For the past few years, Trina Harris, 17, has been writing to dozens of colleges around the country asking for information on admission requirements and courses.

Harris, a Woodson High School senior who hopes to become a pediatrician, has collected enough college catalogues and brochures to fill two large boxes.

Harris saved on postage stamps and avoided writer's cramp by attending a "college night" at Dunbar High School last week, where more than three dozen representatives from colleges near and far came to offer information as well as advice to District students interested in higher education.

About 400 students and their parents talked with admissions officials from colleges and universities located in Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Ohio, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia as well as the District.

While some students and parents strolled from one table to another talking to officials from different schools, others attended seminars on financial aid, and writing skills. The theme of the night was "Let College Be Your Key to Success."

"The purpose of this event is to make it easier for parents and students to compare what different colleges and universities have to offer," said acting assistant superintendent Marilyn Brown. "This way, they can narrow down their choices without spending a lot of time shopping around."

"This is the first time we've sponsored a citywide college night," added Brown, who heads the division of student services. "We've had 'college fairs' during the day, but often, parents could not get free time from work to attend them with their children."

Several families who attended the college night said they considered the time spent there an investment in the future of their college-bound children.

"I've written at least 100 letters to colleges. I started in the 10th grade," said Harris, vice president of the Woodson chapter of the National Honor Society. Harris's mother, Phyllis Kornegay, an executive assistant at the Federal Bar Association, who attended with her daughter, said she has encouraged her daughter to seek information in order to make "an intelligent decision concerning what college to attend."

"She wants to attend George Washington, Georgetown or John Hopkins universities," Kornegay said. "I keep telling her to keep her grades up and maybe one day she'll reach her goals."

For Ernestine Hicks, a counselor at Dunbar High School, college night was a "blessing" because counselors are often overloaded with students and "we cannot often times do as much one-on-one counseling as we would like to."

Sitting at the table for Coppin State College in Baltimore was Allen Mosley, the assistant director of admissions and a graduate of Ballou High School in Southeast Washington. ."A college night can open the eyes of students and parents," he said. Some people "lack the exposure. They don't realize that you don't have to be an 'A' student to go to college."