I recently got an email from the parent of a middle school child who thought it would be a good time to set up an appointment since this is the "break time" in the admission calendar.
There are three issues with this. First, we don't really want middle school students to be actively involved in a college search (they should be focused on just doing well in school). Second, our staff isn't large enough to meet with every prospective student. Third, it's travel season!
Travel season, which is predicated by planning travel season, is when an admission officer hits the road to spread the word about the school in his or her territory. For us, there are five types of events: college fairs, evening programs, high school visits, high school college nights, and counselor breakfasts. Here are some thoughts from the admission side of things to help you understand what events might be of interest to you.
You know what a college fair is, right? In Virginia, we have what we call The Virginia Tour, which has admission officers running all over the state for college fairs. Each week is in a different region, so UVA admission officers trade off on weeks (the person who does week 1 usually is the person who covers that territory). In my time at UVA, I've covered weeks that had me in Northern Virginia, Shenandoah Valley, Central Virginia, and the Northern Neck. I learned a lot about the state while racing around on the Virginia Tour in those earlier years.
These days, I go to the big Northern Virginia fairs as a "second" to one of my colleagues. The big fairs there are at the Fair Oaks Mall (so big that you can feel the mall moving if you are set up on the second floor), Hayfield Secondary, and Washington-Lee High School. I tend to have a lot of fun because there is so much energy at these events, but it can be overwhelming, too.
Who would enjoy this event: Anyone just starting the college search who wants to get a lot of reading material at once. Big fairs aren't always the place to have an extended conversation with an admission officer due to the crowds, though.
My advice: If you're going to a big fair, wear comfortable shoes and dress in layers (it can get hot with all those people walking around!). If the fair gives you a bar code, consider printing it out because sometimes the scanners they give admission officers don't work well with cell phones.
Have you gotten an invitation to attend a college presentation at night? Our office does two kinds of evening programs: consortium travel or "UVA only" nights. Consortium travel means a group of schools (usually 3-5) have teamed up and are planning programs together. UVA only programs are when we are solo, though our alumni often step in to help us with these events.
Having done both kinds of programs, I like both for different reasons. Traveling with a group is wonderful because our work is often a bit lonely. It's also great to learn about what is happening at peer schools and get outside perspectives on our presentations. I look forward to my New England group trip every year because of this. You can imagine, though, that presentation time is shorter at a group program. We usually get about 10 minutes to talk.
At a UVA-only program, I enjoy going into more depth, often showing a video and longer slideshow than at a group program. I often spent a little time reading excerpts from essays, which I think is really helpful for seniors.
Who would enjoy these events: Evening programs have something for everyone. The benefit of a consortium is that you might learn about schools that weren't on your radar. There is also usually some time for Q&A afterwards. UVA programs are great for people who can't make it to Charlottesville during the college search.
My advice: If you have already visited a school, you probably got more information than you would at a group event (remember, we each get around 10 minutes to talk!), so don't feel pressured to come to these programs, especially since we don't use demonstrated interest in our process.
High School Visits
Almost every day in the fall, you'll find admission officers visiting the high schools in their territories. We often get 30-45 minutes to present to prospective students and answer their questions. Interested students often sign up in advance to leave class for the visit. When we're done, we race to another school to do it all over again.
In my territory (Fairfax and Arlington counties, plus Fairfax City, Falls Church, and Alexandria), I try to visit 4-5 schools each day. If you know Northern Virginia, you can imagine that the traffic sometimes makes an ambitious schedule difficult!
Who would enjoy these events: High school visits are generally geared towards juniors and seniors, but your school might restrict attendance to seniors at certain times of the year. These are a great way to get some information about a school if you won't be able to visit the campus in person for an information session. I don't think anything substitutes for a tour, though!
My advice: Don't leave a really important class for a college's visit if you have already visited the school. Just as with evening programs, you probably got a lot more information during the visit.
High School College Nights
I love college nights (sometimes called Senior Night, Junior Night, or Parent Night). These events are organized by the counseling staff at the high school and are meant to introduce families to the application process and procedures of the high school. I've seen many colleagues on the high school side walk families through transcript and recommendation requests, explain financial aid forms, and demonstrate online resources available to families during the college search.
Admission officers are sometimes asked to attend these programs to sit on a panel about the college search. We definitely field questions specific to our schools, but often give advice about the college search overall. The panels are often fun because we get to be a little less formal than we are at evening programs or high school visits.
Who would enjoy these events: Parents and students who are starting or engaged in the college search. Many don't realize that their school counselors have some pretty great tools to assist them with the search for a college. What's more, the financial aid process can be confusing, so it's nice to have some help navigating the forms and documents.
My advice: Go to your school's college night. Do it!
I wasn't going to mention these events, but the fact that a parent found out about one last month and brought her son makes me think people misinterpret to whom these programs are geared. (Side note: The student was lovely and a colleague from another school chatted with him outside.)
Counselor breakfasts are put on by a school or consortium of schools. All of the school counselors in the area are invited to breakfast at a hotel or local restaurant before school starts. The admission officer(s) give updates about the college and high school counselors can ask questions or discuss issues that are specific to the area. During consortium travel, we often have evening programs at night, a counselor breakfast in the morning, and then spend the day traveling to the next city. We do the same two events in 5 cities in a week.
Who would enjoy these events: High school counselors. I'm guessing that the "counselor" part of the name made that student think of college admission counselors and not school counselors.
My advice: Don't worry about counselor breakfasts just yet!
Maybe you'll see UVA admission officers at some of these events in your area this fall!