MIDDLE VILLAGE — Growing up in Queens, Mikala Guerra took full advantage of being a borough away from the Great White Way to feed her passion for professional theater performances.
So it stood to reason that the 2021 graduate of Christ the King High School in Middle Village would pursue a college degree in theater close to home. In her sophomore year, she began looking for the right school.
But her search went a different direction after she participated in a Catholic High School College Fair, one of two such events conducted online and sponsored by The Tablet.
Guerra said it was tough finding a college with the right mix of theater training and academic standards. But through the fair, she found one: The University of York in the city of York, in central England.
“I saw a school in Scotland, but it didn’t have theater,” she recalled. “Then I saw ‘University of York — Theater.’ I thought, ‘Huh?’ I clicked on it and read all about it.”
Then she shared the website with her parents.
“It took a while for them to warm up to the idea, but they’re fine with it now,” Guerra said. “I was telling them, ‘It’s in England. It’s theater. Shakespeare is from there! I got to go!’ ”
She starts classes there in late September after a period of mandatory quarantine because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Planning is underway for a third virtual fair in the fall, probably in October, according to JoAnn DiNapoli, director of Sales for The Tablet.
“The Tablet always wants to help schools, whether they’re elementary, high school, or the colleges,” said DiNapoli, who coordinates the events.
She added that college recruiters eagerly seek graduates of Catholic high schools because of the quality educations they received.
“They feel that Catholic students are good candidates for their colleges,” DiNapoli said.
To help connect students with institutions of higher learning, The Tablet partnered with a company that facilitates college fairs — the Career Council, National College Fair, Inc.
Typically, she explained, these events happen at host venues where representatives of colleges and universities set up booths or tables. Students are taken out of school and bused to the fair.
DiNapoli said the newspaper originally planned an in-person college fair for Catholic school students in the Diocese of Brooklyn but when she learned The Tablet couldn’t hold an in-person event, it pivoted to virtual fairs. The partners at the Career Council, National College Fair coordinated technological issues.
Some 75 institutions highlight the fairs, but digital technology also drew recruiters from the West Coast and abroad. Frequently, such institutions don’t have the budgets to send representatives across continents to promote their colleges.
This broader participation was “very beneficial,” said Alyssa Abreu, a counselor at Christ the King High School.
“When we have our in-person college fairs, we get a lot of more local colleges from New York state, New Jersey, and Connecticut,” Abreu explained. “We don’t really get a lot of colleges coming from the West Coast or internationally.”
She added that students “were able to expand their horizons in that way.”
The fairs, scheduled for specific dates and times, are accessed with log-on information given to students. Subsequently, a student’s computer screen fills with information about scores of colleges, including a few overseas.
“It was really easy to use,” Guerra said.
“You would click on a school, and they gave all the information. I even had a conversation with the international coordinator over direct messaging,” she said. “You’re sitting there asking the questions, and if they don’t have the answers, they say, ‘I’m not sure, I’ll get back to you.’ But for the most part, they answered all my questions right away, which made it 10 times better.”
Guerra said it was evening when she attended the fair, which meant it was late at night or very early the next morning for the recruiters in England. Still, their information “was really thorough,” Guerra said.
Bianca Jean Baptiste, another 2021 Christ the King graduate from Queens, also attended a virtual fair.
Like Guerra, she is headed to England for college but her path is toward a degree in sports science at Northumbria University, Newcastle, in England’s northeast corner. She also has a scholarship to play soccer there.
While Northumbria was not among the institutions highlighted in The Tablet’s virtual college fairs, Jean Baptiste said her participation in the event helped her tremendously.
“Being at a virtual college fair, I saw what universities over in the U.K. had to offer,” she said. “So I just kind of did more digging, and I just found the right fit for me.”
Jean Baptiste guided her family on a virtual tour similar to hers. After seeing the campus, the dorms, and the surrounding area, her mother “felt more comfortable with the idea,” she said.
Jean Baptiste recommends the virtual fair for other students because it can take some uncertainty out of considering an education abroad.
“I think,” she said, “it would be a smart idea just to make sure you don’t limit yourself because you think that you only can stay in the United States to get a good education.”