Onslow County students got a head start on college plans Wednesday as they scouted out potential schools and gathered information on financial aid.

Middle school and high school students had the opportunity to meet with more than 60 college and university representatives at the Fall College Night Fair hosted by Onslow County Schools.

Jacksonville High School senior Mary Burks-Richardson said she wants to become a teacher and attended the event to get information on colleges beyond those she is already familiar with.

“I’m here to get to know the ones I don’t know as much about,” Burks-Richardson said after stopping to talk to a representative of Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia.

Northside High School’s cafeteria and gym were filled with tables featuring public and private colleges in North Carolina and the surrounding region; area community colleges; military schools including the Citadel and Virginia Military Institute; and schools with a professional focus, such as Johnson & Wales in Charlotte, with majors related to culinary arts.

Jacksonville High School sophomore Katelyn Foelsch headed straight to the Johnson & Wales table. She already has a strong interest in studying culinary arts, particularly baking and pastry making, but was also excited to find the Meredith College table right next to Johnson & Wales.

“Meredith has a criminal justice program and I’m looking into that, too,” Foelsch said.

Whether settled on a major or still considering their interests, students had the opportunity to talk with representatives of colleges of all types and explore their options.

Randy Blanche attended the college fair with his daughters, Samantha Ortiz, a seventh grader at Jacksonville Commons Middle School, and Anjali Ortiz, a fifth grader.

“I love this. It’s a great opportunity to get started (in the college search). Before you know it (Samantha) will be in ninth grade and in high school. I want them to have this type of exposure,” Blanche said.

Samantha Ortiz is a member of the AVID program and said she wants to begin early to find the college and degree program that may be best for her.

“I’m still looking at what’s out there,” she said.

The college fair was also an opportunity for the colleges to share with students what they have to offer.

Brooke Fortner, an admissions counselor for Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs near Charlotte, said they are a small college with approximately 4,500 students and offer that small school community that is very personable and more than 60 campus organizations to meet many interests.

Fortner said college fair events allow students to explore all types of colleges and get a feel for what is best for them, academically and otherwise.

“Any college they look at has to be the right fit for them,” Fortner said.

The College Foundation of North Carolina was also on hand to share information on financial aid opportunities and tips for choosing and selecting a college.

CFNC representative April Query said it’s important for college-bound students to look at colleges that may correlate to their career interests.

“If a student is serious about what their interests are, I ask if they know what majors they are looking at and are they connected to a career they are interested in,” Query said.

Query said students who are pursuing a certain major can do some advance research so that they can focus on talking to particular schools at college fairs or other events.

For students who don’t know what they may be interested in majoring in once they get to college, Query encourages them to take a career assessment.

Query said students can take the assessment and research colleges and the application process by visiting CFNC.org.