A college fair is likely your first chance to introduce yourself to schools that could wind up on your college list. And those introductions are important.

A college fair “is one of the few opportunities for a student to make a face-to-face impression with a representative from the college. The conversation you have should help you gain valuable insight into the school,” says Lindsey Conger, a college counselor at Moon Prep.

While the information you gather about schools is a key element of the fair, the impression you leave on the representatives is equally important. How can you stand out from the crowd? Here are a few expert suggestions on how to network and navigate a college fair.

1. Dress the Part

It’s important to help others see you as you want to be seen. The first step is to be conscious of how you dress for the event. While no one expects formal attire, overly casual clothing — like athletic wear and flip-flops — could be construed as a lack of interest. 

Students should dress business casual. For example, dark jeans and a dress shirt is a great way to show admissions officers you take your education seriously without wearing a suit,” says Daniel Santos, CEO of Prepory. “Moreover, students should not wear apparel with any college or university logos. There are plenty of schools at college fairs, and it’s possible you may be interested in a school other than the one you’re representing.”

Attending a virtual fair is a little more relaxed, but it’s still worth considering your appearance. “A nice shirt and well-groomed hair is a good idea,” says Conger.

2. Take the Initiative 

Remember that admissions representatives are there to meet and greet potential students, not just to hand out materials and answer general questions.

College reps would like to see initiative, good interpersonal skills, general intellectualism and a genuine, deep interest in their school,” says Allen Koh, CEO of Cardinal Education

Introduce yourself while maintaining a friendly, engaged, respectful and professional attitude. Even at this early stage, you want to give the people you meet a sense of who you are and where your interests lie. If the conversation allows, feel free to open up a bit about hobbies and clubs you enjoy. The goal is to have a genuine conversation about what interests you, your future plans and what activities you’re currently involved in. 

3. Ask Open-Ended Questions

The questions you bring to the table about the school should be the kind that invite conversation. By asking about topics that can be accessed online, you’ll likely receive a quick answer and reach a dead end. If you want the school representatives to take a deeper interest in you, you’ll need to demonstrate your interest in their school through more searching, thoughtful questions. 

“Before students attend a college fair, they should conduct research on the participating schools [they’re considering] to develop a list of school-specific questions,” says Santos. “Ask detailed questions that are specific to the major you’re interested in or the campus culture, such as ‘At which types of companies do your engineering students tend to intern?’ or ‘What would you say students are most excited about on campus?’”

4. Exchange Contact Information

Before you walk away, thank everyone you spoke with for their time. Don’t forget to collect email addresses or business cards. Even if you’ve already requested information for the school online, you still want to leave your email and contact information on the rep’s sign-in sheet. That way, the admissions officer has a record of your visit, which might spark a positive memory of chatting with you.

5. Follow Up

Be proactive and follow up within a day or two of the fair. Admissions staff attend many events, and you don’t want them to forget you. A friendly email that thanks them for their time, references the fair and briefly reiterates why you’re interested in the school is appropriate and an effective way to demonstrate interest in a college.