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Next week's fair gives parents, students a jump on college

WILLMAR -- High school juniors and their parents could use the Willmar College Fair on Monday to jump start planning for college.

The fair will feature 23 colleges whose representatives will be in the cafeteria at Willmar Senior High from 6 to 8 p.m.

The fair is free and open to the public. Organizer Todd Johnson said the fair is aimed at juniors, but anyone who's interested is welcome to attend.

At 6:30 p.m., Johnson will present a workshop on college financial aid and what junior need to know about planning for college.

Johnson is a Willmar attorney who runs a consulting business to help young people choose colleges. He volunteers his time to advise students from the Willmar School District and provides a free workshop each year at the college fair. This year he has also provided a series of free workshops at the Willmar Public Library for parents.

This year's fair features the highest number of colleges he's had since he started the spring fair several years ago, Johnson said.

"I wasn't sure what kind of response we were going to get this year because of the economy," he said. A few schools dropped out, but some new ones will be there.

The fair offers a good mixture of two-year and four-year colleges. The four-year college list includes public and private schools and large and small institutions.

All of the schools but one are from Minnesota, which is a change from previous years. Some of the out-of-state schools indicated that the economy was the reason they dropped out, he said.

"I'm happy with the list of schools," Johnson said. "This gives you a little bit of exposure to a wide variety of schools."

Johnson said he has sent notices to all the high schools in the area and hopes that juniors and their parents will take advantage of the opportunities.

"I really try to encourage kids to get as much done as possible in the second half of their junior high and in the summer," he said. Getting applications and other planning work done then allows students to relax and enjoy their senior years, he added.

"The biggest thing is for people to understand what they are doing," Johnson said, and he hopes to help people get started on the right track.

A college education is a huge investment for most students and their families. "Who spends that kind of money without investigating it," he said.