What might appear like a mere administrative change to the University of Florida’s admissions process may significantly affect enrollment at the state’s flagship school. UF has announced that it will only accept the new application from the Coalition for Access and Affordability. Why change from a Florida-specific application to a universal form?
This is a strategy based upon rankings and reputation. In 2016, U.S. News & World Report ranked UF in a tie for #14 among public universities. The school would surely like to move into the top ten, which would put it in the same category as more-heralded schools like UC Berkeley, UCLA, Virginia and Michigan.
These lists are generated from algorithms that consider multiple factors – for example, acceptance rates, test scores, class sizes, and graduation rates – to rank colleges in several categories. Although experts may argue about the accuracy and value of the rankings, there is no dispute that moving up the list can help a school monetarily. Alumni donations and research funding increase rapidly when a school improves its ranking.
Schools can, and do, game the system. When he took over in 1996, former Northeastern University president Richard Freeland used the algorithm to guide his school up the ranking more than 60 positions. Freeland utilized a variety of strategies, but two of the most powerful are broadening the profile of the student body (attracting students from around the country and the world) and tightening admissions rates.
UF’s recent move to the Coalition application seems targeted at both factors. By moving to the new platform, UF will naturally attract more applicants, including significantly more from outside of Florida. Although last year’s applicants had to complete a separate application just for UF, now an applicant to any of the ninety Coalition colleges can easily apply to UF with just a few additional steps.
The move to the Coalition will result in more total applicants, plus broader diversity among the applicant pool. Since the total student body will not increase significantly, simple math proves that Florida residents can expect UF to offer fewer spots to in-state students.
In addition, if the history of colleges like Northeastern and Stanford are any indication, we are likely to see UF accepting fewer students overall. The current trend in college admissions is to accept fewer freshman applicants so that the selectivity number is as low as possible. Some schools delay applicants a semester so that they do not contribute to “the number,” while others pull from waiting lists or seek transfer students. Perhaps UF will rely upon its recently-created online PaCE program to preserve enrollment while tightening admissions. Whatever the strategy, UF’s tougher admissions requirements means that students who might have been admitted in previous years will be left out in the cold.
Having an elite educational institution may be a boon to a state, but what should Florida families do? Since UF, as a public university, must primarily rely upon objective criteria when making admissions decisions, students and families should expect the university to require more impressive test scores, grades, and resumes moving forward. In addition, students who might otherwise have felt comfortable with their admissions profile must now use their absolute best efforts in writing admissions essays. A great essay could be the most important differentiator for those applicants who are “on the bubble.”
Florida families should be prudent and consider a range of universities – both within and outside Florida – to enhance their college options. That includes considering private institutions. Be careful about the price tags you see online. Public universities usually do not mention room, board, or other costs because those charges are either individually incurred or paid to off-campus providers like apartment complexes. On the other hand, prices publicized by private universities often include all costs but are later discounted by financial aid, merit aid, scholarships, and grants provided by the schools at the time of the admissions offer. For 75% of the population, the “expensive” private colleges can be less costly overall than Florida public universities.
If your heart is set on being a Gator, continue with your preparation, increase your focus, but broaden your options.