Making Sense of College Admissions for Florida State Schools

It happens every spring. Word of who got accepted where—and who didn’t make the cut despite their stellar stats—begins to spread like wildfire.

And panic sets in. To add to stress levels in the most recent application cycle, the top schools in our state saw record levels of applicants. On Feb. 25, as the University of Florida prepared to release its decisions, it did so with a disclaimer that to date, the university had received 65,000 applications, an increase of 20 percent over 2021, and more than double the total number of applications received in 2016. Just under 15,000 of those applicants were offered admission to Summer B or fall term.

Florida State University also saw record numbers of applicants. The university released its priority admissions decisions Feb. 17, offering admission to over 17,000 students. At that time, they had received more than 74,000 applications for 2022. Fifty-seven thousand of those applications had arrived by FSU’s Nov. 1 priority deadline, prompting the school to announce an unprecedented mid-cycle change to their application process. Typically, FSU, like most state schools, automatically considers applicants for fall or summer admission. On Nov. 17, FSU announced that it would only be accepting students for the term for which they applied, giving applicants a one-time option to switch the term on their application.

University of Central Florida had a record 55,000 total applicants as of Feb. 18, 2022, and was still sending out decisions during the first week of June.

It would be possible to spend several pages speculating about the reasons for the dramatic increase in applications. Instead, we worked with college admissions guru, Allison Tate, director of college counseling at Lake Mary Preparatory School and college consultant for Dunbar Educational Consultants, to pull together the information prospective students and their parents need to successfully navigate the college application process in Florida. Below are some key take aways.

There are more than two options

There is a tendency in Florida for students (or more often, parents) to home in on what many perceive to be the top two schools: University of Florida and Florida State University. University of Central Florida and University of South Florida are often the backups. “It is really important to emphasize that we have 12 state schools,” Tate said. “And they are all really good schools in their own way.”

The 12 schools in the state university system are: Florida A&M, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Florida Polytechnic, Florida Gulf Coast, Florida State University, New College of Florida, University of Central Florida, University of Florida, University of North Florida, University of South Florida and University of West Florida. There are also 28 public community colleges.

Universities recalculate GPA

The GPA on a student’s high school transcript is not the GPA universities use in their decision-making process. High schools across the country approach GPA differently. In order to have a universal way to compare students, the state university system recalculates a student’s GPA on a 4.0 scale using the core classes (math, science, social studies, English and foreign language). Dual-enrollment courses in core areas (not electives) and any AP, IB and AICE classes (including electives) are factored in and receive an extra 1.0 credit weight, meaning that an A is worth a 5.0 on a 4.0 scale. Pre-AICE, pre-AP, pre-IB and Honors core classes receive a 0.5 credit weight.

This does not mean parents should encourage their children to stack their schedule with advanced courses; it simply is something to keep in mind when students are creating schedules that work with their interests, goals and skill level.

Transcripts and test scores play a large role

College admissions officers see thousands upon thousands of applications come across their desk every year. The most concrete way to narrow the playing field is to start with the transcripts and test scores. Students will be asked to self-report all high-school level courses and grades, including senior year courses in progress. This allows schools to recalculate GPA and get a glimpse at the rigor of course selection over the four years. Test scores (either SAT or ACT) are still required at all 12 schools per Florida Board of Governors regulations.

While grades and scores play a large role at most state schools, there are other factors. Tate pointed out that UF and FSU both take a holistic approach to admissions. In a statement that accompanied FSU’s mid-cycle admission policy change in Nov. 2021, admissions officers explained, “We review applications twice; one focusing more on numbers, one focusing more on extracurriculars and anything included in the essay.”

Tate added that the essay is of particular importance at UF, noting that it can even trump test scores. “The one piece of advice I hear over and over again from UF admissions is, ‘Don’t phone in the essay.’” She also advised parents to let their kids do the writing. “You can totally tell when a 45-year-old has had their hands on an essay,” she said.

Tate added that the smaller state schools, like New College and FAMU, also take a holistic approach since their numbers are so limited. For the rest, it typically boils down to GPA and scores, with essays and activities coming into play when they have applicants that are on the fence. GPA and test scores also determine Bright Futures scholarship eligibility, and they are typically used by schools to determine additional merit scholarships and for admission into honors programs.

