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College fair offers first look at life after high school

WEBUTUCK — “They’re not ready yet — just one more minute!” Julie Taft, Webutuck  High School’s guidance counselor, called out to a group of students overflowing the doorway to the Webutuck’s gymnasium.

It was approximately 12:30 p.m. Thursday, May 6, and representatives from nearly 80 colleges, universities and other post-high school institutions were scrambling to set up their booths. Webutuck, together with the high school guidance departments at Dover, Pawling and Millbrook, took advantage of the timing of Marist College’s annual college fair, which regularly brings a wide variety of school representatives to the area.

Each year for the past five years the representatives have spent an hour at each of the four schools, providing pamphlets and basic information about their schools to a wide demographic of students.  They continue to do so. Some of the students they speak with are as young as seventh- or eighth-graders, and a few are even seniors, already accepted to a school and (presumably) enjoying being at a college fair and no longer feeling the pressures of a college search.

Webutuck’s guidance office helps facilitate the college process, starting in eighth grade with a career inventory. Students and parents meet with the guidance office several times starting in their junior year, mostly in one-on-one sessions, Taft explained.

It’s becoming more and more important for students to consider heading to college, or an alternative, after graduating high school, she pointed out.

“A high school education doesn’t do for kids what it did 30 years ago,” she said. Events like college fairs give students “the options of different programs that are out there for them.”

The floodgates finally opened and students poured into the gym, quickly introducing themselves to representatives and helping themselves to pamphlets. The consensus among many was that the college fair was helpful as a basic introduction to schools, but was just the tip of the iceberg.

Webutuck sophomore John Eboli said he’s leaning toward a culinary education, and the Culinary Institute of America’s booth was right up his alley. But he wasn’t fully committed yet and attended the fair with an open mind.

“It’s good to keep your options open,” he said.

Pine Plains, which doesn’t hold its own college fair, was invited to send a bus load of students. Among them were two juniors who had a good grasp on their career paths and were now looking into schools with strong programs in their majors.

It’s English and education for James Seibel, who was impressed with Iona College in New Rochelle. His friend, Calvin Lawrence, was looking into computer programming and design, and has gotten a jump on the college process already, including a few college tours. He already had some specific colleges in mind, but he said going to the college fair exposed him to options he hadn’t even heard of before.

Meanwhile, Webutuck junior Aera Belliveau looked into dentistry.

“Some I know, some I don’t,” she said when asked about the variety of schools represented. The event was “pretty useful” in her search, she said. “I have other college choices, but this helps.”

The event wasn’t just about colleges, as several alternatives were also presented to students. The New York State Police had a booth, as did the United States Marines. Sergeant Aaron Frazier estimated that at the two schools he had been to earlier that morning, maybe 12 students had shown enough interest to sign up for an appointment with a recruiter.

It was a busy day for the representatives, and Webutuck treated them to a special lunch prepared by Mary Hendrick’s “International Foods” class. One hundred and twenty bagged lunches were prepared by the 28 students in her two classes.

Apart from last week’s college fair, Webutuck has also held four college trips this year, which were paid for through a $3,000 donation from the Silo Ridge Country Club this year. The students visited eight schools, and more than 50 students participated.

“Silo Ridge was integral in that opportunity,” Taft pointed out. “For a lot of them it was their first time on a college campus, and they got to see what it’s all about. It definitely had an effect on kids, and we can’t thank them enough.”

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