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News Clips 02/20/2014
Want to go to UF? It's not an easy task
Source: Orlando Sentinel, 02/19/14
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By Denise-Marie Ordway and Leslie Postal
Senior Lizzie Connor checked her cellphone during lacrosse practice at Hagerty High and let out a shriek of joy when she got the news: She had made it into her dream school, the University of Florida.
"Guys, I got in!" exclaimed Lizzie, 17, as her friends crowded around her.
It was no small feat. Admission into the state's top public university has grown increasingly difficult, where the average grade-point average for entering freshmen this fall has soared to 4.4 and the acceptance rate has dropped sharply.
For years now, the school's freshmen class has been capped at about 6,400, even as its applicant pool has grown and become more academically talented.
UF admissions officers must weed through tens of thousands of applications, many from students with excellent grades, high SAT and ACT scores and an academic résumé overflowing with extracurricular activities and volunteer work.
The school has its pick of valedictorians and student-body presidents, science-fair winners and debate-club champions. And each year, some of the state's brightest students are turned away.
That makes the second Friday of every February — the day UF admissions decisions are announced — "Kleenex day," says August Perrotti, director of guidance at Olympia High in Orange County, where nearly 100 seniors applied to UF this school year.
For many students, particularly those with family ties to UF, becoming a Gator is all-important.
"I think it's part of a Florida culture," Perrotti said. "It's a Florida rite of passage."
At parent information sessions on college admissions, he added, the most common question is, "How do I get my kid into Florida?"
The demand is based partly on the school's national status. UF is ranked highly both for its solid academics and value.
It was 14th in the U.S. News & World Report's 2014 "Top Public Schools" ranking. The Fiske Guide to Colleges last year called UF a "best buy," noting its "renowned" academic programs and its "top-shelf varsity sports teams."
UF in Gainesville has a $1.45 billion endowment and its own law, medical and dental schools. When Forbes last year named it a "best value college," it highlighted the school's many research centers, large library and fame as home to the inventors of Gatorade.
But Florida isn't for everyone, Perrotti said.
The state has many good public universities of varying sizes and academic offerings, he said. He and other counselors never tell a student not to apply to UF, but they do try to sell them on the merits of other schools, he said.
Matilda von Kalm, another Hagerty senior, said she wasn't sure UF was the best place for her but was convinced she had to get in.
"Somehow, they've ingrained in my brain that they're the best school to go to," she said last week. "I have to be accepted by UF. It's some kind of accomplishment."
She was accepted and then decided a few days later that she'd attend Florida State University instead next year. FSU won out, she said, thanks to its scholarship offers and her acceptance into its honors program.
For many students, the admissions game at UF seemed mostly about hard work and a little bit about luck.
Lizzie, the Hagerty lacrosse player, was thrilled to be chosen, but perplexed that a friend who has good grades and is involved in several school activities was not.
"Really, there is no rhyme or reason for who they pick, and they don't tell you why," said Lizzie, who has a 4.2 GPA and also is a member of Hagerty's student-government association.
Chandra Mitchell, interim director of freshman admissions at UF, said good grades and high scores on college-entrance exams are not enough.
The university looks for students who have shown they are natural leaders and who have done volunteer work throughout high school — and not just during their final years to impress admissions officers.
"We're looking for students who can come here and actually make some kind of impact," Mitchell said.
UF can be more picky now, because the number of applications has swelled, thanks in part to Florida's overall growth.
In 1994, nearly 68 percent of students who applied to UF were admitted for either the fall or summer semester. This year, less than 34 percent of almost 30,000 applicants won a coveted fall-semester start date.
By comparison, 43 percent of students who applied to the University of Central Florida were admitted as freshmen for the fall semester last year.
Still, UF isn't nearly as tough to get into as the nation's most selective public and private universities. Harvard University, for example, accepts about 6 percent of its applicants. The University of California at Berkeley accepts fewer than 18 percent.
But UF's tough admission path has enhanced the school's reputation, said Chris Carmody, president of the Central Florida Gator Club.
"It's a good problem to have for UF," he said. "They're getting the best of the best from each Florida high school."