The ballroom at the Stamford Hilton was turned into a shopping mall for colleges Thursday night when upwards of 3,000 students and parents turned out to meet with representatives of 180 colleges, universities and technical schools as well as the armed forces.

John Conover, a junior at Stamford’s Academy of Information Technology and Engineering, had just started checking out colleges. “This is a great way to look at a lot of schools without visiting them,” he said.

John and his parents were among those participating  in the Stamford Schools Guidance Department's Annual All-City College Fair, which was being held for the first time at a location other than a school. The school  representatives came from colleges and universities from l across the country.

George Sherman, associate dean of admissions at Endicott College in Boston, echoed the students’  enthusiasm. “This is simply fantastic. I’ll make contact with hundreds of potential applicants in a couple of hours.”

Neha Malhotra, a senior at Stamford High, came to the fair  with a few schools already in her sights. “I knew I wanted to see Fordham, Hofstra and Quinnipiac, and I got a good chance to speak with their reps. This is even easier than going online.”

John Shanahan Jr., a senior at Trinity Catholic, wants to be a meteorologist. “I could ask specific questions about admissions requirements, grades, test scores and not have to go to the school to do it.” His father, John Shanahan Sr., liked the ease of attending the College Fair. “We’re having fun tonight,” he said.

Mike Meyer of the Stamford Schools Guidance Department said that an analysis of the colleges’ response to the Fair will be forthcoming.