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Navigating a college fair

5 do's and don'ts to help you get the info you need

May. 29, 2012 - 02:02PM   |   Last Updated: May. 29, 2012 - 02:02PM  |  

When your commander marches you into a room full of college recruiters vying for your attention and GI Bill dollars, how do you make sure you get the information you need? Here's a list of do's and don'ts to keep you focused on the mission:

DO have a goal in mind before you head to the fair

You don't need to have a school or a program picked out, but think about the career you want to end up in. Interested in technology? No need to spend time checking out the culinary program. Want to spend the next four years studying literature? Then why are you hanging out at the school of agriculture? Having an idea of what you want will help you ask the right questions.

DO plan on spending one to two hours at the college fair

Mike Engen, education services officer at Fort Hood, Texas, says to plan on about 10 minutes for each booth you visit, which gives you time to check out six to 12 colleges. Ten minutes will give you enough time to chat with the college rep about your goals and their programs without letting one talker monopolize your time. Avoid going at the very end of the fair. Some reps might run out of brochures and pack up early, so if it's an all-day event, try to get there near the middle of the day.

DON'T get distracted by the tchotchkes

You might see everything from stress balls and pens to iPad raffles at college booths. Go ahead and fill your pockets, but don't forget what you're there for — to get information that will shape your future, not to get eight different colors of lanyards. If you know a college doesn't have the program you're looking for, don't waste your time at that booth. "It's not about free stuff," says Hollye Davis, regional field coordinator for University of Maryland University College. "You're looking at what is going to make you marketable" to employers.

DON'T be nervous

Davis says she sees a lot of GIs at college fairs who are scared to go up to college reps and ask questions. "They have a preconceived notion that we are going to judge them," she says. "A lot of people with GEDs are afraid to even go to a college fair." But the folks behind the booths are used to students just like you. If you weren't the best student in high school, they'll get you into the classes you need to catch up.

DO get a business card

Engen says getting the digits is critical for you, and college representatives are eager to hand them over. If you have contact information for someone you've already met, that's an opening to keep asking questions and get your concerns addressed. If the reps you meet at the fair can't help you, they'll tell you who can.

— Cid Standifer

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