Don’t miss this fair: The country’s best lesser-known colleges

Question: I will be a high school senior this fall and know I should be thinking about college, but I don’t even know where to begin.

Answer: A great way to start is to attend a local college fair, where college representatives gather in one room to share information with students and their parents. One of my favorite local college fairs is the Colleges that Change Lives Event happening Aug. 4, from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Meydenbauer Center. Unlike national college fairs, in which more than a hundred colleges can be represented, this fair targets only 40 schools selected by Loren Pope, a former New York Times editor and a leading expert on American colleges.

Pope identifies small, often lesser-known colleges that would prove to be catalysts in changing young lives by empowering students to find themselves and heighten their aspirations. Because the schools all prioritize teaching over research, he believes they provide a better education than their Ivy League counterparts. At these 40 schools, learning is collaborative rather than competitive, values are central, and there is a strong sense of community. Moreover, these schools accept a wide variety of students and — with admissions practices that place an unusual emphasis on motivation —t end to look well beyond grade-point averages and test scores.

Northwest schools that will be represented at the fair include Evergreen College, Reed College, and Whitman College. Other personal favorites include College of Wooster, Denison, St. Olaf, Cornell College and Clark. For a listing of all 40 colleges that will be present, refer to Loren Pope’s Web site, http://www.ctcl. com. Pope includes valuable information about college planning and links to his picks.

There will be hundreds of families jockeying to ask questions of the college representatives. Expect to find yourself shoulder to shoulder with other applicants, each trying to monopolize the representatives. In order to leave with good information , it is best to come prepared with a defined strategy.

To begin, acquaint yourself with the list of schools represented at the fair to determine in advance which schools you wish to target. Allow yourself to consider lesser-known schools as well as those too far to visit easily. Come prepared to ask questions that go beyond the basic information provided on the schools’ Web sites. I do not find it helpful to ask college reps what type of students they are looking for, as they will generally give you a stock answer: Strong students who can handle the academic workload and offer something to the student body. Instead, probe for more in-depth information by inquiring about research opportunities for students, acceptance rates into given majors, availability of career planning services, popular majors, graduation retention rates, and the like. Also, get a flavor for the campus life and how students generally spend their time on the weekends as well as information about housing and recreational activities. Knowing that some of these schools are in remote rural areas, I would also inquire about the towns themselves as our students might not be as comfortable in a small town with difficult access to and from Seattle.

It may be helpful to prepare self-stick address labels that include your name, address, email, high school, year of graduation, intended major, and extra-curricular activities of interest. At the fair, you will be able to simply attach your label to information request forms to request mailings from the schools that interest you, including view books, catalogs and information specific to your academic and extracurricular interests.

There will be another local college fair on Nov. 4 and 5 at the Washington Convention Center. For more information, please see MemberPortal/Events /CollegeFairs/NCF/FallNCF.

Joan Franklin is the owner of The College Source ( She is also a certified school counselor in the Issaquah School District. She lives and practices on Mercer Island and can be reached at 232-5626 or at joanfranklin@

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