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  • Writer's pictureJessica Chermak, CEP, LPC

College Tour Highlights: Southern Florida


Each November, Virtual College Counselors spends time attending and presenting at the Fall IECA conference. In addition to the standard conference events and professional development, we also take the time to visit local colleges. This year’s conference was held in Tampa, FL and we had the opportunity to visit seven FL colleges during our time there.


Table of Contents:


Disclaimer: The highlights of our college visits below are by no means exhaustive or all-encompassing. These are just some thoughts and notes about our experiences on the particular day of our visit and some facts we feel make each institution stand out. Information is based on admissions presentations, discussions with student tour guides, and basic research from an institution's website.


 

Eckerd College


Our college visits began with Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, FL. We knew about Eckerd because it is one of the Colleges That Change Lives (CTCL.org), and we are always excited to learn more about CTCL schools (after all, Sawyer attended one and worked in admissions at another).


There are many things that stood out to us at Eckerd, including the beach access they have on campus, the student-run maritime search and rescue team (the only one of its kind), and the wetsuits hanging off of most of the students’ dorm balconies overlooking the water. All first-year students at Eckerd participate in their autumn term, which is a 3-week intensive orientation. During the autumn term, freshmen take an academic course with a cohort of about 20 students. In addition to the autumn term, Eckerd requires all students to take two foundation courses, one in their freshman year (The Human Experience) and one in their senior year (Imagining Justice). The most unique thing about these courses, though, is that the same cohort of students take the classes together so they can see each other's personal growth between the beginning and end of their college experience.


If you’ve ever felt that it was overwhelming or ridiculous to expect 17-year-olds to know what they want to study, Eckerd may be a great place to start exploring opportunities. All students enter the college undecided and declare their discipline in March of freshman year. Their most popular majors are marine science and animal studies, so it’s not surprising that 35% of students at Eckerd are pursuing degrees in the natural sciences. In order to create opportunities for all students to study abroad without extending the duration of their undergraduate education, Eckerd offers many short study abroad opportunities during their month-long winter term, in addition to the standard semester offerings (including Semester at Sea).


 

Lynn University


After the conference, we headed down to South Florida to visit more schools, and our first stop was at Lynn University. We already wrote extensively about this school, so please check out this blog to learn more!

 

Florida Atlantic University


With the main campus about 10 minutes away from Lynn University, Florida Atlantic University was our next destination on this whirlwind tour. FAU is home to more than 500 Division 1 student-athletes across 19 athletic teams, and roughly 30,000 students. Their application numbers were up by over 40% in the fall, likely partly as a result of their basketball team making it to the final four in 2023. They have many robust undergraduate program offerings, but their graduate program offerings are extensive as well. It is the most diverse public university in the state of Florida, and the student demographic breakdown closely mirrors that of the entire state’s population.


One thing that stood out to us when learning about FAU was their Student Success Network. This network has enabled the school to increase retention and graduation rates by providing students with incredible support services including financial aid, library liaisons, career counseling, and academic advising.


FAU is home to a particularly unique honors college (Wilkes), which is located about 40 miles north of the main campus in Jupiter and is home to about 700 students each year. It is the only residential stand-alone honors college affiliated with a larger institution, and while it’s a Liberal Arts and Sciences College, many students are STEM-focused. Wilkes Honors College has its own honors-specific faculty on campus and exceptional research opportunities that are only available to honors students. Wilkes is also home to the Scripps Institute-Florida and the Max Blanc Institute of Neuroscience (the only ones outside of CA and Europe respectively). While Wilkes offers some incredible opportunities for high-achieving students, honors students can choose to stay on the main campus in Boca and participate in the honors program there. The benefits include small seminar-style classes, honors-specific advising and registration, and a certificate upon completion of the program.

 

Nova Southeastern University


Now might be a good time to mention that our college tour trip was during a tropical storm, which led to a lot of flooding in the Fort Lauderdale region. As a result of significant flooding on campus, we were unable to take a full tour of Nova Southeastern.


Nova Southeastern University has an undergraduate population of about 6,900 students who hail from all 50 states and over 150 different countries. In recent years, they’ve put a lot of energy and effort into growing their dual admission programs, and now there are over 30 offerings that guarantee admitted students access to graduate education on campus. In order to best prepare students for graduate education or the workforce, NSU emphasizes experiential education and learning opportunities including study abroad (customizable to any location), career development (with a dedicated academic and career coach for all four years), research opportunities, and the Student Success Scholars Program (peer-to-peer mentorship and additional merit aid).


