Once your student has their elevator speech perfected, it is time to use it in two preplanned conversations: the college fair and the interview.
The College Fair
There are many types of college fairs. The National College Fairs tend to be the least effective because they are often manned by alumni of the college and not someone who is an active player in the admission office. It is important to know the role of the college fair representative in order to know how effective your student’s conversation will be in getting their name remembered. If it is an alum, your student should be polite, but not spend an inordinate amount of time establishing who they are and why they are interested in the college. However, if it is a regional representative, it is worth securing extended eye contact and conversation.
The best college fairs are the ones hosted by the consortiums of private high schools. Often, these schools invite only the admission representatives who are assigned to that territory, so your student will interact with the admission person who will be either reading or discussing their admission file. It is critical, at this type of fair, to be highly prepared and efficient in their contact with the representative, as there will be many students vying for the representative’s attention.
In most how-to college fair articles, your student will be given the standard guidance:
- Have pre-printed sticky labels with their name, address, high school, graduation year, email address, phone number to place on information cards in order to save time
- Dress professionally
- Meet without their parent – they can send their parent to pick up materials from schools while they interact with representatives
- Give good eye contact, shake hands firmly, actively listen, have a notebook to take notes
- Hand out a one-page resume
All good advice, but there is one thing that is absolutely critical to your student’s success: the questions your student asks.
This is where preplanning and research come into play. Your student should do the following well before the fair:
- Identify with which colleges to speak, prioritizing the list.
- Identify from which colleges the parent will collect materials, mostly those that are schools of possible interest but not high on the list.
- For each prioritized college, create a page in the student’s notebook to list questions specific to that college, keeping the questions to a maximum of 5.
- The five questions should not be questions whose answers can be found on the website or in the college’s marketing literature. The questions should be tailored to the student’s individual interests and needs and should allow the student to insert parts of the elevator speech into the conversation.
- The student should have a pen and should write down notes in the notebook from the admission representatives’ answers. This will not only demonstrated the student is truly interested in the answers given and is organized, but it will also help the student remember the answers after a long night of talking to multiple representatives.
Much like the college fair, the interview is a time to make a personal connection and to highlight interest. Some interviews will be designed as informational, some will be more personal get-to-know-you, and some will be with local alumni.
No matter which type of interview your student has, again, there are standard pieces of advice:
- Dress professionally.
- Maintain eye contact, shake hands firmly, actively listen.
- Have questions prepared and take notes.
- Meet without a parent (and be sure to always be polite around the parent, as admission staff will notice how parent and student interact).
- Take time to think before answering questions – pausing indicates thoughtfulness.
All good advice, once again. However, take this a step further with research. What kinds of questions might the interviewer ask? Review your student’s elevator speech and think, again, about what aspects of your student match the mission and vision of the college. What question can your student ask that will indicate a commitment to the college and thorough knowledge of what it has to offer. Avoid generalized questions, such as “what is the average SAT of admitted students?” Better to ask, “My interest in the college is founded in the urban studies program, as I want to continue to work with homeless populations through a non-profit when I graduate. Looking at the average SAT scores, I know I place above the average, but what is the actual range of scores of the students who were admitted in the last two years?” A follow-up question might be, “what is the alumni support network like for students and graduates looking for jobs or internships? I would like to be able to get some experience with non-profit management before I graduate.”
Consistency in message, being well-prepared, and demonstrating knowledge of the college’s mission and vision will set your student apart in this competitive process.
Read more about how to market in Part 3, which focuses on the application.