I just got back from a two-week college fair tour with admissions counselors from seven American universities. We visited 11 cities in nine countries, including one day that we traveled to four different countries.
During the trip, we met around 2,000 students.
That's a lot of prospective international students. And now that I'm back at my desk catching up on emails and going over my notes, just a handful of those students I met really stand out.
Here are the steps you can take before, during and after you attend a college fair in your home country to ensure you leave an impression.
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Before the Fair: Do Your Research
You will usually receive a flyer from your school announcing the date, time and location of the college fair. If it's not at your school, it will typically be at a school or event center nearby.
The flyer will also include a list of the universities that will be attending. Review the list, and if you haven't heard of one of the schools, take a moment to visit its website. Make notes about its location, number of students, majors, scholarship offerings and student organizations.
Now, go back to the flyer and circle the universities you'd like to learn more about at the fair. If you have specific questions, write them down so you'll remember to ask.
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During the Fair: Network, Network, Network
The students I meet at college fairs usually do one of three things.
Some stand in the middle of the room and never approach a single university representative. Others sneak by the table and grab a brochure without saying anything. And others walk up and introduce themselves.
That's the most important thing you can do to make a good impression – talk to us. If you wrote down questions before the fair, ask them.
Those questions can be specific to a particular university – "Do you have a swim team?" "What's the winter like in your city?" "How can I meet other international students on your campus?" – but they don't have to be.
We are more than happy to answer general questions, like "Do you accept the Common Application?" "Can you tell me more about the TOEFL?" "What is Thanksgiving all about?"
Even if you don't have questions, the university representatives who are at the fair want to meet you. We want to hear about why you'd like to study in the U.S., what you might want to major in and what activities you're already involved in. We want to tell you about programs and scholarships that might be a good fit for you.
The purpose of our visit is not to get you to commit to a particular university – it's to have a conversation.
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After the Fair: Contact Your Contacts
After the fair, go over the brochures you collected and the notes you took.
Make a list of three to five universities where you can imagine yourself as a successful student. Revisit those colleges' websites and take a more detailed look.
Are there majors you would enjoy? Are there support services for international students like tutoring and academic advisers? What can you find out about the city or town where the university is located?
Then, revise your list if needed.
Last, email the representatives at the universities on your list. Reintroduce yourself and remind them of your conversation at the college fair.
Let them know you're interested and would like to know about the next steps. Arrange to visit the campus and take a tour, if you will be traveling to the U.S. in the near future. If your parents have questions, see if the representative can call or email them.
The important thing is to maintain the connections you made at the college fair. Even if you end up not applying to a particular university, you will have found a resource you can trust. And no matter where you end up going, that's invaluable support.
Amy Rader Kice is director of international admission and assistant dean at St. Edward's University. She has counseled international students for more than 10 years and volunteers for the CIS Committee on Europe, the Middle East and Africa. She has also completed the College Board's Enrollment Leadership Academy. Connect with her on LinkedIn or via email.