Navigating the College Fair - the journey AND the destination

There are so many quotes about planning ahead and the importance of doing so.  I am a big believer in having a plan, and I am also a believer in having a designated OUTCOME you want to achieve.  These are very different, in my mind, because a plan is the steps or coordinates to get you there and the outcome is the destination – where you want to end up.

For example, let’s say you’re planning a trip to the Grand Canyon.  The plan you put together and the route you take and how it all unfolds may vary a bit, but knowing that this is where you want to end up helps you to course-correct and even create room in your plan if “things go astray”.

And, like planning a trip, I am a firm believer that this strategy works extremely well in college planning and especially when it comes to attending a college fair. 

WHY?  Because if you have no idea where you want to end up, you could find yourself wandering around aimlessly, with a bored, surly, frustrated teenager, who ends up more overwhelmed than when they walked in. 

Plus, creating a plan helps the student develop skills and tools for the future AND get more excited and take ownership of the college planning process.

Here's a 3-step process to follow for navigating the college fair:

A.  “Begin with the end in mind”:  have an idea of what you want to accomplish by attending – what you want for your outcome.  Is your child a sophomore and this is their first college fair?  If so, it can be overwhelming. Thinking about what, specifically, they want to get out of it can help create the game plan.  For example,  maybe they want to develop an initial list of colleges they are interested in.  In fact, breaking that down into a more specific goal helps them know they achieved a successful outcome and “reached their destination”, like “I want to have an initial list of 15 colleges that I’m interested in by the time we leave tonight”. 

Side note:  the more specific the outcome, the easier it will be to celebrate the accomplishment AND plan for distractions.  This way, when your child asks if they can “go off with their friends”, the answer isn’t yes or no, it is based on if the outcome was achieved.  You can ask a question like “have you found 15 colleges that are interested in”?  And at that point, your child can make a choice about how they want to proceed – by continuing to look for colleges with their friends or by completing the outcome and then meeting them later.

B.  Create a game plan based on the desired outcome: have your child decide how they want to accomplish said outcome and what is most important for them to complete.  This allows them to take into account the way the event is being executed and how to maximize their time.  For example, with over 200 booths and hundreds of students they may want to concentrate on colleges that are furthest away and least likely to be able to visit.   This may also help them to begin to create their criteria – like “I will focus on colleges on the East Coast” or “I know I don’t want to travel further than 3 hours by plane”.

C.  Do a debrief and set up one next step: have a quick discussion when you get home about their thoughts and come up with one action item they can accomplish over the next week to continue the great work they did!   For example, they may decide to research the colleges and find 10 things they love about them, based on their discussion with the college rep or find 5 colleges that are similar to those schools to increase their list. 

To find a college fair near you, you can click on this link.  The NACAC (National Association for College Admission Counseling) is on the road throughout the country, in Spring and again the Fall. 

And, I encourage you to check your local high school(s) or districts, as they may be putting on their own version, as the San Dieguito Union High School District (SDUHSD) is doing:

It’s been said that “life is about the journey, not the destination”.  And it has also been said that “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”.   As a coach, I believe it can be both, especially when it comes to the overall college process.  When it comes to college readiness, the planning and preparation is as important as the application process.

Creating a vision of the outcome helps the student begin to take ownership of their future and creating a plan helps them develop skills and tools to get them there that they can use now, in college and for their future!

What are your “go to” strategies for navigating college fairs?  I’d love to hear your ideas! Or, let me know how this "roadmap" works for your college fair journey!