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Even if you feel clueless about what university you might want to call home for four years, your high school College Night Fair can be your launching pad: time well spent if you do some pre-planning.

To begin to build your college list, you need to prioritize what you want most in a university. Giving this next step some serious thought goes a long way towards helping you find your “best fit” college.

In my last blog, I spoke about the importance of self-knowledge as the first step in the college process.  Identifying preferences and priorities in your college search is the second step.

So here are five ways your College Fair Night can help you begin to build a solid college list!


First: Answer these eight core questions about your College Academic, Financial, and Social Fit to help you identify the characteristics most important to you in a university,

1. What size college might I like?

Large (over 10,000)        Medium (3,000-10,000)        Small (under 3,000)

2. What campus setting do I think I might prefer?

Urban                    Suburban                    Rural

3. Geographic Location or Close to Home?

Northeast        Southeast            Midwest            West

4. Are academic rigor and small student/faculty ratio essential?

5.  Are study abroad and internship opportunities imperative?

6.  Is affordability (schools with generous merit and need-based financial aid) critical?

7. Are sports, clubs, and cultural activities a priority?

8. Are school spirit, Greek Life,  and campus weekend activities something important?



Second: Once you’ve answered these core questions, print the list of colleges that will be attending the fair and do some research. (The PHS College Fair List was emailed out this morning. And, College Board’s Bigfuture is a pretty good starting point for research:


Third: Highlight the schools that look most favorable on your college fair list.  This identification will help you compare different schools on some key criteria. (Also: take into account your GPA range and test scores compared to the school’s academic profile to see how you measure up.)


Fourth: Before you leave your house, make sure to bring your college list, a pen, paper, and a bag to hold college brochures. Also: consider printing out some address labels with your name, address, email, highschool, potential major, and graduation year to give out to admissions representatives there.


Fifth: Once you get to the fair, visit the schools you have now highlighted. Since you have already researched essential information online, you can now ask intelligent questions! And, don’t forget, after speaking with the admissions rep — take a minute to jot down any information he or she says that you think might be substantial — before moving on to the next college booth.


Aside from quantitative questions, I also think it is important and fun to get a more qualitative view of a college. Some anecdotal questions you might want to ask a rep include:

What makes your college unique?

How would you describe the students at your college?

Who are the most beloved professors? What are the most popular classes? Why?

What are the most fun clubs and activities on campus? Why?

And, most importantly, how is the Cafe food, REALLY?


MOST IMPORTANT: Getting back to step two. To make your College Fair or any conversation with a college admissions representative most productive, you need to conduct initial research. For example: if you look on the College Board website or at College Data 411 (

at a particular university in advance, you will find that much of the answers to many of the foundation questions live online. This information will allow you to dig deeper and, again, ask smarter questions when you do meet with admissions officers either this evening or when you go on a college tour, visit for an Open House, or have an interview.

Here is a specific example: if you know that Lehigh University accepts approximately 60% of its early decision applicants (including legacy) early decision, then you can ask the admissions officer: What is the percentage of regular applicants accepted regular decision? as well as What is the average academic profile for regular decision applicants (GPA, Test Prep Scores, etc.) versus Early Decision applicants? The Bottom Line Question  (what you really want to know) is: Does the process become more selective during the regular decision process? Because this can affect how you will apply.


Finally, Post College Fair Night: Ask yourself which colleges stood out and why? Then, plan to do more research on the colleges you’re thinking about attending. Explore websites, contact the admission office, or plan a campus visit. If you were intrigued by some of the schools at your college fair — then you it might be time to visit those colleges.

(Next Up on my Blog: Top College Search Engines. And, How to Get the Most out of Your College Tour — Stay Tuned)


In my resources section, I have included three college building worksheets that I created that may help you compare colleges across academic, financial, and social fit as you begin to build your list.


Stay Informed! Enjoy the Journey!

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