leave the comfort of home (or change out of their PJs, as if that would be a consideration).

And yet, folks continue to flock to College Fairs, some 400,000 annually, according to the folks at the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), sponsors of the still popular and well attended National College Fairs

Why do most people go to the fairs, absence of cotton candy and midway games notwithstanding? Some go to meet and greet reps from smaller colleges, or those too far away to visit. Not sure if the University of Guam has a booth, but you can have a nice talk -- at length -- about your prospects with a representative of, say, the University of North Dakota, gaining insight and perspective that you would not be likely to find online. [At last year's College Fair at the Nassau ColiseumThe College Whisperer had a most lovely chat with the rep from UND. She seemed so lonely, tucked away in the corner, few students stopping by, even just to say "hi." Take solace, North Dakota. While you may not pull in many kids from New York, at least you have Mount Rushmore. Wait. That's South Dakota! Never mind...]

Others stop by the College Fair, fighting their way, goodie bags in hand, through the madding throngs, hustling from table to table, packed in like sardines (hopefully, with skin and bones), to supplement what they already secured through the Internet, or to ask specific questions, assuming they can get close enough to the table. [Don't expect to do much more than to sign up for additional info, typically sent to you by e-mail or snail mail, at the booths of the most popular schools.]

The College Whisperer used to tell his students, back in the day, to sort through the give-aways from each college, applying to those schools that have the best gizmos, gadgets and sticky pads. [After all, they have the most money to spend!] Alas, just this past College Fair season, NACAC declared give-aways to be off-limits, citing a possible "unfair advantage" to those schools that do not or cannot hand out the upper level premiums. [Duh! Wasn't that the idea? Lull them in with frisbees and gel pens, then let them eat Sloppy Joes four nights a week in the dining hall. Too bad Oprah wasn't in on this. She'd give-away cars or a year of study abroad in Australia to every student who came through the door. Oh well..]

Most people, students and parents alike, even those well-versed in the nuances of Internet searches, go to the College Fair because (a) they are curious, (b) everyone else they know is going, and (c) they're afraid they will miss something (who knows what?) if they don't go. [Heaven forbid someone gain the upper hand by standing on line half an hour just to get a Viewbook they could have downloaded in 15 seconds (broadband sold separately ;-)].

Go to the fair? Sure. Why not? But first, pick up a copy of the Long Island College Conference Manual at your Guidance Office. It is a must read before the Fair, and will come in very handy at the Fair. [You can even scan QR codes for information.]

Careful that you don't park next to the fella with the dents and rust all over his pick up truck. Check out the colleges that you may have overlooked online. Look for The College Whisperer in the crowd (and ask him how College Connection can give you the competitive edge in the application and admission process).

Can't make it to this year's College Fair? No sweat! Local high schools -- most likely yours -- often host College Fairs or College Application/Admission Days. Be certain to attend. You may not learn anything new, but, hey, you never know.

And NACAC may be the biggest, but they're not the only College Fair game in town. Here's a list of College Fairs in New York, courtesy of HESC, NYS Higher Education Services Corporation. Why, there are even virtual College Fairs available online, where you can get advice, search for scholarships, and, perhaps, even be recruited by a school that's interested in you!

Whether you choose to attend the College Fair, or not, you'll have questions, seek answers, and be, more or less (probably more, given the barrage of information thrown your way), as overwhelmed as ever by the college application and admission process. 

Have no fear. That's why The College Whisperer and College Connection are here. We help students and their parents successfully navigate the road to college. It's what we do!
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