For many of those who came to the University of Maryland, College Park yesterday, it will be a few years before they have to worry about choosing a major.
Maryland Day 2000 drew thousands of children, many in strollers, and their parents to what was the university's second annual spring shindig. Officials estimated that more than 35,000 participants came to sample a day of food, fun and frolicking while learning more about the state's largest university.
The event -- part festival, part open house -- was the brainchild of university President C. D. "Dan" Mote Jr., who held similar events at his previous school, the University of California at Berkeley.
"The idea came to me after I was shocked to realize that in the history of the school we had never had a university open house," said Mote, who came to Maryland 20 months ago.
"It's very hard to find out about things that are going on at a large university," he said. "You hear a lot about the athletic programs, but you don't hear a lot about the day-to-day activities."
With almost 33,000 students, College Park is the flagship of the state's university system, but still wrestles with its identity.
"It's an issue of geography and ownership," said Jean F. Reuter, a university spokeswoman. "People in D.C. sometimes don't know who we are and people in Baltimore think that we are in D.C. This event is about saying who we are, where we are and sharing all of the wonderful things that are going on here on campus."
Participants were treated to more than 200 activities, from miniature golf to ice-cream making demonstrations. Thousands of students in brightly colored T-shirts served as hosts, giving directions, serving food and answering questions about their school.
Jeff and Jill Lape of Chevy Chase stopped to pick up a map at one of the many information stands before proceeding to a petting zoo with their sons, Brooks, 14, Michael, 11, and Parker, 5.
"It's probably a good idea, with the ages of our children, to start checking out college life," Jeff Lape said. "We're not taking them to the dorms, though."
Jenni Li had a hard time getting her 8-year-old, Kevin, away from the free video games near the Stamp Student Union building.
"I thought it would be something nice for the kids," said Li, who lives in Columbia and graduated from the school in 1994 with a doctorate in geography. "My mom really liked the blood-pressure screening, and there is lots of kids' stuff to do."
Christine Davies, 21, showed her 5-year-old niece Kaylor where her name was carved into the Omicron Delta Kappa fountain, which honors those inducted into the leadership honor society. A junior majoring in government and communications, Davies said she enjoyed showing off her campus.
"It's just a very diverse school in terms of bringing together different types of people with different ideas," she said. "It's beautiful here and a really cool place to go to school and hang out."
Bill Destler, vice president for research and dean of graduate studies, said College Park now has a lot more to share with the community than years ago.
"When I first came here, this was the school of last resort for many students," said Destler, who has been with the university 27 years. "Now, within the last decade, we have been attracting some of the best students in the state."
Jacqueline King, director of federal policy for the American Council on Education, said more colleges and universities -- including the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, which earlier this month had an open house -- are holding such events to raise their visibility.
"It's a nice way to open up the campus, not only to prospective students, but also to alumni and residents," King said. "It's a way to make people feel more connected to the university."
Yesterday's event spilled over to the surrounding town of College Park, where merchants held street sales.
"We want folks to know where the university is," City Manager Dick Conti said. "Hopefully, those people will go away with a positive view of the area."