Students from several area high schools did some college shopping during a college fair Wednesday at Lewis Central High School.
More than 50 colleges had booths at the event, as well as the U.S. Army, Army ROTC and Iowa National Guard, according to Jackie Bode-Steinke, Lewis Central counselor for juniors and seniors, who coordinated the event.
The event, which the school has hosted for at least 15 years, attracts hundreds of students, Bode-Steinke said.
“We usually have over 500,” she said. “This year, it might not be quite as many.”
Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson High Schools, which usually account for many of the attendees, are holding their own college fairs this year. In addition, one or two schools cancelled because of COVID-19, Bode-Steinke said. St. Albert, Treynor, Underwood and Tri-Center High Schools all sent students.
“We’ll still probably come close to 500,” she said.
College representatives handed out brochures and touted their institution’s popular programs. Not surprisingly, booths for the state universities in Iowa and Nebraska attracted the biggest crowds.
“Our business college is No. 2 in the Midwest,” said James Prier, an admissions advisor from University of Northern Iowa.
UNI also trains a multitude of teachers in its College of Education.
Prier recommended prospective students check out the campus life at colleges they are considering.
“Some students thrive on a bigger campus, and some are more comfortable on a smaller one,” he said.
Prier also recommended finding out what the college has to offer in the field they are interested in and how graduates of the program have fared.
Bellevue University’s business program is also popular, said Caitlyn Rueth, an admissions counselor at Bellevue.
“We have a really good business degree, psychology, marketing, accounting,” she said.
The university serves both traditional and nontraditional students, Rueth said.
Iowa Western Community College is seeing a lot of interest in its trades and health sciences programs, according to admissions advisor Javier Torres. He suggested students get started right away filling out financial aid forms and applications.
“If you leave everything till the end, it’s going to be more stressful,” he said.
Health sciences are the specialty at Nebraska Methodist College, which is affiliated with Nebraska Methodist Health System.
“Respiratory therapy, because of COVID, is a very in-demand area,” said Michelle Olson, associate director of enrollment services. “Students are getting hired before they even graduate.”
Nurses, as always, are in great demand, Olson said.
The college also offers programs in radiologic technology, surgical technology and specialties on the master’s and doctoral level, she said.
The health system provides ready opportunities for students to gain clinical experience, Olson said, adding, “96% of our students do get jobs because of these clinical experiences,” she said. “It’s like a job interview to be having clinical experience.”
Gary Smith, a senior at Lewis Central, plans to attend Central College to study diesel technology. He has already done some work as an auto technician, he said.
Elle Nusser, a Lewis Central junior, is pretty sure she wants to be a physical therapist, but she’s not sure where she will go to college. She’s currently considering University of Iowa, Iowa State University, University of Nebraska at Omaha, Northwest Missouri State University and Morningside College.
Jackson Wiggington, a junior at St. Albert Catholic School, is interested in aerospace engineering and is considering Wichita State University, Iowa State University and University of Nebraska. He seemed to be leaning toward Wichita State — which does have undergraduate, master’s and doctoral-level programs in aerospace engineering.
“My parents want me to go to Iowa State,” he said. “I’m not so sure.”
Avery Heller, a Lewis Central junior, is interested in science — especially animal science. She thinks she might want to be a zoologist or a veterinary technician.
LCHS students focus on careers twice a week during Titan Time and keep the same career counselor throughout high school, Bode-Steinke said. Depending on the session, they may take an interest inventory or aptitude test, learn about work values or entrance requirements for certain kinds of programs, or spend the time researching careers.
“We by no means think that a four-year degree is the only route for everybody,” she said.
Other options include earning a credential at a community college or trade school, completing an apprenticeship, or enlisting in the Armed Forces, Bode-Steinke said.
“By the time you graduate, we want you to have a plan in place for one of those four options,” she said.
High school seniors should try to have the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and application forms submitted to colleges they are interested in by Oct. 31, Bode-Steinke said. The reason is that the FAFSA is considered in scholarships awarded by colleges and some private organizations, as well as federal aid. Because scholarship funds may run out, the early bird is more likely to get the scholarship.
Iowa’s state universities require FAFSA forms and applications to be submitted by Dec. 1, she said.
To choose the right college, students should always make campus visits, if they can, and ask if they can talk to someone (such as a professor) in the academic program(s) they are interested in, Bode-Steinke said. They should also ask about the relative size of the college’s programs.
“I encourage kids to ask for their top five majors,” she said. “The bigger ones are probably where they put their money.”
Lewis Central will hold a FAFSA Night for LCHS students from 4 to 7:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 11 in the high school media center. Some computers will be provided, but families can also bring their own. Those who attend will need the following information:
Social Security numbers (or alien registration numbers, if not U.S. citizens)
Driver’s license numbers, birth dates and date of parents’ wedding (and divorce, if applicable)
2020 federal tax forms, including W-2s
Current bank account and investment statements or approximate value
Records of untaxed income in 2020, if applicable
Last year’s small business or farm ownership records, if applicable