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COLLEGE FAIR HELPS CITY STUDENTS FOCUS ON THEIR FUTURES

Houston Varnado had reason to boast Tuesday.

The city College Day he helped found 13 years ago was, once again, a success.

"Each year, we grow," the Community Action Organization youth development director said as he panned a video camera over the throngs of high school students visiting the booths of 130 colleges and universities in the Connecticut Street armory.

"When we started, in 1984, there weren't any college fairs in the city -- they were all in the suburbs," Varnado recalled.

About 1,800 juniors and seniors from Buffalo public high schools attended that first College Day in the city.

About 2,200 were at Tuesday's College Day -- most from Buffalo public schools, but some from Lackawanna schools and others from such independent institutions as Turner-Carroll High School.

The 9 a.m.-to-2 p.m. event -- sponsored by the Community Action Organization and the Buffalo Public Schools -- included, for the first time, an introduction-to-college session for eighth-graders bused in from city schools.

There also were representatives of five banks on hand, offering information on student loans.

"I'm just checking things out," said Patrick Hilliard, a senior at the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts, who was navigating the crowds with classmate Elizabeth Tait in search of the University at Buffalo booth. Jeremy Cox was looking for "colleges in California." Jenny Shea was saying she had "not a clue" where she might go to college.

Two other Performing Arts seniors found that their top college choices were not represented at the fair.

Amy Terranova, a violinist, didn't find such institutions as Purchase State College, Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore and the Cleveland Institute of Music.

Marina Crippen, who wants to study law, also didn't find Fordham or Washington universities or Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs.

But a City Honors senior who wants a college with a good dance program was delighted to come across Marlboro College in Vermont.

"Marlboro's dance program sounded really nice," said Rachel Pitek. "I didn't know about it before."

Carrie Sansone, also a City Honors senior, said she wanted to study premed, perhaps at Seton Hill or Gannon. Both were represented at the fair.

"I'm also looking at a lot of places in North Carolina," she said.

The 130 schools represented included all local institutions and, among the remainder, at least three from Florida, including Eckerd College and Florida Technical.

The booth for Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Fla., was a big draw. So were the booths for the Canisius College Academic Talent Search program and the Buffalo State College precollegiate center offerings, which provide help to economically disadvantaged elementary and high school students with potential.

Jeanne Jenkins, associate dean of admissions at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, said:

"If you connect with even one student, it makes the trip worthwhile. Students enroll one at a time. Often, the extended conversation is what results in an enrollment. This is what this work is all about."

College fairs are "an important part of raising the level of awareness of colleges and universities outside your region," Ms. Jenkins said.

Fran Tucker, a school counselor at Lafayette High School, called the College Day exciting. "The kids get the information they need," she said. "A lot of times, they get applications they can't get at their schools."

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