Has the Impact of College Fairs Changed? New Cappex Study Explores Student Views

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Do students still go to college fairs, and how do they feel about them? To find out, Cappex surveyed more than 850 high school seniors in December 2009.

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As students live more of their lives online and become more wrapped up in online social activities, Cappex asked: Do students still go to college fairs, and how do they feel about them? To find out, Cappex surveyed more than 850 high school seniors in December 2009, a time when most had decided which colleges to apply to and were in the process of sending in their applications.

Students reported that they had attended traditional college fairs primarily in their first semester of senior year (54%), and secondarily during junior year. Two-thirds of seniors surveyed said that second-semester junior year was the ideal time to attend college fairs. It appears that in hindsight, seniors wished they had attended a college fair earlier in high school. Of those who had been to a college fair, just 19% said they had been to an online college fair. So, surprisingly, online college fairs are still a nascent category, but some students are attending.

Typically, students reported that they talked with one to five colleges at fairs, and about 25% of those colleges were already in their top choices. That means they go to a fair with one or two ideal colleges in mind. About 43% of surveyed students said college fairs did change their minds about colleges that were not already in their top choices. So college fairs still present an opportunity for colleges to expose their schools to students and for students to explore and engage.

The number one thing that would make college fairs more useful is having more information about specific majors, according to 68% of responders. This is likely because specific degrees appeal to students’ passions and, in most cases, are the reason for going to college.

What comes second is no surprise given current economic conditions. 57% of surveyed students want more information about financial aid at the booth, such as more information about merit scholarships and how to apply.

It is interesting that 53% of surveyed students want applications available at the booth. This makes sense. If, as a student, you’ve had a good conversation with a rep, you’ll be more jazzed to explore the application requirements – including essays or special items that the college requires – and mentally prepare for the online app.

Lastly, students are seeking more well-rounded college booths including better-informed representatives, more recent grads and more pictures of campuses.

The strongest influencer by a mile, in terms of recruiting channels, is a campus visit (according to 74% of surveyed students) followed by a college’s website (59%). This is predictable, and Cappex has observed this with other studies they’ve done.

Students reported that college fairs don’t come close to those top two sources of information in terms of influence. College fairs rank significantly lower, neck-and-neck with virtual tours and videos and high school counselors, with only about a third of students saying they were very influential or their main influence.

Online college search sites (46%) rank in the middle of the range, substantially higher than college fairs and very close to admission officers (48%). College search sites can be a good complement to both college websites and college fairs and provide colleges a way to influence a greater number of students.


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Lee Bilow
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