If you've been preparing for your first college fair, you probably already have your map of must-visit booths, highlighted your favorite schools and checked the list twice.

If you’ve really done your homework, you most likely have questions ready to ask college representatives as well. But what’s the point of all of that preparation if you don’t know how to make it work for you?

There will be a lot of other potential applicants there. How can you stand out from the crowd and make the kind of impression that leaves admissions representatives eager for you to apply to their schools? Here are a few suggestions on how to network and navigate a college fair.

Set The Stage

It’s important to be yourself and 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 formality, very casual clothing could be construed as a lack of interest. Consider dressing as you would for a relaxed family party with aunts, uncles and grandparents in attendance. You may also want to avoid athletic wear like basketball jerseys, for example, or yoga pants. Pay attention to your footwear as well. Sneakers, casual shoes and boots are a go but leave those flip flops and slippers at home.

Once you’re at the fair, grab the most recent map of the booths and take a look around. Note any changes from your pre-event research before you start to circulate the floor.

Make An Impression

There’s really no need to be nervous as you walk up to the first booth on your list. Remember that admissions representatives are there specifically to meet and greet potential students, not just to hand out materials and answer simple questions.

The questions that you bring to the table about the school should be the kind that provoke an actual conversation.

Take the lead on any introductions and make eye contact. Hold out your hand to shake and start with any variation of this introduction: “Hi, my name is … and I’m interested in…” or “I’m leaning toward majoring in…” while maintaining a friendly, engaged, respectful and professional attitude.

Even at this early stage, you want to be able 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 or even favorite books and movies.

Ask Open-Ended Questions

The questions that you bring to the table about the school should be the kind that provoke an actual conversation. By asking about things that can be accessed online, you’ll likely get a quick answer and 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 thoughtful questions. This will help set you apart from other students and provide you with valuable information when making the decision to apply.

For example, if you ask for tips on getting into a popular class that always fills up right away, it indicates that you cared enough to do research on the school, which can open the door for you and the representative to talk about other useful enrollment hacks. Are you interested in taking a graduate class as a freshman or want to participate in research? Those categories usually require advance approval from specific school departments, but it doesn’t hurt to ask the representative too; you may find out some insider tips around typical school restrictions.

Remember to be a good listener too. If you can really hear what someone else is saying and respond in kind, you’ll make a lasting connection that will improve your chances of being remembered.

Exchange Contact Information

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

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 e-mail that thanks them for their time, references the fair you attended and briefly reiterates why you’re interested in the school is appropriate and can make a real difference.

Come admissions time, your preparation, behavior at the fair and follow up could become a deciding factor for your school of choice. It may be wise to use your thank you note to also schedule a campus tour through your contact as well. You might just get another opportunity to make a good impression.