Universities make it clear what they expect

Each school provides a snapshot of where the middle 50 percent of their admitted students fall in terms of recalculated GPA and test scores, which can be found on the admissions page of the school’s website. Traditionally, the academic profile for summer admission is slightly lower than the fall.

It is important to note the midranges are not minimum criteria. All 12 schools admit students with GPAs and test scores both above and below their midranges. Being in the midrange also does not guarantee admission. The midranges simply help students understand which schools may be a safety school and which may be more of a reach school.

Some schools go a step further and list the average number of core classes and advanced level classes completed by their admits. For instance, FSU lists an average of 3.5 classes of a world language for the 2022 admits. When schools list this additional information, it is important to pay attention if that is a target school. “Can you get into FSU without three years of language? Yes. But sometimes students need to adjust their plans if they want to ensure they are competitive,” Tate said.

Florida Shines gives an overview of the profiles of all 12 schools at www.floridashines.org/go-to-college/get-ready-for-college/average-university-freshmen-profile. Students can use this as a starting point, but it is best to confirm the most up-to-date numbers on the individual school websites.

Admissions officers rely on contextual data

Not all high schools offer the same opportunities and colleges understand that. When admissions officers evaluate a student’s rigor, they are doing so in relation to that student’s specific high school. “A school profile goes out with every application. This is written and constructed by the school, usually a counselor, and it explains the rigor and student population and grading scale to give proper context to a transcript,” Tate explained. “Sometimes, a public school is more rigorous than a private school—every school is different.”

Tate added that students can request a copy of the school profile from their counselor to see what the colleges see when they evaluate a transcript from their school.

Timing is critical

When making a list of potential schools, the first thing to look at is the application cycle and all applicable deadlines. Some schools like UCF, FAMU and FAU have rolling admissions, meaning they evaluate applications as they are received and send out offers on a rolling basis. Other schools like UF and FSU have set priority deadlines and a set date on which they announce decisions. In May, FSU announced that, due to the increase in applications, they are restructuring their application process to include an Early Action (non-binding) option for Florida students with a deadline of October 15, 2022. Learn more about this change on page 44 of this issue.

For those schools with rolling admissions, apply early! While the stated deadline for UCF applications is May 1, 2022, for fall 2022 admission, the earlier a student applies, the better chance they have. On their FAQ page, UCF states, “Freshmen should apply early (between September and December of their senior year in high school) for maximum consideration in the admission and scholarship review process.”

For schools like UF and FSU that have set priority deadlines, it is crucial to have all applications materials completed by those deadlines. Students should also make note if there are separate application deadlines for merit scholarships, honors programs and limited access majors.

Universities offer multiple pathways

Students applying for traditional enrollment to a university (fall or summer), may find themselves with an offer that represents a different pathway to enrollment—and, as Tate pointed out, those pathways are just as valid as a traditional offer of admission. In an update leading up to its Feb. 25 decision day, UF announced that approximately 4,500 students would be receiving an offer to their Pathway to Campus Enrollment (PaCE), Innovation Academy (IA) or state college partnership programs.

Programs like USF’s FUSE, UCF’s DirectConnect and FSU’s Aspire TCC2FSU offer guaranteed admission (consistent with university policy) upon completion of an associate degree from a partner state college. All of these programs offer a valid start to the college journey that ends with the same outcome.

Students also have the option of completing their associate degree at their local community college and applying to the university of their choice as a transfer student. This is an option UF encouraged in a statement that went out prior to Decision Day 2022: “We always encourage students who are still interested in UF to consider transferring after earning an AA degree or 60 hours of credit. While this is not the right path for every student, there are students who enroll every year as transfer students who were not initially admitted as freshmen.”

This is the student’s journey

Parents want the best for their children. In Florida, many view UF and FSU as the best, but UF and FSU will not be the best fit for every student. College admissions have become increasingly competitive, but the good news is that there are 12 excellent state schools in Florida and many different pathways to attain a degree from each of those schools. “Stop making it about you and make it about your kid and what will make them happy,” Tate said. “When it is all about the school name, the kids feel that.”

Everything will work out

For students who choose college as their next step after high school graduation, it is just that—one step in a much larger future. One acceptance or rejection will not make or break anyone. The information in this article is not intended to overwhelm; rather, it is intended to offer a bit of insight into the college admissions process for Florida state schools so that parents can work with their children to find the school that is the best fit.

By Karen Ring

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