college planner

College reps and your high school teachers will invariably tell you that “there’s no such thing as a bad question.” But we all know the truth – there are absolutely bad questions, or at least there are better questions to ask than others. If you’ve already read Part 1 of our guide to college fairs, you’re in the right place. Today, we drill into all that face-to-face time you’ll have with college reps at your next fair. And we’re starting with the questions for you to avoid:

  • Don’t ask a rep to compare their college to another. This is against the NACAC Statement of Principles of Good Practice and college reps are ethically bound to only speak about the institution for which they currently work. And this makes sense– they know their school best, not the one across the aisle!
  • Don’t start the conversation with your rep by asking if they attended the institution for which they work. What will you do if/when they respond no? That’s a tough one to recover from and rarely ever goes well! If you really want to know if the rep attended the school, check their nametag. Most likely, if they attended, there will be a graduation year following their name.
  • “What’s your _____ major like?” This is one of the most dreaded questions for a college rep. Think about it from their perspective: they’re trying to figure out, what does this student want to hear? Do they just want to know that we offer that particular major? Are they curious who the professors are in the department? Do they actually think I can rattle off all 72 courses being offered in that department this semester or that I know all of the 15 different requirements for that major? And finally, how will I say all of that and keep their eyes from glazing over with boredom?

Asking good – or even better, great – questions will require you to conduct some research prior to the college fair. Here at College Coach, we would encourage you to spend an hour or two preparing your questions. Yes, you’re busy with extracurricular activities, applications, and schoolwork, but see this as an invaluable opportunity to make a positive, memorable impression on the rep that may end up reading your application this winter. Many college representatives take notes after a student leaves the table; this helps them jog their memory later in the fall when they pen outstanding recruits a handwritten note or quick email. Because you most certainly want to be one of these memorable applicants, we recommend taking the time to develop not one, but two, lists of questions.

The First List

This should be comprised of questions you want to ask of each college table you visit. Think about the make-or-break qualities you have for your college experience. Do you need to be near skiing? Do you hate the rain? Will you just die if the library has pink walls? In all seriousness, you should come up with a list of important parameters that each college should meet. Take the time to weed out questions that can be found using a simple search engine query (College Name + Parameter), and then ask only the questions that don’t have easily searchable answers.

Consider what type of answer you’re looking for out of each question you plan to ask. Asking, “what is your English department like?” is going to yield much less interesting and focused answers than asking, “I read you offer a Creative Writing concentration; is that open to anyone or do I need to apply?”

Finally, develop a creative question for each school of interest. Some of the best questions I’ve been asked encourage me to think more deeply about the school I’m representing. “What are the first five words you think of when you hear your school’s name?” “What is happening on campus this weekend?” “What’s your favorite tradition?”

The Second List

The second list of questions should be specific to the schools you already know you’re interested in attending. These are questions you’ve been unable to have answered in other settings, whether those were your official visit, interview, or simply time spent on the school’s website. Anything is fair game here. From “can freshmen have a car on campus?” to “what is your four-year graduation rate?” these are the questions you feel you need answered before you hit “submit” on the application.

What’s most important, as always in this process, is to keep the bigger picture in mind: this is a wonderful opportunity to learn a little bit about a lot of schools! Don’t be afraid to walk up to a table that’s quiet when the rep you want to speak to is swamped with other students – you just might end up learning something new!



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Written by Abigail Anderson
Abigail Anderson is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Abigail received her bachelor’s in sociology from Colby College. Prior to joining College Coach, Abigail worked as a senior admissions officer at Reed College and Emma Willard School.