College fair preparation

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Local high schools will be transporting their juniors to the New England Association for College Admission Counseling college fair in Augusta in mid-May. The college fair, one of the largest held in the state, can be overwhelming for some. With dozens and dozens of colleges lining the Civic Center auditorium flashing their shiny, picturesque brochures it is easy to lose focus. In order to make the most of your day, you should go prepared and head up I-95 with a game plan. Below are steps to help you navigate the college fair.

Steps to take now:

Make a list of the characteristics that are important to you in a college. Do you want a small school with under 2,000 students or a large school with over 20,000? Are you looking for a unique major not commonly offered at many colleges? How close to home do you want to be? How much can you afford? Are you involved in any special activities that you want to continue in college such as theater or wrestling? These are just a few of the many questions you should ask yourself as you begin your search.

After you have created a list of what you are looking for, meet with your guidance counselor to identify schools that meet those criteria. You will want to use the knowledge of your guidance counselor to make sure your list not only meets your needs, but that admission to these schools is obtainable for you. Your guidance counselor may have some other suggestions that you have not thought of yet.

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Research the colleges on your list by visiting their Web site or looking at the information they have sent to your high school guidance office. While on college Web sites, sign up to have information sent to your home so you can further research.

Once you have gathered information narrow your list even further to the schools that really interest you.

Visit the NEACAC Web site (www.neacac.org) to view the list of colleges that will be at the college fair.

The week before the fair:

Review the materials you have gathered from your top colleges again. Create a list of unanswered questions for each college. College fairs provide a great opportunity to have your questions answered by a real-life representative of the college.

Make labels with your name, mailing address, high school name, and date of graduation on them. Being able to stick a label on a college’s inquiry card will save time over having to hand-write the information for each college you are interested in.

Find out from your guidance counselor how much time you will have at the fair so you can determine how much time to spend speaking with each college representative.

When you are at the fair:

Learn how the colleges are arranged then map out your plan of attack. Colleges are usually set-up at tables in alphabetical order, but sometimes you will find the in-state schools have been placed together, or the private colleges have been separated from the public ones. There will be signs at each table to identify the college. Asking how the schools are arranged will make it easier for you to find the colleges you are interested in learning more about.

Keep in mind what a great opportunity this is and be sure to use your time wisely. Speak to as many college representatives as possible so you can get the information you are looking for before you leave the building. Do not get side tracked by your friends or the hundreds of students there from other high schools. Remember your game plan and stay on track.

Your goal for the fair should be to take your list of options and further explore them by speaking with real people from those campuses. You should then be able to take what you learned and further narrow your list. This will take your college search process one step further as you head into your senior year. During the senior year you can focus on visiting the campuses, applications and other deadlines now that the preliminary research has been done.

The NEACAC college fair in Augusta will be held at the Civic Center on May 13 from 8:30-11:30 a.m., and is open to students of any age and their parents. The next area NEACAC college fair will be in late September at USM in Gorham.

-Submitted by Betsy Libby, Associate Dean of Student Services, Central Maine Community College

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