Similar to many honors colleges, the Farquhar Honors College provides discussion-based, project-focused coursework. But unlike many schools, NSU offers many different scholar programs on campus. Razor’s Edge Scholars is a residential program that combines academics with career-curricular interests. There are five different tracks for qualifying students to choose from, including Shark Teach (for education majors), Shark Talent (which requires at least a minor in a visual or performing art), Global, Research, or Leadership (the latter three open to all majors/minors). In addition to Razor’s Edge, there is Fischler Academy (a 3+1 master’s in education program that includes free study abroad and guaranteed job placement in a South Florida school district) and Huizenga Business Innovation Academy (a 3+1 MBA program that involves running a business on campus and up to $20,000 in start-up funds). Both of these programs also come with additional merit scholarships!


With all of these incredible opportunities available to students, it’s no wonder NSU is becoming more popular each year. Students are often excited by the fact that every building with a classroom has at least one food option available, there’s free laundry (well, it’s included in tuition), there are no communal bathrooms in the dorms, parking on campus is free (and there’s a shuttle to get to various locations around town for those without a car), and every admitted student receives at least the Dean’s scholarship (up to $21,000 each year).

 

Barry University


Day two of our whirlwind tour began at Barry University in Miami Shores (not to be confused with Berry College in Georgia). It’s a small school of about 3,000 undergraduate students, with 48 states and over 80 countries represented on campus. There may be something in the water there because dozens of Major League Baseball recruits have come from Barry!


The school is very supportive of all of its students but caters specifically to first-generation students. The core pillars of the institution focus on social justice and inclusivity, and it is known as a “Catholic light” institution (meaning religion isn’t a major focus of the school or student body, but there is a Catholic influence on campus). Every student is assigned an advisor in the Center for Academic Success and Advising, and the school provides free English and Math tutoring for all freshmen students.


For such a small school, we were surprised to learn that they offer more than 100 degree options, most of which lead directly into the field. As a result, Barry places a strong emphasis on career and internship activities. They also have a law school located in Orlando and a graduate degree in Podiatry on campus.


The total cost of attendance at Barry University is fairly low for a private school (about $56,000/year), but they are incredibly generous with need-based and merit-based financial aid. On average, students graduate with about $25,000 in student loans. 


 

Florida International University


There are many unique qualities of Florida International University, but the primary one is that it used to be an empty, abandoned airfield. They still have an air traffic tower at the center of campus that the first president of the institution vowed should never be destroyed. And while the campus started as an abandoned airfield with a single building, it has since expanded to be one of the largest universities in the entire United States of America.


There are approximately 57,000 students enrolled at FIU each year in its 200+ degree offerings. Like many larger institutions, FIU offers 300+ clubs, 18 NCAA D1 sports teams, tons of arts and cultural opportunities and facilities, and practically infinite opportunities for students to engage meaningfully outside the classroom.


FIU has a submarine research facility off the waters of Key Largo, making it one of the primary institutions in marine science research. However, they have many impressive opportunities that are on the main campus as well, including a mock hospital where the nursing and medical students can train. There’s even a nature preserve on campus!


The school is incredibly generous with financial aid, too. Florida residents below a certain income threshold are guaranteed free tuition for all four years, and there are hundreds of scholarship opportunities for students to apply for once admitted to the school.


 

University of Miami


Our last stop of the trip was at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, in the late afternoon on the Friday before Thanksgiving. Although Thanksgiving break was right around the corner and most students had already left for home, the campus felt vibrant and engaging. 


There are many standout features of U Miami, but the following we found to be most impressive:

  • The nursing school is a 5-story brick hospital that only takes 4 hours to convert into a fully functional hospital in the case of an emergency.

  • The school is home to one of only two Category 5 hurricane simulators on a college campus.

  • The Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmosphere, and Earth Sciences on Virginia Key is the only subtropical marine and atmospheric research institute in the continental US, and it has a private student beach!

  • Their engineering department is 38% female-identifying, making it one of the most gender-diverse engineering programs in the USA.


The University of Miami offers more than 100 undergraduate majors and programs, including some unique ones such as Immersive Media, Music Therapy, Marine Affairs, Architectural Engineering, and a robust exploratory studies program for students who aren’t sure what they want to study. It is a large private institution with close to 20,000 students. There is easy access to public transportation from campus, including the Metro that can quickly get students to the airport and downtown Miami. With close to 400 clubs and organizations on campus and dozens of fraternities and sororities, there are ample opportunities for all students to engage outside of the classroom.


Good luck (but I know you won't need it),

Jessica Chermak, LPC, CEP

Independent College Counselor

Co-Founder of Virtual College Counselors



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