Worth The Visit

International Festival (PC: Bruce Jeffrey)

by Ellie Johnson

We visited Copenhagen and Amsterdam.  I went in with very few expectations, as I had never been to Europe before.  Friends had told me that Christmas would be magical in Copenhagen.  They were right.  The Christmas markets were wonderful and the whole city was decorated in the spirit of Christmas.  My experience in Copenhagen heighten my expectations of our visit to Amsterdam.  But I didn’t love Amsterdam quite as much.  Both cities were really beautiful and had lots to do. We had great food in both places.  But somehow, I felt slightly more comfortable in Copenhagen.  Maybe it was because everyone dressed in black and gray, which is what I wear just about everyday.  Maybe it was because the smell of marijuana (which is legal in the Netherlands) and cheese (not a big fan of cheese) seemed to permeate the air everywhere in Amsterdam.  Or it might have been the fact that everything in Copenhagen just seemed like it was neatly arranged and well maintained.  The city just seemed bright and clean.  Whatever it was, there was just something about Copenhagen which felt like a better fit.

When I got home, it dawned on me that no matter how much you read about a place and see photos, to get a true feel for a place, you need to visit.  The same goes for colleges.  They all look the same in the glossy brochures, but to get a really good picture of a college, you need to see the campus, attend the information session and interact with the students.  You will fall in love with some colleges the moment you step foot on campus.  Others just won’t feel quite right.  And so a college visit is really important to the application process, particularly in figuring out which schools to apply to.

This month I have asked Stony Brook sophomore, Ellie Johnson, to share about her recent experience visiting colleges:

Over Thanksgiving break I spent 3 days in Pennsylvania looking at college. I know it might seem like I’m starting to do college visits too soon, but I realized I had no idea what kind of college I was interested in, and that I needed to see some schools to figure out what I like and don’t like. This trip gave me a better idea of what kind of school is a good fit for me.

My first stop was at Franklin and Marshall, a small liberal arts college in Lancaster, PA. The campus was beautiful and spread out making the smaller school feel a little bigger than it actually was. The dorms were lovely and all the buildings felt updated but had a lot of character which I loved. Their way of organizing dorm life surprised me; freshmen are given a survey and are then placed in a residential house.  The guide explained that you belong to your house all four years, and even graduate together with your housemates. The tour guide said that though they don’t use a sorting hat like Hogwarts, there are some similarities with how they try to let their houses develop distinct and meaningful characteristics. The college has about 1,800 undergrad students which I felt was a good size for a smaller liberal arts school. The people there were really friendly and the place overall had a good vibe.

I then toured Haverford in the suburban Philly area. The campus was beautiful and had some really lovely stone buildings and the library was amazing. A house was designated for the arts department and students were allowed to paint on the outside of this house which I found really cool. The students on campus are very politically involved, which might not be a great fit for me, but the school’s honor code is very much like Stony Brook’s, which I appreciated. Even though the campus was beautiful and the people there were definitely interesting and had a lot to say, the campus itself felt too small for my liking.

I briefly stopped at Bryn Mawr which is an all-girls liberal arts college. Sam Taveras (SBS class of 2016) gave me a quick tour and shared her opinions with me about the college. The buildings were gothic, castle looking (like Hogwarts) which was pretty cool. Sam told me about many of Bryn Mawr’s traditions and superstitions, which seemed numerous (and very distinctive). I also stopped at Villanova which I really liked. I chatted with Professor Simmons, Director of the Villanova Writing Center, who knows my father. She gave me a helpful overview of Villanova and compared it with nearby Haverford and Bryn Mawr. Villanova had recently won the NCAA basketball championship, and I could really see the resulting school spirit. As I was walking around the main circle there was a sculpture which Professor Simmons said was nicknamed the Oreo, which I found pretty hilarious. Professor Simmons said what she really likes about Villanova students is that they are very positive and have a good outlook on school and campus life.

The second to last school I went to was Lehigh, a university in the Bethlehem valley. The school has 3 campuses and the buildings mostly are spread out. The buildings are beautiful, stone facades with a lot of character. The school has a very flexible curriculum which is good for someone who doesn’t know what they want to do, or who has a variety of interests. This is definitely the type of curriculum that I am looking for. They have about 200 clubs and organizations. The clubs related to spiritual life seemed pretty active, which I hadn’t really seen at other campuses except at Villanova. Their school spirit was very present while I visited there and was refreshing to see. I did feel a little claustrophobic for some reason while walking around campus. Maybe it’s because there were large buildings everywhere and it was on a steep hill, but overall it was a good experience.  I also did a quick stop at nearby Lafayette College on my way back home.  I wasn’t as excited about Lafayette, but this might be simply because I was really tired of visiting campuses by the time I got there.  The campus was nice with good views over valley, but it also seemed a little isolated from the nearby town–more isolated than Lehigh is.

While I could see myself being happy at a number of these schools, I don’t think I am done looking at colleges. Nevertheless, this trip was a success because I learned a lot about what I wanted and valued and what I didn’t like and what made me feel uncomfortable.  Doing this trip as a sophomore has given me a better understanding of myself and what suits me. I now have a better idea of what kind of schools I should try to see over the next year or so. It seems to me that prospective students should take seriously factors like campus size, location, and social environment. I would encourage other Stony Brook students to start college visits early, especially if you are uncertain about college like I was.


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