ATLANTIC CITY - New Jersey may have beaches, but Colorado has the Rockies, a fact representatives of the University of Colorado at Boulder took full advantage of Thursday with a huge photographic banner with their booth at the National College Fair at the Atlantic City Convention Center.

"We got a couple of hundred cards filled out," University of Colorado's Christine Zimmerman said, citing the school's engineering and business programs as academic attractions. "The East Coast is a big market for us."

Many students who filled out information cards might later rethink their priorities, but for the 256 colleges registered at the fair, the event offers a face-to-face opportunity to meet students and plant seeds of interest.

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The fair is one of 50 sponsored by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling each year. The New Jersey chapter organized the local fair. Another is scheduled at the Philadelphia Convention Center from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.

Many southern New Jersey high schools brought in busloads of students, usually juniors just starting to think about college. Attendance numbers were not available, but sponsors said the student crowd seemed larger this year. An evening session was also held.

The fair was a college buffet - rows of booths piled with colorful brochures.

For the colleges, it was a first chance to make a good impression. Those who filled out information cards will be courted later through mailings and e-mails.

For students it was a chance to at least dream about going to Bond University in Queensland, Australia, or Glion-Les Roches Institute of Higher Education in Switzerland, which specializes in hospitality management.

Juniors Rosina Valeri and Kaytlynn McAndrew from Lacey Township High School in Ocean County are best friends trying to match their interests to a college they might attend together. Valeri is interested in accounting and dance. McAndrew loves writing and English, but is also good in math.

"This is great because you actually get to talk to people from the colleges," McAndrew said.

"People have been really nice," said Shelly Steelman, a junior at Oakcrest High School in Mays Landing who is interested in English and art history. She liked Arcadia University in Pennsylvania's study abroad program, but is also interested in Fordham University in New York.

Joanne Kelly came with her son, Robert, a junior at Ocean City High School interested in a pre-med program. He went to a workshop on writing college essays (the more unique the better, he said he learned) while his mom toured the exhibit floor.

"We're looking around, trying to narrow them down for visits," Joanne Kelly said of their college plans.

Senior Keith Schaper and junior Julie Disanti, students at Schalick High School in Pittsgrove Township, Salem County, sat on the floor outside the exhibit hall, looking through brochures. Both have been looking at a mix of colleges in the Northeast. Disanti picked up brochures for the University of Rhode Island.

"I visited the area, and liked it there," Disanti said.

Students interviewed at the fair focused on their academic interests, and just how far away from home they want to be. But there is also that little matter of paying for college, which, all admitted, could ultimately limit their choices.

"Money is a big issue for everyone," Schaper said.

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