Apply yourself: College fairs help high school students and families do their higher ed homework

CINCINNATI - As high school students settle into a new academic year, some are beginning to consider options for post-secondary education.

For many, a number of factors play a role in deciding where to pursue a college degree. To help address these factors, Cincinnati Country Day School is co-hosting the Cincinnati Suburban College Fair on Sept. 25. 

An increase in attendance

The Cincinnati Suburban College Fair began in 1998 as a small event, said Sarah Beyreis, director of college counseling at Cincinnati Country Day School. 

While the fair has always been open to all students in the area, it remained small in its early years, drawing participation largely from its host, Cincinnati Country Day School.

In an effort to boost outside attendance, school officials invited Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy, Seven Hills School and The Summit Country Day School to co-host the event about three years ago, Beyreis said.

“It has grown significantly since we invited these other schools to be co-sponsors,” she said. The event brought about 1,200 students and parents to the school in 2012.

A college visit close to home

Representatives from more than 180 colleges will be at the college fair, including:

  • Miami University
  • University of Cincinnati
  • Northern Kentucky University
  • Johns Hopkins University
  • University of Michigan

College representatives will provide informational materials, answer students’ questions and take contact information for follow-up.

“We provide materials that present an overview of the university,” said Susan Schaurer, senior associate director of admissions at Miami University.

Representatives from Miami University will share information on topics including majors, student life, scholarships, financial aid and application deadlines, she added.

Because it can be difficult to coordinate campus visits for colleges hundreds of miles away, the college fair is especially helpful for students interested in campuses that are far from home.

“I liked how you didn’t have to go to the colleges. It's kind of like they come to you,” said Cincinnati Country Day School senior Paige Bennett, who attended the fair the last three years.

Finding the right fit

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 66 percent of 2012 high school graduates were enrolled in colleges or universities in October 2012.

Searching for the right college is a process that often requires visiting campuses, filling out applications and having family discussions, said Thomas Canepa, associate vice president of admissions at The University of Cincinnati.

Although visiting campus is an important step in deciding if a school is the “right fit to call home for the next four years,” the college fair can be a good introduction to multiple colleges, he said.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the similarities and differences between the colleges,” said Cincinnati Country Day School junior Elizabeth Grace.

Grace hopes to get a feel for what student life is like on different campuses, including how much free time students have and how much time they spend studying.

In or out of state?

When considering higher education choices, not all students are looking to get as far from home as possible.

“I prefer to stay relatively close to home,” Bennett said.

Although she wants to be near family, Bennett's pursuit of a college with a good medical program has led her to consider out-of-state schools like Elon, Emory and Purdue.

“I don’t have any qualms about Paige going out of state,” said her mother, Tracy Bennett. “Whether it’s 45 minutes away, like Miami (University) or seven hours away, like Emory (University), I want her college experience to be one that is engaging to her.”

In recent years, Cincinnati Country Day School officials have seen an increase in students looking in-state because of the associated cost savings, Beyreis said.

The cost of higher education

While an out-of-state college may fit a student's expectations for campus size, culture and program offerings, the cost is often an equally important factor.

According to reports prepared by the Ohio Board of Regents, annual tuition rates for full-time undergraduate students attending four-year universities in Ohio ranged from about $7,700 to $13,500 during the 2012-2013 school year.

Students living on campus pay additional, ranging from about $7,800 to $11,800. The cost of education is lower for students attending regional campuses and community colleges, ranging from about $2,700 to $7,100.

Universities typically add a surcharge to tuition costs for out-of-state students. According to a report from the Alabama Commission Higher education, the annual tuition cost for out-of-state students attending four-year institutions in Alabama during the 2012-2013 school year was about $16,000. The figure is nearly double the in-state average of $8,300.

Next page: How to prepare for the college fair, other college fairs in the Cincinnati area

A report prepared by the New Jersey Commission on Higher Education shows annual out-of-state undergraduate rates at four-year institutions in New Jersey averaged about $21,000, while in-state rates were about $12,500 on average.

While the price tag on higher education can be intimidating, students and parents need to look at what their net cost is going to be, Canepa said. In many cases, tuition costs can be offset by financial aid, grants and scholarships.

Applying to college

Some students apply to one college, while others might apply to 10. The number of schools students apply to will vary depending on students’ interests and application fees, but the average tends to be about five or six, Canepa said.

Bennett said she spoke to representatives from at least 10 to 15 schools at last year’s college fair. The event helped her narrow her list of schools she wanted to apply to down to about eight.

While she went to the fair knowing some of the schools she was interested in, she began to consider additional options after the college fair. She recommends students talk to representatives at colleges they are interested in, “but also consider colleges they hadn’t considered before.”

Preparing for a college fair

The Cincinnati Suburban College Fair is free and open to all high school students in the area. While the experience may be overwhelming for some younger students, the event is helpful for most sophomores, juniors and seniors Beyreis said.

“I think that kids should be sure to have a conversation with a rep,” she said. “Students will get so much more out of the college fair if they step up and engage with the rep, even if they don’t know anything about their school.”

Some items students might want to bring to the fair include:

  • Pens
  • Contact information labels
  • Unofficial transcripts
  • Resumes

Students also are encouraged to bring lists of questions for college representatives

“The students who benefit the most are those who sit down and organize their thoughts and figure out what information they want to know,” Schaurer said.

If you go:

Other college fairs in the area include:

  1. Northern Kentucky Regional College Fair - Tuesday, Sept. 24, 6-8 p.m. at Thomas More College
  2. Southwest Ohio College Fair - Tuesday, Sept. 24, 6:30-8 p.m. at Miami University Hamilton
  3. Clermont County College Night - Thursday, Sept. 26, 6-8 p.m. at Eastgate Mall
  4. Mason College Visit Day - Friday, Sept. 27, 8-10:30 a.m. at William Mason High School
  5. Cincinnati National College Fair - Sunday, Sept. 29, 1-4 p.m. at Duke Energy Center
  6. Forest Hills College Night - Monday, Sept. 30, 7-8:30 p.m. at Nagel Middle School
  7. College Night Program - Wednesday, Oct. 2, 7-8:30 p.m. at Oak Hills High School
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