PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — The School District of Palm Beach County on Tuesday is hosting its annual College and Career Fair, which is back in-person for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are close to 100 colleges, universities, vocational programs, and military branches all represented at the South Florida Fairgrounds.
The event, which runs until 8 p.m. Tuesday, is an opportunity for high school students as young as freshmen to start to expose themselves to what they may want to do after graduation.
Organizers said it was really important to emphasize the career side of things this year, as they are seeing more students waiting before jumping into college life.
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"I've always been a little overenthusiastic about college," said Palm Beach Central High School student Adrianna Ray.
Ray is volunteering at this year's College and Career Fair, but is also looking at her own options.
"I'll probably stick to the Florida booths," Ray said. "But if there’s some out of state that look interesting, why not?"
Ray is a junior in the school's cybersecurity program.
"I'm definitely learning stuff that I'll be using if I get a degree in it," Ray said.
But not all students are as college-focused as Ray is.
"Post-COVID, we’ve seen a lot of students come back from university to be at home a little longer," said Charlene Beckford, the high school counseling program planner for the School District of Palm Beach County. "A lot of students are looking at their options and just want to get into the workforce straight away."
Beckford is leading Tuesday's event for the school district. She said it's important to make sure vocational programs are well represented as students evaluate their choices after high school.
"I think now students are now realizing there are other options," Beckford said. "You don’t have to jump straight into that four-year university track. And for some students, it’s a great option. And for other students, they have other options like the Air Force, community college, or a vocational program."
For Ray, seeing her older siblings go off to college has motivated her mindset.
"I have a ton of friends that are like, 'college isn’t really for me.' Or they want to go to a trade school or just get a job straight out of college. And everyone has their own thing," Ray said. "I think it’s a really good thing they are offering that, too."
Financial aid is another big part of this. Beckford said students often think they can't afford college, but they don't know all of the financial opportunities that are available to them.
That's why the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form is so important to fill out.
The School District of Palm Beach County is offering break-out sessions at Tuesday night's College and Career Fair to help families learn how to fill out the FAFSA form and see the financial aid that could be available to them.
For more information about the College and Career Fair, click here.