Visit college campuses often. And visit early. If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it 1000 times. Freshmen and sophomores? Do you think it’s too early to visit college campuses? Surprise! It’s not! But don’t take our word for it.

Minnesota sophomore Claire Ficek can tell you all about the benefit of visiting college campuses early. Even before Claire decided to spend her sophomore spring break touring college campuses with her family, we knew she was smart. Claire lives in a suburb of the Twin Cities where she loves riding horses, attending and watching sports events and serving others through mission trips and local service efforts.

Student stories are so important! Claire said it best, “When you hear it from another student, you can really trust what they’re saying.” Thanks for taking the time to talk with us, Claire. Here’s our Q&A with Claire about her college campus visit experience over sophomore spring break this year.

How did college campus visits change your definition of your ideal college experience?

sophomore college campus visits

Stuff gets real when you see your name on the Visitor Tag!

Claire: Before I visited, I thought maybe I wanted a huge, public university. I thought I wanted a really big school with challenging classes, down in the South. I thought I needed a lot of sports and a lot of things happening around campus.

Now my definition of an ideal college experience is more focused, and it’s different than what I thought.

I visited all these big universities, and I don’t think I could call those places home. I learned how important it is to me to choose a Christian school, because that’s really important to me. So now my ideal college experience is that I want a small-medium-sized, private Christian college with hard classes, down in the South. Having a lot of sports still matters, but it’s on my want (not need) list. I love high school activities and sports, but I don’t know if I could do something like a Tennessee. Definitely I saw an example of what I want at Liberty. They’re building a brand new business school, and I think I want to major in something business or marketing-related. And because I’m considering a minor in Spanish and want to study abroad, that’s a big consideration, too.

How did you decide which schools to include in your college campus visits?

Claire: For some, it was word of mouth or watching college sports and getting curious about those schools. A couple were recommended to us once friends heard we were visiting over spring break. Some we added because they were close to schools we’d already chosen. And I have a couple of friends going to a couple of the colleges we visited.

Were you anxious about visiting colleges?

Claire: At first I was kind of nervous, especially as a sophomore. When I was on the college tours, they’d ask, “How many seniors are here? How many juniors are here?” They usually didn’t even ask about freshmen or sophomores. I also got nervous when I started to feel like the college that we were touring wasn’t the right fit. Like, “What am I doing here?” When I got nervous, I just turned to my dad and said, “I’m not sure this is the right fit.” My Dad said, “We’re just here to get information and learn. Just take notes. It’s fine.” It’s not like we were there to make a final decision or commit to anything. When I remembered that, I was fine.

One of the best parts was talking to students. That was great. Adults all pretty much say the same thing, “We’re an awesome school.” But I really believed what the students told me when I talked to them.

What types of questions did you ask the students?

Claire: I asked what they were majoring in. Things they liked about the college. Where they were from. How they chose the college. Where else they applied. I learned that these are just college kids that are figuring it out along the way. And just a few years ago, they were right where I am now. That was a relief. They were really nice, and seemed eager to answer my questions. It’s not until you get to talk to the students that you really have a good idea of what it’s like to go to school there. What you learn from the students helps you differentiate one school from another.

sophomore year college campus visits

Another day, another campus. Duke was beautiful!

When we were visiting Kentucky, we were at a restaurant close to campus. We asked a college sophomore sitting next to us where she was from and what it was like here. Turns out she was from Wisconsin. She admitted that on a big campus, she had trouble finding her way at first, but it wasn’t as bad as she thought it was going to be. It was good to get her input.

At Liberty, students talked about how much they’ve grown in their faith. That’s what I needed to hear, because that’s really important to me. The Liberty students said that their professors are there for them. Liberty is now my first choice, after visiting all the colleges we did.

What about the schools you didn’t like? Were those visits still valuable?

Claire: Yes! Even though I didn’t love every school we saw, it was good to visit both schools I liked and schools I didn’t like. I got to see a mix of large university and small, faith-based colleges.

What type of planning did you do before you started your college campus tours?

college campus visit planningClaire: I’m a planner, so yeah, we had it all planned out. My dad made a spreadsheet of all the colleges on the southeast coast. A couple of them I was dying to look at just for fun. We did online research about things like majors, cost, size and other facts about the schools. I then picked my top eight that I wanted to see on this trip. Then we mapped it out using Google maps and Google docs to plan the trip. Then we called the schools in advance or went online to register for campus tours there. It was actually fun and pretty easy.

What advantage is there to seeing a lot of colleges in a short amount of time?

duke college campus visitsClaire: The good thing was, my focus was on college at that time. We had nothing else going on. No distractions. We could just focus on each school. And then right after that touring the college, we’d write notes and compare it to the last one while we were on the drive. With it all happening in the same week, we could compare them and remember. It’s easy to forget if you don’t take notes.

I used a notebook and made pro/con list of every college while touring. My parents and I would debrief during the drive to the next place. I was able to pick up on things my parents noticed that I didn’t notice. Comparing notes was really important.

So now that you’ve done some college campus visits, are your next college planning steps clear?

Claire: Definitely. I’m going to contact my friends who’ve already gone to college and interview them. I’m also doing a lot of online research for private Christian colleges in the South.

What’s your advice to freshmen and sophomores about college campus visits?

My brother Charlie and me. He and my sister Kate are great sports!

Claire: Start small. Just jump online and look at some colleges you might want to visit. Brainstorming is actually really fun. You could even just go visit a random college that’s close by. (That’s what we did back in December.) See what you like, what you don’t like. I have heard friends who are seniors this year say they didn’t know where they’re going yet two months before graduation. I don’t want to be in that position. I’m a planner, so not knowing in the middle of my senior year would add way too much stress for me.

Also, if you start early, you’re a freshman or sophomore and you can still change the classes you’re taking based on what you learn on your visits. For instance, I learned some things about college foreign language requirements that I didn’t know before we visited.

And remember that the schools definitely want you there. They want you to come visit. The college wants anyone and everyone there to visit because they want you, they want new people in the door. Don’t be nervous. Take your time. If you start early, then you have time. If you start late, then you’re in a time crunch. If you do the behind the scenes work first, then you’ve got three years to do it all on your timeline.

Great advice, Claire. Thanks for sharing your college campus visit experience!

Freshman and sophomores, you can download our free Campus Visit Bullet Journal here. Or schedule a free consult any time to talk about your next steps for college planning.

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