PALMETTO -- Sixteen-year-old Jessica Reed said she has an idea of what she wants to study, and what type of college she'd like to attend after she graduates from Braden River High School, and Tuesday night was an opportunity to see more options.
"I just want to look at all of the schools that are open to me," the junior said outside the Bradenton Area Convention Center before the Manatee County School District's annual college fair.
The annual post-secondary education night brings together students, parents and college representatives to discuss college options. Information about scholarships and a primer on how financial aid at the college level works also was available.
Reed is thinking about studying design, journalism or theater, and wants to have one-on-one type experiences with professors, so a small, private school in Florida could be her best option.
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Her mother, Shauna Salvino, said she wanted to learn more about options available for financing her daughter's education.
"The financial aid, I know that can be difficult," Salvino said.
For students and parents, it's important they know themselves and what type of school and program they are looking for, Manatee County School Superintendent Diana Greene said.
Students shouldn't just look at the extracurricular activities a school offers, and students and parents should make sure they ask the right questions to be prepared, she said.
Alyssa Jones, a 17-year-old senior at Bayshore High School, said the Advancement Via Individual Determination program at Bayshore taught her how to get the most out of the experience. AVID is a national program to prepare students for what comes after high school.
"I'm finding the college that's best for me," she said. "AVID taught me how to approach the representatives and what questions I need to ask."
Jones asked representatives about tuition, program options and necessary test scores for admission.
For mother Kerri Brooks and 17-year-old Dalton Brooks, a senior at Lakewood Ranch High School, the college fair felt almost like the beginning of the end as she prepares to have an "empty nest" next year.
"I got emotional just walking up here," she said.
Brooks is interested in studying psychiatry after taking a psychology course at Lakewood Ranch. He also is looking for a school that can provide one-on-one experiences with professors.
"I can't wait," he said.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter@MeghinDelaney.