What to Look For/questions to Ask at a College Fair

Updated on September 19, 2011
J.M. asks from Elizabeth, CO
10 answers

My oldest daughter is a Senior, #1 in her class, involved in everything at school but sports, takes piano (12 years), does Krav Maga, community theater, is the Yearbook editor and the "go to" person for everyone that needs something done at school. She excels at all subjects and really loves history and government but, has NO idea what kind of career she would like to pursue. Her dad is also teaching her to fly airplanes. Oh, and her ACT score is a 31 (first try). She is somewhat shy, relates well to adults or more mature teens. I know that the world is her oyster, but we have absolutely no idea how to help her choose a school. It’s very daunting and confusing. College Fair time is fast approaching and we have no idea what to even ask. We’re hoping for some fantastic scholarships. She receives numerous mailings and phone calls from colleges daily. The school counselor really doesn’t offer the students much guidance when it comes to selecting colleges at least from what we've seen. Any and all hints or advice would be greatly appreciated.

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answers from Honolulu on

Has she done one of these assessment evaluations, that can show a person where their strengths/interests lie?
I forget what that test is called.
I would think, the School's Academic Counselor, would have this.

She really just has to know, within herself, what her true interest is.
And what she has a passion for.
I had so many interests and abilities... I majored in Behavioral Sciences, Anthropology and Fine Arts.

Per her scholarships, does she have to declare, a Major?

Then once she knows what she wants to major in, then a school that has a good program in that, would be best.
Or a good liberal arts college.

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answers from Austin on

The good thing is that you do not have to declare a major till the end of your sophomore year or beginning of your junior year in College.

She will be able to take her basic and a few other courses in things that sound interesting. Sounds like writing , journalism, govt. courses may interest her.

Our daughter was not sure exactly what she wanted to do, but she knew she wanted to attend "where it snowed" I told her that was fine, but she had to apply to at least 1 college here in the state in case an emergency occurred..

She knew she wanted a smaller college.
She wanted liberal arts.
She wanted a smaller community if possible.

She attended college fairs and asked about population of the campus. Men to women, how many students in classes per professor.
How was the endowment of the school.
What were the top 5 majors the students graduated with? How many completed college in 4 years?
Would her classes be taught by a professor or a teacher assistant?
She asked where exactly was the campus located in conjunction to the town or city.
What airport would she need to fly into?
How was the public transportation. (One college she would have to fly into Canada and then ride a bus to the campus)

She did the research. She then announced she had a list.. I asked her how many she said 19. I told her to pick 5. she came back with 9.. SO , I told her if we did 9, she would have to keep up with all of the paper work. She promised she would, so she applied and was accepted to all of them!

She kept her promise and kept up with all of the following forms.. It seemed like every week they needed something else.

Yikes, We do not have much money so as the acceptance letters and scholarships were offered, she studied them to see what seemed the best deals. She was also an excellent student so ALL of them offered full scholarships for tuition and then she also qualified for grants.. this helped with the housing etc. A few offered the Presidential Scholarships, which meant almost a full ride.

Remember we had not visited ANY of these schools. So that spring she placed them in order of what she seemed to like the best, with 1 exception.. 1 was for a total scholarship for all 4 years. They had a scheduled interview she needed to attend. So we went there first. on the southeast part of the country.
She loved the campus, but was worried about how small it actually was.

Another large Campus tour was being held one weekend here in Texas so we went to that one on that weekend. Again beautiful, friendly, but she felt like it was too close to home and "too hot."

The next trip was for 3 colleges fairly close to each other up on the east coast. The first one was too Sorority and Fraternity type of school.. It was out.

Then we went to a campus that seemed pretty lively, the town was quaint. The areas of her interest (the facilities) looked good. She loved the history of the school and seemed to like the atmosphere. She liked what she heard about classes and Professors.

The next day we went to her "Pie in the Sky" Dream school. It was incredible. Breath taking. I was starting to get nervous, because if this did not work out, we were going to have to travel again far away to the other colleges. I was feeling like she was running out of time.

This Campus had amazing facilities, looked like a great group of students. Highly regarded. After that tour was over I asked her "well, what do you think?"

She said "I am really impressed with this school, but I do not feel like it is right for me, I like the one we saw yesterday!"

It was perfect! I had loved that College too and also thought it was a perfect fit for our daughter.. it had been so hard not to jump up and down the day before and tell her.. "Pick this one!!!!"

And so this is the fall of her Senior year. She has continued to be an amazing student, she will graduate with double majors and with honors.

I know she would have done well at any of the schools she applied to, but this one was made for her. We are very fortunate.

I had been told by other moms that this is exactly how it had been for them.. Their children either already knew the one and only school they wanted to attend from the beginning or their children knew the moment they stepped on a campus if it was for them.

Remember you can always call and ask any questions. Take notes at the College fair and have your daughter attend any of the visiting colleges that come to her high school campus that she is interested.. Also some colleges will hold meting at one Campus in your town, so you will need to go there to hear their presentations. Get a list of these at that college fair. The presentations are more intimate and more information can be shared.

Very exciting time mom! Enjoy this next year at these time. she will be all settled in college!

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answers from Minneapolis on

It's true that a college student does not normally have to declare a major until later, one way to narrow the choice of schools is to have an idea what type of study a person wants to do - an engineering student and a pre-law student wouldn't put the sames schools at the top of their lists, each school has areas where they excel and specialize.

