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A Dose of Reality: How to Organize a School Reality Fair

By Diana Virgil | April 2021

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Ever wanted your students to have a dose of reality? You can make this possible with a reality fair. I found that hosting a reality fair based on GPA helped my students tremendously. When I was a high school teacher and school counselor, my ninth-grade students often had a difficult time understanding the importance of their GPA. Many students may not become serious about their studies until their junior or senior year. For me, it was important for students to understand the importance of starting off their freshman year with a strong GPA. I first learned about the reality fair from my internship supervisor, Heather Norton, at Sumner Hill Junior High School in Clinton, Miss. I was so amazed by it that I started to implement it into my own school counseling program the following year; with a little twist added. I have offered this fair to my students for many years and have presented to various audiences on how to implement their own fair, with ready-to-go materials. Here are several tips to help others get started.

Step 1: What is a Reality Fair?
One of the biggest things I like to start with is educating others on the purpose of the reality fair. I always begin with this little blurb:

The reality fair is an interactive event that allows students to make a career choice, have a starting salary based upon their current cumulative GPA, establish a budget, and pay for basic monthly expenses/wants as if they were an adult. Students then take their monthly earnings and advance through centers where they choose their housing, car, insurance, etc. Throughout this activity, they also balance a checkbook. The objective of this activity is to have them think about their future and how their choices now will directly affect the choices they make as adults; both financially and academically. At the end of the activity, if they have money left in their account, they receive a Payday candy bar. But if they have no money left, they receive a Zero candy bar.

Step 2: The Planning Process: Connect with Community Members
A crucial aspect of this fair is getting the community involved. You can begin this by confirming your event location and date and recruiting community members to volunteer at the event and donate materials. At the various booths, such as the bank, car dealership, insurance, etc., at least one volunteer at the table was actually in that profession. Parents staffed the checkout table and helped students with the processes throughout the fair. We provided training to all volunteers in advance of the event. Businesses and parents contributed items such as refreshments, goodie bags, mock checkbooks, and the two types of candy bars. When working with volunteers, it is important to obtain their name, business, phone number, email and preferred communication style. This helps you to get important information to them in a speedy and efficient format. This can also help with parental and community involvement in your school.

Step 3: The Master Checklist
The master checklist is a series of items to help you prepare, from 6–12 months in advance to the day of the event. I came up with this list after my first solo fair. From there, I have added items each year to help myself plan properly. This list also includes all of your logistical items to make a fantastic event.

Step 4: Fair Day Checklist
The fair day checklist is composed of items such as having your booths set up, having materials for students, and much more. It is the list you usually keep with you throughout the duration of the fair to make sure things are running smoothly.

Materials for Students and the event
These items include:
  • Student material income bracket
  • GPA/Salary form
  • Check register and checkbook
  • Student PowerPoint
  • Empty bags to hold items
  • Clip boards for writing and writing utensils
You will also need plastic bins or empty copy paper boxes to organize student materials by class, calculators, tables, tablecloths, banners, and Payday and Zero bars.

Pre- and Post-Tests
I am a true data person. Therefore, I collect data before and after the event to determine whether my students truly grasped the concept. I love to hold this fair in the fall because we can then track whether students’ grades improved the following semester. This also helps us to plan for the following year on how we can improve items.

Putting It All Together
In Georgia, we use YouScience as a way for students to review careers, graduation plans, etc. This is combined with their GPA in helping students to pick a career throughout the fair. We always tell students, especially those that may have a lower GPA, that anything is possible. However, knowing where they stand now can help them make better choices later in order to obtain scholarships, grants and much more for life after high school. While discussing the fair with students, I always tell them that it is in no way saying what the future holds for them, but shows how, as responsible adults, they are accountable for many things such as rent/mortgage, car insurance, food, electricity, and so much more.

For more information or a presentation at your next professional learning, contact me at

Diana Virgil, Ed.S., LAPC, NCC, NCSC, is a school counselor and regional liaison for the Georgia School Counselor Association. She is also a SCUTA ambassador and university liaison. Contact her at She presented on this topic at the 2019 ASCA annual conference.