Hosting a College Fair 101

Overwhelmed with the thought of planning and hosting a college fair? Here are some helpful tips.

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It’s that time of year when college recruitment begins. If you are new to college counseling or your school has never hosted a college fair, you may feel overwhelmed with the thought of planning and hosting a college fair.

Here are some helpful tips for a planning and hosting a successful college fair:

1. Determine if your school has space to host a fair.  Popular locations on campus to host college fairs include the cafeteria, gymnasium, or library. Some schools will also utilize classrooms for popular colleges that draw large crowds to allow for more room in the main fair location. Most college fair hosts provide college reps with a table (either a six-foot table – or two colleges share an eight-foot table) and each rep gets a chair. Some schools are able to accommodate AV requests, but this is not expected. Colleges will bring a table cloth that displays their school name, all brochures/promotional materials and table displays.

2. Schedule a convenient date. Choose a date that will fall around the time colleges will already be in the area for larger city-wide/county-wide college fairs – this will increase college participation.

Websites to check for upcoming college fair dates include: NACAC College FairsChristian College Fairs, Career Council/National Hispanic College Fair, and College Fair Registry.  Many regional level “ACAC’s” also share college fair dates (ex. NJACAC, NEACACNYSACACRMACAC, WACAC)

3. Decide if your school will host a day or evening fair. Both time offerings have their advantages and disadvantages. Parental support should play a big factor in determining when to host the fair. If you think you will have a hard time getting your students back to campus at night, or there are already several fairs in your area at night, opt for a day fair during school hours.

4. Determine the length of the fair. Try to keep it around 2 hours and have a steady flow of students to prevent colleges from leaving early. Keep in mind college reps are on the road recruiting day and night, and the last thing they want is to be standing around at a college fair with no students. Many day time fairs will last around an hour to an hour and a half and will usher students in as groups (by grade or by teacher). Evening fairs often have time frames such as 6-8pm or 7-9pm. At night, the earlier you can end (while still maintaining a solid fair time slot for your students and parents) the better, as many college reps have to drive to their next destination after your fair – which may be an hour or two away. They will thank you for ending at a decent hour.

5. Provide a snack or meal. College reps talk – and the college fairs they boast about have two things in common: good attendance and good food. Remember college reps spend most of their time in a car, in a hotel or in a school. Eating out gets old after a week or two and it often seems like all the fairs offer the same cookies and bagels. If you have a budget for food, try to be creative. Nothing beats offering a taste of your local cuisine – it doesn’t have to be fancy – just something different to be remembered for. And if you don’t have a budget, ask your colleagues to put together a potluck with their favorite snacks or dishes. Lastly, don’t forget the water – bonus points for handing out water bottles to the college reps during the fair. All that talking deserves a water!

6. Decide if you need to charge a fee for colleges to participate. Your college fair may not have a need for a budget or you may have a budget already built in by your school to host a college fair. But if you don’t and you will incur an expense by hosting a fair (table rentals, mailings/advertisements, food, etc) you can charge a participation fee to colleges. Majority of high school fairs are free, but some charge $10-$50 to help alleviate these costs. Keep in mind charging a fee may deter colleges that have a limited travel budget.

7. Send invites well in advance. If you are still considering a fair this fall, send the fair information ASAP as most colleges are finalizing their fall recruitment schedule. For future planning, if you are hosting a fall fair, it is best to send the college fair invite (by mail &/or email) before your school year ends in May or June. If you are hosting a spring college fair, it is best to send the invite in November or December. Save money by sending email invites and attaching registration forms or utilize Google Docs to collect fair registration information. If your school uses Naviance, you can use the admissions contact feature to email colleges where students have previously applied. Sharing college fair details with your local ACAC, College Fair Registry and social chats (ex. Facebook College Admissions Counselors) will also increase publicity.

8. Consider partnering up with local schools. This can be done in a couple of different ways.

Idea 1 – Contact college counselors at nearby schools and ask them to partner up to offer colleges an invite with a full day of mini-fairs at each of your respective schools. Ex. School A: 8-9am, School B: 9:30-10:30am, School C: 11-12pm. In this example, School A often provides a light breakfast and School C will offer a lunch. This works especially well if the mini-fairs are scheduled on the same or following day of a night fair in the area.

Idea 2 – Connect with the college counselors at nearby schools and have them invite their students to attend your evening fair. Some schools have even gone as far as coordinating busing to transport students and families over if there is not enough parking. This will help increase the overall student body attendance. Consider exploring the option of rotating hosting responsibilities among local schools for evening fairs from year-to-year so planning doesn’t always fall on the same person.

9. Confirm attendance with colleges and students. Everything will flow better on the day/evening of the actual event if all the small details have been communicated to both the college reps and students in advance.

Communicate to colleges prior to arrival the following information: when they can begin arriving for set-up, where to park, the location of the fair on campus (gym, cafeteria, etc), what type of space is allotted to display college materials (table, classroom, etc), if food will be offered and any other pertinent information. This is best sent via email, as reps may no longer be in the office to receive mail.

Communicate to students prior to attending the fair: the date/time/location of fair and the list of colleges that will be in attendance. Advertise fair information throughout campus, in the College Counseling Office and in morning announcements. Prep students with the best questions to ask college reps and have them print sticky labels with their contact information, intended major and start year so they don’t have to spend extra time filling out inquiry cards at college tables. This way they can just peel and stick a label on the inquiry card. At the college fair provide a map or layout of where to find each college (unless your layout is alphabetical and easy to navigate, then just provide a list).

10. Utilize student or teacher volunteers during the event. From assisting in the parking lot to helping college reps unload their materials, extra help is always appreciated. This can be a great volunteer opportunity for 9th grade students. Don’t forget to have a well staffed check-in area and floaters that are easy to identify at the fair.  Label the tables with each college name so the reps can easily identify where they set-up.

11. Ask for feedback. Want to know how your college fair measures up? Leave a fair evaluation form on each college rep table before the start of the fair or handout to the reps during the fair. This will allow the college reps to have ample time to complete the evaluation before the fair ends. Do not email a fair evaluation. Though it is probably easier, by the time colleges get around to evaluating your college fair it will blend in with all their other recruitment and will not be an accurate or informative assessment.


Jenna Schebell spent 14+ years in college admissions at The University of Tampa (FL) and most recently at Marymount Manhattan College (NY) where she oversaw recruitment planning and scheduling for undergraduate admission. Jenna has recruited at 1000+ college fairs in her career.