Is it worthwhile to attend College Fairs even for swimmers who hope to be recruited to swim in college? Absolutely! Swimmers need to learn about academic programs and other features of a college and a College Fair is an efficient way to learn about many colleges at once.
It is helpful to do some research beforehand and see which colleges will be attending. When you arrive, you should receive a map of the area so you can see which areas to hit first. Once you have developed your game plan based on the map, start visiting tables and asking questions.
If your child is nervous, you might want to practice at a couple of lower priority schools first or just find some schools with short lines. After a couple of “practice schools”, he will be more comfortable greeting the representatives, looking them in the eye and speaking with confidence.
The tables are manned by admissions representatives, alumni or even, in a few cases, parents of students. In my experience, none of the representatives knew anything about the athletic recruiting process which was fine since we were looking for information about the college itself.
The conversations will go more smoothly if your child has prepared a few specific questions. A generic “tell me about your school” usually results in facts that can be found on the home page of the college web site. However, a question like “what percentage of your engineering students find internships?” is very useful for an engineering major. Similarly, “what do most students do on weekends?” can give you an idea of whether a school is a commuter school where most students go home or if there is an active campus life.
Your student may have different ideas about what is important than you do. At the first College Fair I attended with my son and a friend, his friend got very excited about the University of Alabama and said it was her first choice. When I asked why, she replied that the washers and dryers text you when your load of laundry is done. Now that is a cool feature, but maybe not a reason to pick a college.
A representative from the University of Georgia told us so much about the town where they were located that my son later commented how fun it would be to vacation there, even though the school was not an option since it didn’t offer his area of study. At another table, we learned that Ohio State was the 2nd largest university in the U.S. My son was interested in medium size schools so he ruled that one out quickly. At University of Tennessee, we learned that they recalculate everyone’s GPA to put them on a more even playing field. This was helpful information and we asked the rest of the schools we visited if they do it too.
You will also have some interesting conversations with representatives trying to “sell” their school. I still remember that LSU has the only working oil well on a college campus. My son was not interested in Petroleum Engineering so it was not a deciding factor for him, but it is still a fun fact.
If a college is located in another part of the country and/or in a very different climate, this is a great time to ask questions about the area. The representatives usually live there so they know how cold it REALLY gets or what type of snow boots are best or if it is truly bearable without air conditioning at the beginning and end of the school year.
It is a good idea to take notes after every few colleges while the information is fresh in your student’s mind. Be sure to record impressions because they are more easily forgotten. He can always look up the school population on the web site but may not remember how excited he felt about the school upon hearing it described.
If your child is looking at schools out of state, the admissions representative may not be familiar with your area since they are usually divided geographically. Since different states and school districts calculate GPAs and credit for honors and AP classes differently, this could make a difference in the admissions process. Ask for the name and email address of your admissions officer so you can contact him directly if you have specific questions.
College Fairs are a good opportunity to spend some time with your child talking about what they do and don’t want in a college. The drive home was filled with conversation about the pros and cons of various schools and factors to look for when doing further research. As busy as our kids are these days, it was nice just to spend an afternoon with my son!
Michelle Lombana is committed to helping parents like herself whose children want to swim in college. When not attending college fairs, she can be found at www.collegeswimmingguide.com.