College Fairs – What’s Really Fair?

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In the Lower 48, students have the luxury of jumping in a car, hopping on a train, or relying upon a bus or subway to go explore potential school sites. Interestingly, some research suggests that a campus visit to a school may be one of the single best predictors of where a student will ultimately attend college after graduation.

Years ago I was asked what I would do if given $10,000 for a scholarship fund that could be fully utilized each year. As a result, I developed a scholarship for which students could apply to receive money for a campus visit to a school of their choice. Six years after that, the well of funds went dry, I still have families ask if that one travel scholarship is still available. It was not only well received, but resulted in an increased number of students starting college in the fall and finishing that degree four years later.

Without that fund, we really rely even more heavily than most on our Annual College Fair. Living on an island in Alaska makes this an expensive proposition for visitors who must fly here the day before, pay for a hotel and meals and plan to join the large group of representatives who follow the same itinerary to six major school districts across the State of Alaska. We are fortunate to have them come, but while here, we make every minute count.

Sometimes counselors forget these representatives come with more than flyers advertising their particular schools, but these visiting college admission officers bring their expertise, enthusiasm and experience along as well. We asked them one year if they’d be willing to offer panel discussions requiring no particular preparation but ample opportunity to see the parents often absent from their tables at the actual College Fair.

Today, many don’t wait to be asked to volunteer to do the workshops that would be relegated to the senior counselor. Instead, more than 30 professionals rally together to offer a variety of workshops that bring students and parents alike to our school long after the final bell has rung the day before a busy College Fair.

They do a variety of workshops at a program we call EXPLORE (Exploring Postsecondary Level Opportunities and Resources in Education). It spans like a wide umbrella to easily encompass relevant workshops and trainings the visiting representatives feel inclined and prepared to offer. They offer proof to the notion that it is much easier to be the sage in someone else’s community while offering the variety in workshops a lone counselor could never offer while providing the luxury of choice as visitors can choose the workshops that offer the greatest chance to address their questions, needs and situations.

While our counseling program is committed to ensure a curriculum component to educate students about important life skills our district emphasizes, no rules limit who can provide that training. Even if the school counselor knows every insight, idea or practice presented by those visiting experts who also seek to help students successfully transition into life after graduation, how beneficial it has been to join other experts who can affirm, validate or reinforce those counseling lessons in their own small group workshops preparing students.

Every minute an admission representative can spend teaching a group the intricacies of a polished application essay in the context of a calendar dictating when those finished essays must be available is a minute the school counselor can become available to help an individual review a solitary essay, resume or application. Every student that is alerted to and excited by an opportunity for a scholarship or program announced by the visiting expert can become a town crier for other seniors who have lost track of the calendar requirements obscured by plans for proms, committees or nightly homework and remind them of the urgency for each deadline. Yes, the college admission officers who come to our school leave EXPLORE Night participants better able to face and tackle all the demands of testing, applying, selecting, visiting, submitting and deciding while mastering the complications of FAFSA, CSS Profile, Subsidized vs. Unsubsidized Loans and Award Letters.

The College Fair serves as a catalyst for seniors who may have needed prompts to start the college application process. The EXPLORE workshops reinforce the steps necessary to allow seniors to successfully enter and transition into college. The group of admission officers who come in leave more than flyers and pens. They leave the urgency needed for seniors to avoid the collision course they face with calendar pages traveling at the speed of light. But seniors aren’t the only benefactors of these events.

College Admission Officers may have been sent by their representatives to win the hearts, souls and applications of each high school’s best and brightest and seemingly end up sharing panels with competing officers. They suddenly find themselves collaborating and insuring the education and interests of students ends up any preceding singular allegiance to the one school that employs them. The result is a camaraderie that creates the positive school climate that surrounds our local College Fair: one that attracts students, staff and families from six school districts that come to join our regional college fair.

So don’t be afraid to put these visitors to work. Let them work together to put the interests and education of students in the forefront while still allowing them to proudly represent their own programs. Their visits leave in their wake a wave of efforts by seniors who realize the gates have opened and they need to pull strongly out of the gate to maintain the pace of those wanting to pursue long term goals and opportunities available to seniors. And these representatives not only leave behind skills, materials and invitation for graduating seniors, but also offer to serve as advocates and contacts for students wanting the support of others to get into and through college. So be fair and give all visiting representatives every opportunity to influence the students who are the basis of their position in the first place.

Robert McClory

2010 Finalist for School Counselor of the Year (American School Counselor Association)

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