I work as a career consultant. There are two assessments that I would recommend for a teenager to help them make college major and career decisions. The first is StrengthsQuest by Gallup: http://www.strengthsquest.com/content/143780/Students.aspx

This assessment will identify where her natural talents lie, and give suggestions as to how to use this information in college and in a career. You will need to buy the book sold on this site (do not buy one used, since the code included in the book can only be used once to take the online assessment). The online assessment takes only 20-30 minutes and then she will get detailed feedback about herself and her strengths. The feedback is easy to read and to understand.

The other is called the Strong Interest Inventory. This assessment has been used in career counseling for decades. It doesn't measure skills or strengths, so it doesn't tell her what she is good at, just where she would likely fit in best in the career world based on her personal traits.

Here is a site that offers the assessment free: http://discovery.skillsone.com/slp.asp?adid=801&l....

I would recommend reviewing the sample report first to get an idea what you will see after taking the assessment.

Having some idea what her strengths and personality traits are can help narrow the field of career choices, and make chosing a college a little easier.

That being said, my stepson is an example of a student who excelled in many subjects and did not know what he wanted to major in. He ended up attending three different colleges and is now pursuing an MBA at a fourth. Life all works out in the long run...

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answers from Dallas on

It's great your daughter has so much talent but it's also completely normal for her NOT to know what she wants to do for the rest of her life, that's a big decision. I found that what I originally chose as a major, ended up not being what I wanted and changed courses half way through my college life, which is also very normal. I think a good way about knowing what type of questions to ask is to look up any university that catches her attention (or not, doesn't matter for this) and look at their FAQ section. That section on the university website may spawn questions you didn't think about and so write down any new questions that come to mind and take them with you to the college fair. Good luck to her and you!!

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answers from Denver on

Since she doesn't know what she wants to study (and that's fine) you needto make sure that the school has many options for her to checkout and choose from. Try to get some idea from your daughter whether she wants a big school or a smaller school - city or more rural - these things are actually important for her. It will also help you narrow down some of the choices. If you're looking at larger schools ask about whether there are issues with getting into classes (this is often an issue esp. for freshman and Sophomores) - ask whether TAs teach lower level classes or profs, ask if students are assigned their own counselor, and obviously financial support and if that support will continue through undergrad. I'd start there. BTW, I'm a community college instructor - so I have some experience with higher ed ;) Good luck! Oh, and ALWAYS visit a school if it is seriously considered.

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answers from Dallas on

So she sounds like she's got a good start. She needs to figure out what she wants and where she'd like to study.

My daughter is a junior, excels as well. We were visiting colleges that she has I interest in last year. She knows what type of school she is looking for and she seems those out. Right now Duke and Penn State are at the top of her list.... We've personally visited both and gone through the presentations.

We don't pressure her for scholarships. Yes, she's in all AP and a cheerleader. She's a black belt & Accomplished violinist among many other good qualities.

She has a good idea as far as her career. She knows she will not come out of college in debt, our responsibility as her parents are to set her up debt free.

She was given some type of aptitude test a year or so ago to figure out what areas interest her most.

It's not the end of tge world if your daughter does not have a set career path. As long as she has sting goals and is self driven... She'll find her area.

My daughter may change her path and that's ok. I don't expect her to have a permanent plan this soon. Her job is to do well this year.

Her goal is to apply and commit on early admission which is the fall of senior year.

Good luck to your daughter and don't let the stress get to you! Enjoy the process

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

You need to figure out your priorites in a college. Do you want your daughter close or far (think air fare), a commuter college or one with strong campus life, religious or not, sports , dance team, small or large. I would start by narrowing down what you want for your daughter in a school. Then describe that place to someone at the fair they may just know exactlynwhat school you are looking for.

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answers from Chicago on

Hi J.,
Your daughter sounds like a very talented young lady. Congratulations! If you are hoping for some fantastic scholarships, then, I would suggest getting into the best schools and choosing in the beginning a broad major that can be used as a stepping stone into a masters degree in the future or just very versatile on it's own. Your daughter can work part time and try variety of different subjects to see where her interests will take her.

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answers from San Diego on

The main thing that I would advise is to figure out if she will do better at a "teaching" school versus a "research" school. I had no idea that there was a difference, and I ended up in a research school when a teaching one would have been better for me.

Obviously, geography will make a difference. How often will she want to be able to come home? Do you want her to be close enough to be able to come home for every holiday break? The really short breaks, like Thanksgiving, when the campus shuts down can be tough on out-of-state students.

You mentioned scholarships, so of course you will need to consider your financial situation and the cost of tuition. Do you want her to have to work while she's in school? I had to have a job throughout college. It was a tremendous source of both pride and stress for me.

What sort of extracurricular activities are available for her? Is she interested in joining a sorority? If she wants to continue her involvement in theater, music, and yearbook, what sort of opportunities does each school offer?

I'd also highly recommend that you and your daughter start trying to figure out what she wants to do in life. She doesn't have to be super specific at this point, but I really regret how much emphasis my parents put on grades in school without really encouraging me to figure out what I was going to do after I graduated. Because school only lasts so long - the rest of your life is, well, the rest of your life.

Good luck!

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answers from Denver on

I would recommend two things. First, look at the US World and News Report rankings of schools. You can look at public schools, private schools, liberal arts schools etc. That may help you narrow down some locations, price ranges etc.
Second, in CO there is a website called Naviance for all high school students to help them with college choices. My daughter who is a junior has found it very helpful. If you can't log on, ask the school counselor for info.
I agree with other posters that your daughter should choose a school with a wide range of offerings to help her choose a major. I don't believe it is urgent to start out knowing what you want, and many schools say the same.
We have been attending college fairs regularly and we ask questions about financial support (most schools are need-based only it seems), about school activities - my daughter likes journalism and acting, though she wants to major in science -, about religious life on campus and about the ability of undergrads to participate in research.
good luck!

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