Tall palm trees, warm sun and a light breeze easily reminded 17-year-old Renee Chavez of home, and all were prevalent this week during her visit to UC Santa Barbara.
The high school senior was all too aware that her vision of home — where she grew up in Oceanside — will soon change when she heads to college.
Where that will be was less certain, as Chavez toured the coastal campus with her mother and a family friend in search of an answer.
“Stressful,” she said of the process to narrow down her list of four universities — all close to home but one.
Like the 30 or so others on the tour, Chavez analyzed the faces of current students, trying to picture her own in the same setting.
It’s crunch time for thousands of prospective freshmen, who must decide their final destination by May 1 — hence the flood of 600 to 800 daily campus visitors.
Fewer than 5,000 of the 24,000 freshmen accepted for fall 2014 at UCSB were expected to enroll, according to the admission’s office.
UCSB drew a record number of freshmen applicants this year, with 67,000 compared with 62,400 in 2013, for an increase of 8 percent, according to Admissions Director Lisa Przekop.
Last fall marked the first time the university denied more applicants than it accepted, she said, a tipping point proving UCSB was no longer just a “back-up school.”
The statistics did little to quell the strain parents showed during Chavez’s tour, led by Maritza Mossberg, a senior communications major and three-year campus guide.
“Just think of me as a big sister because I have a sister your age,” Mossberg told students at the start, just outside the Visitor Center.
She quickly recounted a history of the Recreation Center, highlighting fun club-team options before explaining that the school hasn’t had a football team since 1992.
“However, we do have a really good soccer team,” Mossberg added.
While the tour sauntered forward, Mossberg walked backward, pointing out landmarks and offering tips along the way.
Registering your bike is a good idea because it’s easier to find when someone steals it, something that happened to a friend, she said.
Seven miles of bike paths crisscross the campus, and are used by more than 15,000 students — the number that has registered.
Walking was a great means of transportation, too, since everything on campus is within about a 15-minute stroll.
Attending a professor’s office hours and joining campus clubs were other musts, Mossberg said, standing outside Cheadle Hall, which houses the College of Letters and Sciences as well as the chancellor's office.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to study,” Mossberg said, reassuringly. “You don’t need to declare a major until the end of your sophomore year.”
Doug Wheeler stood at the back of the pack, watching over his daughter, a junior at a high school in San Diego.
A prospective student from the Bay Area called the campus “tranquil” and one he visited because his cousin goes there.
The tour continued by Davidson Library and across a busy bike lane, where cyclists zipped past because they always have the right of way, Mossberg said.
“It’s really luck of the draw,” she said of the lottery system.
Mossberg, who graduates in June, encouraged students to check out Isla Vista and to make the most of their college experience, wherever they go.
Chavez said she planned to make that choice by the end of the week.
“I like it,” she said, somewhat hesitantly. “It’s pretty, though.”