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Preparing for a college fair as an international student (and questions to ask)

interstride logo by Interstride
November 7, 2023

College fairs for international students are significant because they are often a student’s first point of contact with a US college. College fairs give international students an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the US education system and college life which may be very different from their home country. They are free to attend and can be held online or in person with hundreds of different colleges represented.

To get the most out of your college fair experience, you should prepare before attending. This includes practicing what you will say to college representatives and crafting questions to ask them.

What is a college fair?

The purpose of a college fair is to provide information about higher education institutions. This is an opportunity for prospective international students to speak directly with representatives from US colleges and universities, including admissions officers and student ambassadors. College fairs offer international students and their families the chance to learn about various topics such as:

  • Academic programs
  • Admission requirements
  • Application process
  • Financial aid
  • Campus life
  • Post-graduate opportunities and work placements

US colleges, high schools, and organizations such as the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC)  hold virtual college fairs at least once a year. You can attend remotely from anywhere in the world. At these online fairs, you can choose which colleges you want to learn more about by entering digital rooms or presentations, and you can chat directly with representatives from the schools.

Some institutions also offer in-person college fairs in other countries. At in-person college fairs, each participating college sets up a booth or table with informational materials about the school to hand out. College fairs are often held at high schools or community centers.

Why are college fairs vital for international students?

Attending a college fair enables international students to gather insights about different US colleges, programs, majors, and campus cultures. This firsthand knowledge empowers international students to decide which institutions align best with their academic aspirations, personal preferences, and long-term goals in the US.

As the US higher education system can be complex for international students unfamiliar with its nuances, college fairs can serve as a reliable source of information directly from the experts. With face-to-face interaction with admissions reps, international students can ask questions directly to clarify doubts. The information they receive will be immediate and accurate. Furthermore, admission reps at college fairs often provide personalized advice to international students based on the student’s cultural background and academic and career goals, making them more ready to face college admissions in the US.

Tips for preparing for college fairs as an international student

Before you attend a college fair, there are some preparations you should take to ensure you maximize the benefits of a college fair trip.

  1. Determine your goals for the college fair.  Are you still in the exploring phase of your college search or are you ready to start narrowing down your list? If you already have an idea of which colleges you want to apply to, set aside enough time to talk to each of those college representatives first. If you are still exploring, consider visiting as many colleges as possible at the fair.
  2. Ask ALL your burning questions. Researching schools before the fair will help you think of questions to ask. While school websites have general information, you can ask the representatives at the fair more specific questions about your circumstances.
  3. Take notes and collect contact information. If college representatives give you helpful information, take notes on your phone or a notepad. Ask for business cards, email addresses, and other contact information so you can reach out to them in the future. Don’t be afraid to ask if you can stay in touch. Admissions officers are always open to hearing from students.
  4. Shop around. Keep your options open. It’s OK if you already know which college you want to go to, but if you see a college that you previously didn’t know about at the fair and it offers something of interest, approach the representative and find out more.
  5. Dress and behave professionally. Dress for the college fair like you would for a job interview. When you meet representatives, smile and make eye contact. This is important in American culture. For in-person college fairs, you should introduce yourself with a handshake. Speak to all representatives respectfully and professionally.

Top college fair questions for international students

It’s natural for international students to have a lot of questions about attending college in another country. After all, there’s a lot to consider regarding academics, cost, campus life, traveling to the US, professional opportunities, and more.

Admission and application process

  • Do international applicants at your college receive visa support?
  • Can I speak to current students during the admissions process?
  • What type of student is a good fit for your school?
  • What do you look for in international student applications?

Financial questions

  • How much does studying as an international student cost in total?
  • Does your college offer scholarships or financial aid for international students?
  • Do you consider the ability to pay in admissions decisions for international applicants?
  • What types of on-campus jobs are available for international students?

Academic programs

  • Does your college offer tutoring services for international students?
  • What is the average class size for first-year students?
  • What are your most popular academic programs?

Campus life

  • How many international students attend the school?
  • How diverse is your campus community?
  • Are international students required to live on campus and for how many years?
  • What type of on-campus amenities does your school offer students?
  • What is the security like for students living on campus?

Career development

  • Does the school help students find internships?
  • Does your school offer career support specific to international students?
  • What types of job placement assistance does your school provide to graduating students and alumni?
  • What are the employment rates for international students who graduate from your school?

What do you do after a college fair?

If you’ve made it through a college fair, congratulations! Now, you should collect all the information and notes you’ve gathered and organize them. Read over all the information you collected, and decide which schools you want to apply to and which ones you want to research more or are unsure about.

Demonstrate interest in your top choices. You can do this by emailing the college representative you spoke to and thanking them. Make sure to remind them who you are and where you met, and mention something about your interaction at the college fair. Remember that demonstrating interest in a college is about quality not about quantity, so be intentional in your communications.

Final thoughts

College fairs are excellent opportunities to learn more about your options for higher education in the US. You can gain valuable information about the admission process as an international student, what college life is like in the US, and what academic programs and scholarships are offered. When you attend a college fair, whether virtually or in person, have a game plan to make the most of the event. After the fair, you can use the information you gathered as you continue your research to find the best-fit school for you as an international student.