On Thursday, Oct. 6, the first in-person College Fair returned after a two-year hiatus with rousing success.

The event was held at Sehome High School, offering Whatcom County seniors, juniors, and a smattering of sophomores the opportunity to connect face-to-face with admissions representatives from area colleges and universities—with a few out-of-state colleges in attendance too.

With more than 400 students and parents attending, the commons buzzed with excitement.

“It was incredibly energizing to be in the middle of the scene,” said Martha Zender, Sehome’s High School and Beyond (HSB) Coordinator. “Offering in-person events to support our students and their families, as students figure out their post-high school pathway, is my favorite role as a High School and Beyond Coordinator.”

Students agreed that being back in person was beneficial to their college planning process.

“I really enjoyed being able to interact with people,” said Suwan Chambers, Squalicum High School sophomore.

Chambers and friend Ana Slouber, a Sehome junior, agreed it was helpful to see all the colleges in attendance to give a sense post-high school possibilities.

Four breakout information sessions on scholarships and financial aid— two sessions on each topic —presented guidance to families for searching out and applying for scholarships and what to know about financial aid.

Zender ran the scholarship sessions, and Dina Murphy, Assistant Director of Financial Aid from Western Washington University, ran the financial aid sessions. Futures Northwest, a local nonprofit focused on college access, was on hand to talk to College Bound scholars and promote their organization’s upcoming FAFSA completion event (students with eligible undocumented status fill out the WASFA form instead to access state financial aid).

In between the packed-to-capacity breakout sessions, students lined up to talk to admissions reps from University of Washington, Washington State University, Western Washington University, Gonzaga University, Saint Martin’s University, Seattle Pacific University, Skagit Valley College, University of Arizona, and others. Zender said the admissions reps later commented that they were happy to be able to meet up with students in person and noted that students came prepared with very good questions.

Bellingham High School junior Mia Clarke liked how many Washington colleges attended.

“It gives you a little snapshot of what colleges here are like. It’s a little overwhelming to figure out what you want to do and where you want to go,” Clarke said.

Dez H., a senior from Options High School, appreciated how friendly and approachable the representatives were. Even though she initially felt a little overwhelmed by the size of the crowd, the admissions reps “made it a little easier to go out and talk to people,” she said.

Austin Williams, a junior at OHS, said, “Any of the questions I had were all answered because they [admissions reps] took the time to listen.”

Squalicum HSB coordinator Emily Gardisky enjoyed the enthusiasm of the event.

“We are looking forward to building these events back up,” Gardisky said.

For Lauren Kackley, Options’ HSB Coordinator, this year’s college fair was her first.

“I don’t think it could have gone better,” Kackley said. “At the breakout sessions, lots of families were taking notes and pictures of information to help their students with future FAFSA filing,”

Mark Jacques, BHS’s HSB Coordinator, said his own son and wife attended and learned a lot about getting into college and how to pay for it.

“The energy was great,” Jacques said.

Now that the fair is over, families who haven’t completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or Washington Application for State Financial Aid (WASFA) are turning their attention to these financial aid forms, as well as college applications and scholarships.

For students who missed the fair, FAFSA completion events have been or will be held to answer questions and provide guidance (see list below).

Students can find scholarships listed in the Scholarship Bulletin on their school website under the Academic tab in College and Career Planning. Scholarships are updated frequently so check back often.

Upcoming FAFSA completion events:

Virtual Zoom events with Washington Student Achievement Council’s 12th Year Campaign. Advance registration is required.

  • Wed., Oct. 19, 5:30-7:30 pm, for any Washington state high school student
  • Wed., Nov. 9, 5:30-7:30 pm, for any Washington state high school student

Live events with Future Northwest:

  • Tues., Nov. 1, 6-8 pm, at Bellingham High School
  • Thurs., Nov. 17, 6-8 pm, Options High School

For more live events in Whatcom County, click on the Future Northwest calendar.

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