I gave a good nugget of advice the other day and I wanted to share it with my readers. The reason I am thinking about it as a case study is because I think about case studies as students, events, or circumstances that help me frame what I do when consulting.

There are a few different types of college fairs so let me be clear in that I am talking about the ones you find a public high schools, especially large ones. Private schools may have college fairs, but they are most likely larger scale versions of what they are already doing in terms of matching and introducing students. Or you may have something that is becoming more popular with privates and charters, which is the case study version of a college fair where universities workshop college applications with students and families, according to other arrangements they’ve made in order to be there. The point is that for everyone else there is some sort of negotiating, introducing, or just moving along of their college application happening.

When public schools have college fairs, there is very little done in terms of agreements that the universities have to uphold in order to be there. The basic premise is that the schools are lucky to have them, which is the exact opposite of what is happening in the private and charter schools. This is why the majority of schools that are interested in really participating in the college fair, similar to what is happening in the privates, are the military and for-profit colleges and universities. The requirements to attend or enlist are markedly lower but the benefits that the military and let’s say DeVry or University of Phoenix or a beauty college gains far outweigh what applicants would put in.

Fortunately for all of us, college recruiters have quotas to fill so they’ll show up to the public school college fair even if they have little or less interest than the private school students down the street. So I say, make that event at the public school work like it does in the private school, at least for you. While I’m not one to give all of the secrets away, here are five tips to making that college fair work for you:

1) Get the list of colleges and universities that are attending and contact their admissions offices prior to their visit. This way, you will have established a relationship and are using the college fair as an opportunity to meet the person you may have been communicating with previously.

2) Ask questions that help further along your application. Most students meet an admissions officer (and remember, the recruiter is a form of one and may even be the person who reads your application) and they start asking questions about information they can find on the school’s website: What GPA do you take? What should the personal statement say? Quit advertising your laziness. Also, as I tell students in my advanced history courses, “what” questions are the worst. Ask “why” or “how” questions: How does the average student spend their day at your university? How will you ensure that I graduate and on-time? Why do your graduates find great jobs after graduation? Now you seem like you know what you want and you have bits of information that should show up in your application (e.g. personal statement, letters of recommendation, supplementary essays).

3) Bring your business card with your normal e-mail address and a link to your website. Most universities are going to look you up in social media anyway, so why not give them something favorable to read and proactively steer them towards that site? And from Prezi to WordPress, there are a ton of free sites to post your awesome essays, pictures of your community service, and pieces of music. And you can even use that link on your applications. Remember, the recruiters are visiting your school during their low season when they have very few applications to review and are not near a deadline. Great time to promote yourself.

4) Dress right! I consider college and graduate school as interviews that last for years. It isn’t fun but that’s how it goes. Make your first impression with the college recruiter memorable in a positive way. You don’t want to be remembered as the promising student with the remarkably short skirt and t-shirt with the beer logo.

5) Visit as many of the schools as you can. Many students will say, well, I only want to go to X University so I’ll only visit that table. Or I won’t get into Y University, so I won’t bother going to that table. I often times tell students not to do the admissions process themselves before they have even applied. There are nearly 5,000 private universities in the country and way more than that in terms of public schools. Limiting yourself to the one school down the street or the one that you heard sounds fun, and excluding those that you think are too hard or you think won’t admit you, defeats the purpose of the fair. Get exposure to as many as you can. I’ve learned about some pretty awesome spots this way, including the alternative schedule at Colorado College, the various degree options at Academy of Art University, and the great study abroad opportunities at Redlands University. Take a look.

I was the first person from my high school to go to my university. At that time, this was way before the internet did most of the work for you. So I searched through those postcards you get after taking the PSAT and SAT and searched through books to find schools that I thought were the right fit. It took forever. It’s a good thing they are already doing most of that for you so go take advantage!