Brian Underwood: Five tips to make the most of college fairs

You can feel it when you drive. Hall of Fame golfer turned pitchman Lee Trevino used this double entendre in a 1980s television commercial to compare the knowing feel of a great golf drive with that of driving on a particular set of high performance tires.It was, indeed, a clever play on words to help sell tires at that time. Its figurative language still has relevance today for prospective college students seeking the right feel in their college search.Much has been written in this space over the last year about establishing the right college fit (e.g. priorities, academic match, etc.) The rubber meets the road, though, when a student personally interacts with a campus, or its representatives. That’s when one begins to get — the feeling.Fall represents a great time for students to test drive schools when college admissions officers hit the road to meet students at college fairs around the country, and next Sunday that travelling road show of admissions officers will be in our own back yard. The Western Association for College Admission Counseling (WACAC) will host its annual regional fair for northern Nevada next Sunday, November 4, from 12:00 - 4:00 p.m. at the University of Nevada’s Joe Crowley Student Union, located at 1664 North Virginia Street, in Reno.This fair is the only large-scale fair in Northern Nevada each year, so it represents a golden opportunity for prospective college students and their parents to gather a great deal of information and ask important questions.Because of the one-stop shopping environment they offer, college fairs are, generally speaking, very well attended. Therefore, it is important to develop a plan of attack to maximize one’s time.The following five encouragements are quality recommendations from Robin Mamlet and Christine Vandevelde, authors of College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step (Three Rivers Press, 2011) to help attendees effectively navigate a college fair.No. 1: Obtain a list of the participating colleges in advance to determine which schools’ booths you wish to visit. (The Sierra Lutheran High School website, , has a comprehensive listing of the schools that are scheduled to attend.)No. 2: Do some homework. Check out the websites of the schools you want to visit and prepare a list of questions after you’ve done some research.No. 3: Do not bring a resume. Schools are not interested in a resume from you at this point.No. 4: College fairs sometimes include information sessions on subjects such as financial aid or the search process, so plan accordingly if you want to attend.No. 5: Leave some time to wander around. A school that you hadn’t considered may catch your eye. Take the time to interact with its admission representative and learn more.Additionally, I strongly advise students who plan to attend to dress for success. And while a college fair is not a job interview, I do encourage students to consider the unique opportunity they have to make a first impression. Donning one’s Sunday best is certainly not necessary. And neither are old t-shirts and tattered jeans.A follow-up to this is my encouragement that students also remember the importance of good manners when visiting with a representative. When a student gains the opportunity, he or she should introduce him or herself with an extended hand, with good eye contact, and with enthusiasm.The WACAC event is free; however, you do need to pre-register. To do so, visit and click on the Upcoming Events link that is located on the front page. From there, click on the Register link. The end result will allow registrants to print out a confirmation page that includes a bar code. That code not only allows attendees to have easy entry to the event, it also allows the admissions representatives to scan students’ barcodes rather than having them complete interest cards for each school that piques their interest.If you are unable to make next Sunday’s fair, take heart, you can engage college admissions representatives online through This site offers a variety of live chat sessions with representatives from schools across the country. It also hosts virtual college fairs each fall and spring. The next fair is scheduled for March 20-21. Those interested in studying in Australia or Canada can visit this same website to attend online sessions with individuals representing those opportunities.Sierra Lutheran is offering free transportation to any middle school student who is accompanied by his or her parent. The SLHS school bus will depart from Sierra Lutheran, 3601 Romans Road, Carson City, 89705, at 11 a.m. and return to the school at approximately 3 p.m. Seating is limited, so interested parties must email as soon as possible to reserve a seat.College fairs are a lot of fun because they allow students to acquire lots of information, in one place, in a short amount of time. So make it a point to kick the tires next Sunday.• Brian Underwood is the executive director of Sierra Lutheran High School. He can be reached at


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