The new technology at college fairs, what does it say?

Arm with barcode tattoo

There is a new piece of technology at NACAC college fairs, the “pocket sized laser scanner” which allows college reps to quickly scan student’s contact information if the student has registered online before the fair.  NACAC created a video explaining the tool which is found on YouTube.

NACAC debuted the scanner at select national fairs last spring, however they came at an extra cost to the school.  At 19 national fairs this spring, Admission reps are encouraged to use the scanners without paying additional fees.

I spoke with an admission colleague at Saint Michael’s College, Jeremy Brown, to get the scoop:

What benefits are there for admission officers, when participating at NACAC fairs that have scanners?
The biggest benefit is that the students’ information is legible and thorough. No more struggling to make out a student’s name, e-mail or physical address. Also, because presenting a bar code out is easier than filling out in inquiry card, the admissions representative has an opportunity to gather more leads.

Personally, the biggest benefit was that it let the geek inside of me sing with joy! Using gadgets is so fun and that little “beeeeeep-beep” that would sound when the code was read was just awesome!!!

What benefits are there to the prospective students?
Without a doubt, it makes the process a lot less daunting for the student. I have seen some kids at other fairs who have inquiry card-fatigue near the end of a fair and may be less apt to fill out that inquiry card than when they first got to the fair. Even the kids who are smart and bring labels for inquiry cards may run out.

Do you see any drawbacks to either party?
With the ease that comes with the Lead Retrieval devices, an admissions rep will definitely get more prospects, some of which will be soft prospects. The student will get more college materials in the mail and the college will have a group of students who may not be entirely interested and just were “scanned” because their friend was being “scanned”.

But if the college’s messaging is strong and they have a solid communication plan, the hope will be to move them from a ‘soft prospect’ to a student who visits your campus and is won over by the school.

What does this say about our society? We want convenience.  We want information quickly.  We can not be bothered to have a 3 minute conversation with an admission rep or take 1 minute to fill out a contact card.

What does this say about higher ed? Are we turning students into merchandise?  Do we value quantity versus quality?  Is this a sign that higher education is less “education” and more “business?”

Do you think the benefits of using a scanner outweigh the negatives?  What are your thoughts?  Contribute to the discussion in the comments.


About Mallory Wood

Mallory Wood is a Vermont-based higher ed marketing professional with a passion for social media, web video, and event production. View all posts by Mallory Wood

3 responses to “The new technology at college fairs, what does it say?

  • Jeremy

    re: “…can not be bothered to have a 3 minute conversation…” I think I actually was able to engage more students for a longer period of time more because of the lead retrieval devices!

    A benefit I should have mentioned was that they didn’t have to disconnect from the conversation to fill out their card. Instead, I was able to continue to respond to questions while the student while they held their bar code out to be scanned.

  • Holly Lazzaro

    Mallory, thank you for your interest in the barcode/scanner program. Your comments were mostly accurate with the following exceptions:

    First, you mentioned that NACAC debuted this program last spring. In fact, NACAC has been enjoying the benefit of this technology since 2007.

    Also, what Jeremy mentioned above is worth noting again. This technology offers the opportunity to swim AGAINST the flow of mindless information exchange. Now, instead of students filling out a card as quickly as possible and rushing on to the next table, the student can present the bardode to exchange information while having a meaningful conversation with the college rep. This system actually provides MORE of what we need at the fairs–real, personal interaction. In fact, maybe that’s what we need more of as a society, in the age of facebook and other electronic “social” media where the “social” interaction is conducted from the lonely glow of a computer screen. At least when choosing a college (and potentially the direction of your adult life) we should slow down and really make the process meaningful.

    Thanks again for your interest, if you or your readers would like to learn more about the program, please visit or

    • Mallory Wood


      Thanks for your response and correcting the date of this technology’s debut.

      I still feel that a college will walk away with more “soft leads” by using these devices, but at least institutions will able to understand the information the students are providing! I wonder how many interested students get lost in the mix because the data specialist can’t understand their handwriting or the admission counselor misplaces their card.


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