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Each year hundreds of colleges and universities make a pilgrimage to Fairfax County, a recruiting hotspot that promises a large volume of high achieving, college-bound students.

“A lot of schools target Fairfax County. They know we have a lot of good students. … The colleges know that Fairfax produces really good college students,” said Marian Kendrick, Fairfax County Public Schools College Fair/College Night liaison.

More than 300 universities and colleges — some coming from as far away as Canada and California — are signed up to attend this year’s 36th annual College Fair and College Night. The event is scheduled for Sunday and Monday at the Fair Oaks Mall and Hayfield Secondary School.

“For us, it’s a really good opportunity to connect with a lot of different kinds of people in a setting that isn’t formal,” said Dan Robb, George Mason University’s associate dean of admissions. For smaller schools or those from out of the area, college fairs offer the chance to raise awareness among college-bound students. However, Mason — which is based in Fairfax — comes to these events knowing name recognition is not a problem, Robb said.

“It’s an opportunity for us to introduce ourselves as the hometown college,” he said. “It’s also a good marketing opportunity for us to reintroduce ourselves to the Northern Virginia community.”

College fairs also are important because they allow admissions staff to put faces to names, he added.

“Otherwise, in admissions, it can become all just paper,” Robb said.

Common questions asked by students include those about program or degree offerings at colleges and universities, but students tend to be more focused on student life on campus as they try to picture themselves attending universities or colleges, Robb said.

The annual Fairfax County College Fair events draw anywhere from 8,000 to 10,000 students and parents, Kendrick said. The event is heavily promoted by secondary and high school guidance and career staff. Students who attend school in Arlington, Falls Church and Alexandria also are invited.

“This is a way to expose students to a much larger base of schools than they are used to [hearing about],” Kendrick said. “We want to make sure they are broadening their horizon and looking at all kinds of schools.”

Although the events are publicized to students in grades 7 through 12, Kendrick said, “I think it’s critical for juniors.”

By attending the events, colleges and universities can provide more information to students that match the students’ interest in certain areas of study, she said.

Hayfield Secondary School Career Center Specialist Iris Rivera agreed, adding that as well as learning about the schools, students can gain information about the admissions process. College Night at Hayfield is expected to draw 3,000 to 4,000 students this year, she said. The school was chosen because of its location in the county, which is on the opposite side from the College Fair at Fair Oaks, and because of its parking accommodations.

This year, students can preregister for the College Fair and College Night electronically and fill out an information card online. In return they will receive a barcode that will be scanned at college booths they visit, allowing students to move more quickly from school to school during the fair. During previous years, students filled out paper information cards at each table they visited.

“They only have two hours, so they probably have a list of 10 schools to visit,” Rivera said. She recommends students spend about five minutes at the tables of schools they are interested in to learn about what degree programs are popular at that school.

“The first thing we tell them to do is to preregister. So they don’t have to fill out those cards [at every table]. The second thing we tell them is to prepare that list [of schools],” Rivera said. “For dress code, we always tell them about first impressions; that the person in that booth may be reading your application.”

Younger students, who might not yet be thinking too much about college, still should consider attending, she said.

“It’s really an eye opener,” she said. “For freshmen and sophomores it really allows them to see ‘Well that’s the GPA I need to have to get in [to this school or that one].’”

Students who forget to preregister still should plan on attending the events, Kendrick said.

“You won’t be denied admittance without that barcode [card]. But if you’re not going to do that, we recommend bringing cards filled out. … We encourage kids to look at the list [of colleges] ahead of time and target the schools that they want to visit because it does get crowded.”

For more information about the College Fair and College Night, visit www.fcps.edu/dis/SchoolCouseling/FCPSCollegeFairNight.

hhobbs@fairfaxtimes.com

College Fair

When: Sunday, Oct. 16 from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Where: Fair Oaks Mall, 11750 Fair Oaks Mall, Fairfax

College Night

When: Monday, Oct. 17 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Where: Hayfield Secondary School, 7630 Telegraph Road , Alexandria

To learn more and register for these events visit: www.FCPSCollegeFairs.com or www.fcps.edu/DIS/School Counseling/FCPSCollegeFairNight/.