More than 200 students, many sporting the black and red of Del Valle High School, bounced from one booth to another at the Austin Convention Center Tuesday.
They were among hundreds of high school students who perused manuals and more at booths set up by colleges and technical schools at South by Southwest’s first-ever college and career fair, which many said benefited from its connection to the massive festival.
“This pops,” said Sarah Mabry, the college and career counselor at Del Valle High. “It’s the connection,” Mabry said. “It’s Austin — ‘We can do it’ — that’s what it’s about.”
The college fair was held as part of the SXSWedu conference, which is in its third year and is geared toward education professionals as well as business, industry and policy leaders.
The students from Del Valle High were some of the first to arrive at the fair, even before school let out Tuesday afternoon. A handful of buses carried them into Downtown Austin. The school, where 80 percent of students are considered economically disadvantaged, has made a major push in recent years to encourage students to attend college.
So far, Del Valle officials say, it’s worked. About a decade ago, only about 10 percent of the school’s graduates would continue their education. Mabry said 100 percent of last year’s graduating class applied to a college and nearly all were accepted, becoming the first in their families to attend.
“We’re a first-generation high school and we’re proud of it,” Mabry said.
The school, in southeast Travis County, sent 253 juniors to the fair Tuesday. Del Valle High Principal Scott Lipton said most of those students have already been to multiple college fairs because the school pushes college early, but this one is different.
“As juniors, you need to get them focused on the next steps. There’s a lot of pressure that comes with that,” Lipton said. “Getting our kids out of Del Valle and bringing them downtown is an experience in itself.”
Alfredo Bautista, Abigail Martínez and Emely Avila said the fair was helpful, because it offered more options than the typical college night at their high school.
“At our school, people know about A&M and UT,” Bautista said.
The fair’s website listed about two dozen colleges and universities among the exhibitors.
Martínez said she was excited about an app advertised at the fair that helps students pick which college is right for them. “There are a lot of interesting things we’ve found.”