Surprising Sophomore Lessons on the Power of College Campus Visits

Surprising Sophomore Lessons on the Power of College Campus Visits

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.

Add College Campus Visits to Your Spring Break Bucket List

Add College Campus Visits to Your Spring Break Bucket List

Adding a campus visit to your spring break travel plans can be fun and productive, even if you have never visited a college and college application time is a long way off. For those resisting already, let me address your objections, one by one:

  • There aren’t any colleges we’re interested in where we’re going (Even better! No pressure to make any big decisions then.)
  • My child is only in 7th (8th, 9th, 10th grade) (Perfect! It’s never too early to start exposing your child to the college environment to get their wheels turning and get them excited about their future.)
  • I’ll bet there aren’t any colleges where we’re going (“False.” Dwight Schrute)
  • We won’t have a car (Uber. Ever heard of it?)
  • My child won’t want to. (Yeah, I didn’t want to go to balmy rural Nebraska for spring break either. But no one asked me. They just said, “Get in the car, or I’ll really give you something to cry about.” Or something like that.)
  • We’re staying home (Great! Then you can check out colleges near your home. Perfect day trip.)
  • I don’t know what we’re doing for spring break yet (A college you’ve always been curious about could help you nail down a destination.)

College Campus Visits Oncampus College Planning 5Look, I can’t make you go on a campus visit. But I can tell you you’ll be glad if you do. It doesn’t have to take up your entire vacation. No matter where you’re going, you can add a campus visit that lasts a day, a morning or an hour.

Why You Should Start College Campus Visits Way Before Junior Year

As a college planner, I’m a huge advocate for visiting college campuses early and often, beginning in middle school and certainly well before junior year. Things are less overwhelming, more familiar and more comfortable the more you do them.

Wouldn’t you rather get your first college campus visits under your belt before you’re in the throes of college planning?

My sons have been taking campus visits since they were in elementary school. (Granted, I’m in the biz, and I’ve visited more than 130 campuses around the country.) Once Jack and Joe were juniors in high school and we were in the thick of college planning, the brilliance of early campus visits came to life for me. During campus visits for schools they were seriously considering, they already had a general understanding of what “College” was. They’d been on big campuses and small campuses. They’d seen private colleges and public colleges. They’d seen colleges in cities and colleges in small towns. The job of evaluating a particular school was much easier because they had something to compare it to.

Options for College Campus Visits That Fit Every Age and Interest Level

Schedule an official Campus Visit Tour.

Go to any college website, and you’ll find “Admissions”. There you’ll find info about visiting the campus. Colleges WANT you to visit, because they WANT to attract prospective students. They don’t care if you’re not applying soon. They love the exposure. Therefore, they make campus visit information easy to find. You can call or email the college to find out when they do tours, and then register for one that works for you. Campus tours typically take 2-3 hours and will give you a good idea of the highlights about that particular campus. Note: To get the most out of your visit, make sure they don’t have spring break at that time. The college website or admissions personnel can provide this information.

Take a Self-Guided Campus Visit.

While not as thorough as a guided tour, you can guide your own campus visit with a map of the campus that you grab from the visitor’s center or admissions office. College campuses are wide open, welcoming places, and you can walk freely all over campus on your own self-guided tour. You’ll get a good idea of what the campus feels like, what type of people are strolling around, what the facilities and amenities look like and more. A self-guided campus visit is a solid option for younger students who can’t be cajoled into an official tour. It also lets you control how long you spend visiting, so you can get back to other spring break activities on your own schedule.

Opt for a drive-by campus visit.

This is exactly what it sounds like. While you’re out and about exploring your spring break destination, drive through the college campus nearby. It’s obviously less thorough than a walking tour, but it accomplishes the goal of getting a feel for the campus. It doesn’t take long, and any campus visit is better than no campus visit.

Piggy-back a college campus visit on other site-seeing.

Just as State Street in Madison is right next to the University of Wisconsin, the best parts of many cities are right near college campuses. College campuses typically have fantastic art museums, wonderful theater productions, great athletic events, beautiful gardens and grounds and fun, quirky bookstores and coffee shops. Check them out!

For more on how to make the most of campus visits including what to ask, where to go, what NOT to do and who to talk to, download our free campus visit guide. It makes for great reading on the drive. We also have a Campus Visit Bullet Journal you can download. This handy one-pager is a helpful note-taking tool while you’re on a campus visit.

For help with which colleges to visit and how to know which colleges are right for you, check out our College Search services. You can sign up for a FREE consult in person or by phone anytime. Let’s talk College!