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COLLEGE FAIR 101 Do your homework before you go

Maybe NYU and Harvard won't be there, but more than 200 other colleges will.

High school juniors and underclassmen may want to check out the second annual College Fair March 21 and 22 at the Buffalo Convention Center. It's co-sponsored by the National Association of College Admission Counseling and area school counselors.

Local colleges and some 20 SUNY schools will be there. So will Boston University and Northeastern from Boston, Mass.; Case Western Reserve from Cleveland and such far-away schools as James Madison University of Virginia, Loyola College of Maryland, the University of North Dakota and many more.

More than 70 school districts will bus some 5,600 students to the day sessions, says Chris Writer, associate director of college counseling at Nichols.

>Why go?

"I like to remind my college advisees that college is a very expensive product they are about to purchase," Writer said. "As good consumers, they need to compare and be aware."

And who knows -- a college you never heard of could turn out to be your dream school.

A school "can be a perfect fit for a student but might not be the school they automatically think of," advises Rob Franek of the Princeton Review. "You're doing a disservice to yourself to not talk to as many schools as possible."

David Mammano, founder of Rochester-based Next Step Magazine, says college fairs are "really awesome events, but only if you prepare for them. If you just show up, the parent and the kid are going to be overwhelmed."

A counseling center -- staffed with counselors to help students find the right match -- was a "real hit with students and families last year," says Writer. Transfer counselors can answer questions for adults wishing to return to school.

Workshops will be offered Tuesday night on financial aid, services for disabled students, honors programs, athletic programs, SAT tests, HEOP and EOP programs for low-income students.

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Don't find yourself aimlessly wandering around the convention center. To make maximum use of your time, counselors pass along some pointers.

>PREPARING FOR THE FAIR

NARROW THE FIELD:

Think about what college would be a good fit.

1. Will you be more comfortable close to home or are you itching to get away?

2. Would you be happier at a huge public university or a small private college? Are you going for an associate's degree or a bachelor's -- and what are transfer options?

3. Are you looking for a certain major? Does the college have good job placement in that major? If you plan to go to law or medical school, where can you get the best preparation?

4. What can you afford? Will your parents help pay? What scholarships does the college offer?

5. What grades and SAT scores do you need to get in?

>PREP WORK

1. Check www.nacacnet.org, for the updated list of schools coming to the fair. Make a list of 10 to 20 colleges you want information from.

2. Use links on the site to check out the Web sites of those 10 or 20 schools.

3. Fill out index cards (or labels on the computer) with your name, address, phone, school name, year of graduation, college major, other interests. Include grade point average, class rank, SAT/ACT or PSAT scores to save time. Remember, schools at the fair will be lined up alphabetically.

>QUESTIONS TO ASK AT THE FAIR

1. What are admission requirements (GPA, SAT/ACT scores, class rank)?

2. What is the school's admission policy (application deadline, rolling admissions, early admissions)?

3. What do I need to do to complete the college admissions process? Is an essay required? If yes, what should I write about?

4. Is an admissions interview required? What questions will be asked?

5. What is the cost for one year? What types of financial aid are available? Are academic or athletic scholarships available? What is the average freshman award?

6. Is on-campus housing available all four years?

7. Do dorms provide Internet access?

8. Can freshmen declare majors?

9. Are freshman courses taught by fulltime faculty or graduate assistants?

10. Does the school give college credit for AP exams? If so, what AP score is required?

11. Does the school have a job placement office? What's the placement rate for my major?

12. How do I schedule a campus visit? Is an overnight visit possible?

What: College Fair

Where: Buffalo Niagara Convention Center on Franklin Street

When: Tuesday, March 21: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, March 22: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Web site: www.nacacnet.org.

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