About 1,000 juniors and seniors from six area high schools got a healthy taste of college Wednesday — during their lunch hour.

Students by the busload hoping to secure a promising future through higher education poured into Columbus East High School, which hosted the annual Columbus Area College Fair.

Representatives from more than 80 institutions of higher learning made time, and the trip to Columbus, to talk with potential college students from Columbus North, Columbus Signature Academy — New Tech, Hauser, Columbus Christian and Indian Creek, as well as host Columbus East.

Student questions ranged from the essential, such as deadlines and financial aid opportunities, to the social, such as campus life opportunities and housing questions.

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While much of the college and university information can be found online, admissions departments place a lot of value on students who apply after attending a college fair, said Allison Clark, East college and scholarship coordinator.

In fact, if two students are equal in all other respects, the one who attends a college fair would be selected over another who does not, according to the College Counselors Services website.

From their perspective, several students who attended the college fair said face-to-face interaction is more valuable to them than information they can find online.

“Sometimes, web sites are just ‘Oh, everything is so great.’ But getting to talk to someone who is there day after day gives you real perspectives,” East senior Julie Connor said.

“It’s more personal and more believable than it is online,” said Taylor Smith, Connor’s classmate.

While Connor said academics are most important for her, Smith said she has a strong interest in athletics.

CSA-New Tech junior Brandon Fields, meanwhile, said he is leaning toward IUPUI for different reasons.

“They have not only what I want academically, but also a nice range of social activities,” Fields said. “That’s important for me.”

Seeking a career in sports management, North senior Sam LaVelle has already applied to two universities and plans to send out at least six more applications.

But after attending the college fair, he has developed an new interest in Grace College and Seminary, a four-year liberal arts college located in Winona Lake, northwest of Fort Wayne.

“I just like their business program and placement rate, as well as attending a college where professors get to know their students,” LaVelle said.

Representatives that appear at college fairs are often able to provide insight into whether the school and student would be a good fit.

But college fairs also remind teens that high school graduation is coming quickly — and some career goals they assume to be unobtainable for financial or other reasons may actually be within their grasp.

An admissions councilor from Louisville said many students he chatted with Wednesday learned that a degree in higher education may be more affordable than they thought.

“When people hear the sticker price, they’ll say ‘I can’t go there’,” said Benjamin Rich of Spalding University, a private liberal arts college. “But there are so many factors that immediately decrease the cost, and makes college more realistic for them. Just having the bravery to go through the process gets you a long way.”

Not only does every college or university have its own sources of financial aid, but a representative of the Columbus-based Heritage Fund — the Community Foundation of Bartholomew County, which offers more than 75 scholarships annually, also attends the college fair, Clark said.

Teens also discover they don’t necessarily have to be honor roll students to be accepted into a university or college, she said.

“Since admission standards are different across the board, it is eye-opening to discover we have so many opportunities here,” Clark said.

Pull Quote

“Just having the bravery to go through the process gets you a long way.”

— Benjamin Rich, representative from Spalding University, Louisville

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.