Ava and David Zilke strolled past hundreds of booths set up Thursday in James Brown Arena, searching for the perfect college for their daughter.
“Notre Dame? Too far and too cold,” Ava said, politely declining the recruiter’s invitation.
The neighboring booth was The College of Coastal Georgia.
There’s no snow there, she said, but the small school also doesn’t have a fine arts program her daughter is looking for.
Thousands of high school students and their families got the chance to learn about 160 colleges from across the nation Thursday during the annual CSRA College Night.
“There’s just so many things here, it’s hard to see them all in two hours but we’ll find something,” Zilke said, holding up a bag of college brochures.
Organizers said about 8,000 students attended last year and estimated the turnout to be just as large this year.
The night is a chance for families to get information about housing, financial aid, course offerings and college life without having to travel around the country to visit schools, said Candice Dermody, the manager of educational outreach for Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, which co-sponsors the event.
About a dozen Taliaferro County High School students took a one-hour bus ride to get to the event, which junior Kevin Brooks said is a step at making a better life for himself.
“I’m just trying to get a life working, and college could be the way,” he said.
A group of Butler High School friends went to the fair together to help narrow down the colleges they are already considering. Danisha Floyd could have been persuaded with criminal justice, psychology, culinary arts or music at any school in Georgia if the right recruiter got to her first.
When she heads to a university next year, Danisha will be the first one in her immediate family to attend college – a feat she and her parents say is one her best possible goals.
“You can’t get by in the economy we are in today without college, it’s just not going to work,” she said.
As families visited her booth, South Carolina State University program coordinator April Hutton-Moorer said most were curious about the majors offered, available scholarships and the length of time it will take to complete a degree.
She handed out information brochures, and interested students could even start the application process.
“The talent we get from this area, from Waynesboro to Augusta, are very bright students,” Hutton-Moorer said, adding that she also gets inquiries from high school guidance counselors who are hoping to pass information along to their students.
Along with the knowledge of school recruiters, the event offered more than $16,000 in scholarships. At the start of College Night, students put their names in a drawing for the money, and awards were given out every 30 minutes.
Students had to be present to register and would be given the scholarship after they were accepted to a college, Dermody said.
Students of all high school grades were welcome to participate, and Dermody said the search for college should start early.
Emma Branch, an 11th-grader at Greenbrier High School, had visited a handful of colleges before she noticed the orange and navy blue-decorated booth of Auburn University.
“What are the most popular majors at Auburn?” Emma asked the recruiter.
Out of the 140 majors at the school, she learned that premed tracks are one of the most common for students, and Auburn sends more students to medical school each year than any other school in Alabama.
Emma is hoping to study pediatric neurology and just hasn’t found her perfect school yet. Could it be Auburn? Maybe, she said. Still, she had dozens more schools in front of her that could still woo her to their campuses.
“I like big crowds, big colleges, but I have time to decide,” Emma said.