Interview with Holly Bennetts, President of the Michigan Association for College Admission Counseling

Have your juniors been dreaming about attending the biggest brand name college in your state? Are they considering some of the Ivies, small, liberal arts colleges nearby or far away from home? Do they have the information they need to make an informed choice about where to apply to college?

As you may already know, your students can get a front-row seat to the world of college – with accurate information about admissions – at one of the many National College Fairs throughout the country, sponsored by NACAC. Your students can often attend additional workshops on paying for college, selecting colleges, or how to fill out an application.

I caught up with Holly Bennetts, President of the Michigan Association for College Admission Counseling, to get some best tips for working a college fair so your students can get what they need. Please share these tips with your students.

Why should a student attend the National College Fair?

“College Fairs are an excellent way for students to learn more about schools within a particular state and out of state. It’s great practice to ask questions and interact with college admission staff in a low-risk environment.  Colleges love to speak to prospective students and help them find their post-secondary path.”

What should students do when they arrive at the college fair?  

“Go outside of your comfort zone.  College fairs are a great opportunity to learn about different types of schools and figure out where you belong! Plan to visit 2 to 3 schools from each school type.  That means, visit with a small liberal arts college, visit with a large institution, visit with an in-state school and an out-of-state school and check out a community college. “

What type of questions would you recommend a student ask college reps? 

Ask about financial aid, academic interests and favorite activities. You can start by asking college reps how colleges award scholarships and financial aid.  Typically, the price that is advertised for a college is not what most students pay, so ask what the average net price is for a school.  If you have a specific interest academically, ask about the program.  The most popular major for a student entering college is undecided, so ask colleges how they help students figure out what they want to do.  If you have a favorite activity like MUN, Robotics, Ulitmate Frisbee, ask if the college has a club similar that you can join!  You might also ask what a typical student does on weekends and consider talking about how you can arrange a campus visit to learn more.    

What should your parent do at the college fair?

Parents should sit back and let their students take the lead!  If, as a parent, you want to learn more about a school your child is looking at, check it out online, or ask a question with your student’s permission.  Talk about this with your child ahead of time.  Your student will likely stumble over their words and forget to ask a question or two, but this is an excellent opportunity for them to learn self-advocacy skills.   When I speak with college representatives, few tell me about a great conversation they have had with a parent; most will share about great conversations (even if they are awkward) they have had with a student! 

The college fair can be overwhelming. What should a student do with all the information collected at the college fair to make it useful?

After the fair, go through your materials and look to see if there is a school you would like to learn more about.  Go to the school website and sign up for more information.  If there were colleges you particularly liked ,and you have a contact person from the fair, send a follow-up email thanking them for their time.  When you send the email, make sure you include a greeting, and write your name at the end.   Visit with your school counselor or school college advisor to learn about the application process for the schools you are interested in.

There are so many booths and just a little bit of time. Which ones should a student visit? 

Visit schools that don’t typically come to your high school; use this time to reach outside of who you would normally see.  If you are not sure who comes to your school, ask your school counselor.  This is an excellent time to expand what you know.  Visit schools you have never heard of. With over 4000 schools in the United States, there are bound to be schools that you have never heard of that may be perfect for you.

What are your 3 best tips for making a college fair work for any student?

  1. If you always thought about a big school, pick one or two small school booths to visit. Look at the list of schools participating before you arrive.  Select the schools you definitely want to visit. Look outside the schools you normally would think about.  Pick schools from different size and location categories – you might surprise yourself!
  2. Talk to your counselor before you go to the college fair. Have your questions written down and bring something to take notes.
  3. Follow-up with schools you were interested in by speaking to your school counselor, joining the mailing list on the college website or sending an email to the representative that was there!

About the Author

Kim Lifton is President of Wow Writing Workshop, a strategic communication and writing services, specializing in teaching writing for college and graduate school admissions, and teaching and writing for businesses and nonprofits. The Wow Method has been used by students to write application essays and resumes; by business owners to create blogs, websites and other communication materials; and by English teachers to improve student writing skills. Wow can even help you write a great poem or short story. If it involves words, Wow can help! Email your questions to