College always seemed like a far-away, future concept. However, as a sophomore with two years left before a university becomes my home for the following four or so years, college became something no longer on the backburner in my brain. Although I dream of living somewhere colder (read: anywhere without four seasons of hot, scorching, slightly windy/chilly and wow-it’s-fifty-degrees-time-to-bundle-up) for college, the recent Florida college tour I went on opened my eyes to schools I hadn’t originally seen myself going to.
Picture a Florida college campus, with grassy lawns, sunny skies and palm trees. Add in close proximity to Disney World, Universal Studios and basically every other theme park known to Florida, and UCF shows just how much it embodies the stereotypical Florida college image. However, stereotypes exist for a reason, as this campus certainly felt like a sunny and studious haven.
On the tour, the guide showed the group every external component the campus has to offer, such as the gym with a rock climbing wall and more than ten different restaurants to choose from. The main focal point of campus, located in the geographical center, forms a layout similar to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. and bears a similar name: the Mall. Within the Mall, subject-specific buildings hosting a variety of courses line the rectangular patch of vibrant green grass, all of which lead to the CFE Arena. Within the CFE arena, many major events occur, such as a past Taylor Swift concert. On the grassy area outside the CFE Arena, different clubs and organizations host a multitude of activities for the students to enjoy.
In terms of the number of students at UCF, a whopping 66,183 study at UCF. In comparison, Northeastern University in Boston hosts 13,825 undergraduates (check out this article for my take on Boston universities). With the warm sun and vibrancy of the campus, UCF’s campus felt like a stereotypical Florida campus (and I mean that in the best way possible).
Although UNF, located in Jacksonville, is a two-hour drive from UCF, the campuses could not differ more if they tried (again, I mean that in the best way possible). Rather than a campus with a South Floridian feel, UNF offers what I perceived as a strong Northern Florida vibe. With woodsy patches of land mixed with lakes filled with native Florida wildlife, UNF offered a unique contrast to the sunny south Florida I’m so accustomed to. The decoration of this campus seemed to also match the contrast; the occasional bricks adorning the modern buildings as decoration and new benches and fountains create a mixture modern and new ideas.
In addition to the complementary contrasting themes, this expansive campus offers housing in a unique, triangular layout, with three units of two to three floors of dorms forming a triangle. Each pod (as I thought of each triangle) contained an outdoor gathering area in the middle for residents. To further the sense of community, the Student Union boasts a collection of pool tables, a literal pool and rooms for different organizations to host events in. This contrasting style makes UNF feel like both a learning facility with on-campus features to unwind during free time.
Because of a trip to FSU in seventh grade, I thought I knew what to expect. However, three years after my first ever college visit, my perspective of the school changed. Before the trip this year, I remembered brick buildings not unlike those of American Heritage and amazing sports facilities that hosted many championship-winning teams (again, not unlike AHS). Now, after visiting the school as someone in the process of considering colleges she tours, I discovered a newfound appreciation for the campus one of my parents attended. The brick buildings, mixed with large, leafy trees, gave the campus a sense of hominess. Add in seeing the blue emergency boxes at numerous spots on campus that send out a police officer with an arrival time of 90 seconds when activated, the campus fully offers a sense of security. In terms of activities on campus, the school offers many clubs and something unlike any other campus: a student organized, produced and run circus. No matter what a student’s goals include, FSU’s campus offers the possibility of accomplishing them in a campus similar to the one here in Plantation.
With a parent who’s an FSU alumni, I always sensed an small, underlying competitive spirit against UF. Regardless of my original thoughts of the school, I toured the school with an open mind, shocking myself at how different the school presented itself in person than in my mind. At first, when I heard about how UF’s campus encompasses the majority of Gainesville, thus giving Gainesville the title of a “college town,” I recoiled at the idea of an entire town filled with mainly college students. Although based on my visit UF proved just how rightly called Gainesville was, my thoughts of the large campus changed. Instead of picturing UF as a large, unconnected campus, I now see it as a network of different academic, athletic and extracurricular avenues converging in one campus.
As I walked around the campus, different booths encouraging students to join their organizations, students studying together and scooter riders (you read that right; some students use scooters to get from one point of campus to another instead of cars) sprawled around the campus to make a melting pot of activity. Despite initial hesitation when it came to UF, this campus proved itself a flourishing university.
Located in Tampa, the ironically named University of South Florida offers a wide campus teaming with research and innovation. This campus, so large students have to take a bus from one end to the next, utilizes the land to the full extent, providing students the tools necessary to further their education in an environment that fosters ideas. What the campus lacks in closeness it makes up for in resources. Upon entering the tree-filled campus, I felt the buildings on this campus hosted important research facilities, such as the cancer research center. Entering the heart of campus, I appreciated the school’s choice of colors: the darker green and gold mirrored the sturdy trees and the sunny sky above them. If I could describe this campus in a few words, I would use “research heavy, full of trees.” Based on what I saw on this tour, and what alumnus Mrs. Ludy Joseph, high school guidance counselor, added about her own experience, I recommend this school for someone with a strong interest in STEM research on a large, green campus setting.
After visiting USF in Tampa, I expected USFSP to have similar traits to its sister school. In reality, the only thing connecting these schools in terms of the campus itself lay in the Rocky the Bull mascot plastered everywhere. Whereas USF offered a green campus, USFSP’s location in St. Petersburg provided students with a water-front view and water-related activities everywhere. From kayaking and sailing to fishing and paddle boarding, the activities never seemed to end.
In terms of academic buildings, the main buildings overlooked the mini bay, providing those learning with the opportunity to breathe in the salty air after 40 to 90 minutes in a classroom. As the group walked past the academics and into the library, one of the guides explained how USFSP looks after their students, such as providing service dogs in the library during finals to help students de-stress. Strolling out of the four-story library towards the street adjacent to the Student Union, the guides continued to emphasize the communal feeling the school and campus provide. In the Student Union, many offices host the organizational and leadership part of student groups, such as the Student Government Association leaders working in a downstairs office, managing all clubs on campus. This waterfront campus showed its colors as a hidden gem in terms of views and student community, and offers the elements of a sunny, bright campus.
Overall, while each university offered its own niche, one thing consistently stood out among all schools: the weather. Although the more northern schools, such as UNF and FSU, received more changes in climate, the weather almost never drops below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. If you’re looking for a school that reminds you (a lot) of home and provides many scholarship opportunities for in-state students, don’t think twice when considering checking out a Florida school.