The third-annual Greater Norristown Regional College Fair was held as an important opportunity for youth, particularly in the Norristown area.
“Our mission is to serve the youth,” Ken Fennal, Greater Norristown Police Athletic League (GNPAL) programs director, said. “If we can bring education accessibility to Norristown, then we can give the youth accessibility to the community through education, because if you’re going to college, you’re going to grow.”
The college fair took place at GNPAL, Feb. 21, and held two sessions. The first session took place in the afternoon, where eighth-grade students of the Norristown Area School District, visited the college representatives prior to the arrival of high-school aged students, who attended the second session in the evening.
The regional college fair is held in partnership with Montgomery County Community College (MCCC), whose representatives also visited eighth-grade students in the school district, in order to prepare them for their afternoon visit.
MCCC also offered bilingual interpreters for the large, Spanish-speaking population in Norristown, according to MCCC interpreter Gaby Parientes.
MCCC also offered college fair participants free financial aid advice.
“A lot of people are scared to apply for financial aid,” Ashley Smith, MCCC financial aid consultant, said. “We want people to use us as a resource for them, so that they can open doors for themselves.”
She noted that MCCC holds a free FAFSA Completion Workshop as a service to the community.
College Entrance Advice
Nearly 40 colleges participated with the event. Most of the colleges hailed from throughout Pennsylvania, some within Montgomery County.
“I always recommend to start sooner rather than later,” Susan Jaskelewicz, a Gwynedd Mercy College representative said of the college-application process.
Jaskelewicz added that college-bound students, even those as early as eighth grade, should really understand what learning environment would best suit them. She pointed out that her college, located in Gwynedd Valley, is a private, Catholic college that emphasizes small class sizes and solid values.
Along with traditional academic colleges and universities, the college fair also hosted some unique institutions of higher education.
“Students must visit schools,” Byron Gittens, assistant director of Admissions at Vaughn College. “They need to go out and get information about the school.”
Gittens, whose college is adjacent to LaGuardia Airport in Queens, New York, and focuses academics and certifications in aviation, said that this was his second year at the college fair.
He added that students should get themselves on college mailing lists, and speak to their high school guidance counselor.
He said he also impressed that the college fair invited local eighth-grade students, and remarked that the students asked many questions.
Lauren Angstadt, career development specialist at Empire Beauty School in Pottsville, shared a similar sentiment .
“They were very prepared,” Angstadt said. “And, they generated a lot of comments.”
Angstadt said that her school also participated with the fair last year. She said that having eighth-grade students at a college fair will prepare them for consequential encounters with college representatives when they reach high school.
“They should do their research beforehand,” Angstadt said of high-school age students. “So, that way they get to the college fair and ask great questions.”
In addition to advice given about what kind of learning environment a student would prefer, Angstadt said that students should also know what they would be interested in studying, whether it leads to the academic route or a trade skill.
“You should know what you like,” Angstadt said.
A Good College for a Good Job
Hundreds of students and their families attended the college fair, which lasted just an hour.
One of the students was an eighth-grader at East Norriton Middle School, who returned for the evening session, because there wasn’t enough time to visit all the schools particularly, Temple University.
“It was kind of interesting,” Tykin Woodall, said of his first college-fair experience. “You get to see a lot of colleges, some you never heard of before.”
Standing with Tykin, was his friend Joe West, a junior at Renaissance Academy in Phoenixville.
Both Tykin and Joe tutor fellow students in the GNPAL after school program.
Joe said that he always had his heart set out for Villanova, but found he was interested in other colleges after attending the fair.
It opened my eyes that big colleges aren’t always the best, there’s other colleges that are just as good,” Joe said. “I just want to go to a good college, where I can get a good job for my future.”