By Jonathan Oleisky

What do you get when you pack 200 college admissions counselors, over a thousand Maryland area independent school juniors and their parents into a crowed Baltimore area hotel? You get the 2015 AIMS College Fair, which was held last night in Timonium.

As the parent of a high school junior, my wife and I had the pleasure (for most of the evening, we will get to that in a minute) of accompanying our daughter to what has become a rite of passage for thousands of independent school families in this area over the years.

Each spring some 200+ college admissions counselors from around the country greet prospective juniors. It is an excellent opportunity for a student to get an initial impression about a school, ask a quick question or two, pick up admissions materials and get on a colleges mailing list. For those families that can’t afford to visit far flung schools, it presents a large number of schools under one roof, for one night.

This was our second “tour of duty” as a Garrison Forest School family, as our older daughter is a junior in College. Thus we were well prepared for the evening. I’m happy to say that the College Counseling Office at Garrison had done an excellent job of preparing our daughter as well as fellow Garrison girls for the fair. Each student had a target list of colleges to visit along with a stack of custom made business card style stickers containing contact and personal information.

You may ask, why the stickers? Instead of having to fill out personal information cards with different admissions counselors, our daughter simply put her sticker on each card, thus maximizing her time.

Let’s talk about the evening’s logistics (this is where it gets interesting).  The colleges were arranged in alphabetical order and the fair offered two 90 minute sessions, but each student could only attend one session. To be efficient, each student needed his or her own battle plan to successfully talk to 10 -12 schools. In essence the AIMS College Fair is somewhat akin to speed dating, but first you have to wait in lines of 5-7 students for the more popular schools.

Most of the parents we talked to all agreed that the evening was hot, tiring and involved waiting in lines (some of them long) to introduce yourself to an admissions counselor for a quick 4-5 minute conversation. The important thing to remember is the fair is really for the student, not the parents to approach and engage the admissions counselor. Most parents stood back and gave gentle, coaching advice to their children about how to approach a certain school and helped them come up with questions.

Our daughter was able to speak with 11 schools and came away with some interesting nuggets of information. One school in particular that is on her “target list” tracks student engagement and our daughter had already met this particular admissions counselor when she toured the college this past winter. The counselor remembered her and they had a nice conversation. Would that qualify as a successful “student engagement”? Hard to say.

A fellow parent remarked to me that he thought the evening was a waste. I told him that I had to disagree. For those students who came with a plan and a strategy to meet specific schools, the evening was good practice in terms of introducing themselves to a total stranger.

The college search process can be intimidating, stressful, overwhelming and incredibly frustrating for both students and parents. Disappointment is part of the process, but discovering new schools is just as exciting. For 90 minutes of your time, the AIMS College Fair gives you a quick look into the process.

Jonathan Oleisky is the President of Kalix Communications