Virtual college fairs cropped in the past year as a way for colleges to reach prospective students whose movements were curtailed by covid. Before the pandemic started forcing shutdowns—a year ago—hundreds of admission representatives, each fall and spring, crowded into gyms and other venues, setting up their tables with banners, brochures, stickers, and pens. This year, the gyms are off limits and the reps are zooming in from their offices or homes.
Tribune Publishing is currently holding a virtual college fair that runs through March 20. You can watch “live or at your leisure.” I’m very impressed with the technology they’re using, though the number of colleges represented is relatively small. From the “Speakers and Topics” tab, you can hear Jeff Selingo, author of Who Gets In and Why, discuss his research into selective college admissions. You can hear the co-founders of Grown & Flown talk about what parents do to help or hurt when their teens are going through the admissions process. You can find out about going to college in Europe, learn how to select a major, discover the differences between private and public colleges. The Tribune fair has around a half dozen Florida schools, a few big names like Penn State and Temple, and a number of lesser-knowns, like MSOE and Five Towns College. You can see the list of schools here: https://tribpubcollegefair.com/schools/.
NACAC, the National Association for College Admission Counseling, experienced serious glitches when they first tried the virtual fair in the fall, but they seem to have worked out the kinks. With Common App’s support, they began a series of college fairs on February 28: March 7, STEM schools; March 16, arts; March 21, general; April 10, Western U.S.; April 20, Southeastern U.S., May 2, general. You can register for each fair date at https://virtualcollegefairs.org/events. The March 7 fair had 584 live sessions to choose from. You can sort by college or time, and you can filter by state, major, type of college (private or public), type of program (bachelor’s or associate’s), and size. If you’d like to see earlier presentations, go to https://virtualcollegefairs.org/videos.
The New Jersey NACAC affiliate is sponsoring a virtual fair on Tuesday, March 16. Sign up at https://www.strivescan.com/newjersey/. This is set up in 45-minute sessions from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., with 14 to 15 blocks in each session. Each block includes four to six colleges that you can visit while in the session, in total more than 250 schools, and each college gets about six minutes, in the order listed, to present. Other NACAC affiliates run similar virtual fairs throughout the spring. You can see earlier presentations at https://www.strivescan.com/virtual/schedule/.
In researching virtual fairs, I ran across and previewed a new TV series on Amazon Prime called The Campus Tour. An on-demand show that I watched on my computer while cooking dinner doesn’t really seem like a “TV series,” but the production value is good enough for television, with an upbeat host and enthusiastic, broadcast-worthy students from all types of majors and backgrounds. As of March 6, only three tours are accessible: Arizona State University (55 minutes), Florida Tech (30 minutes), and Fort Lewis College in Colorado (30 minutes). Each segment within an episode features a current student telling why they chose the college and then explaining one aspect of the school, such as residence halls, or the life of a student-athlete, or the internships or research available. The Campus Tour reminded me of the Evening Magazine shows based in major cities like Baltimore in the 1980s. Because it’s free and the production value is professional, I recommend visiting thecollegetour.com and signing up for updates.
Tips for attending a virtual fair:
1. Scope it out ahead of time. Understand how the fair is set up and how you can sample schools. Register and put it on your calendar. (Now’s a good time to set up a non-cutesy email for all of your college business, separate from your regular or high school email.)
2. Make a list of colleges you’re interested in. Don’t limit yourself to schools you’ve heard of; pick a few that you haven’t heard of but that fit your criteria of size or location or majors.
3. Make a list of questions beforehand and take notes during the presentation.
I keep my notes in Google docs—they’re rough, but I can always find them, and I can use my tablet for notes while watching presentations on my laptop, or vice versa.
4. Make contact. If video is enabled, show your face. For presenters, it’s nicer to see a face than a black square. Ask your questions if that’s enabled through the Q&A, the chat, or audio.
5. Email representatives after the fair and say thanks, especially if you might apply to their school. Reps always post their contact information, and if the presenters don’t serve your area, they’ll connect you with the person who does.
Virtual college fairs will probably continue even after we’ve reached the nirvana of herd immunity. While you can’t pick up Allegheny College’s alligator pen (they’re the Gators, get it?) or cram Richmond’s spider tote bag with 25 pounds of loot, you can learn the basics about far more schools than you could possibly visit in person and ask the reps your questions directly. Plus, because you’ve registered, they have your email and you have “demonstrated interest” in the school, which can sometimes work in your favor. Unlike the pop-up college fairs that re set up for a few hours on a day or two in the spring and fall, at a location and time that may or may not be convenient, virtual college fairs provide access to more people over a longer period of time. Even if the event is only scheduled for a few hours, recordings can usually be accessed later.
Virtual college fairs and other forms of virtual outreach make access to information about a range of college options available to more students, and organizations are getting better at managing the technology. Colleges want to connect with prospective students, so take advantage of these online opportunities.
It’s still possible to visit some campuses, but right now, most visits are limited. Some campuses are only allowing admitted students, most of whom applied sight unseen. Some schools allow juniors, but not younger students, to tour in masked small batches, keeping outside of buildings. Policies can change from week to week, so the only way to be sure that you can visit a campus is to check with the school’s “visit” page, usually under “admissions,” and register in advance. You’ll get an email if anything changes.