The University of Florida (UF) is a public university located in Gainesville, Florida. Since its founding over 160 years ago, it has become one of the largest universities in the country with over 36,000 undergraduates. The university is known as the best state school in Florida and is consistently ranked among the nation’s top universities. In 2016, it ranked second among Forbes “Best Value Public Colleges,” and in 2015, it ranked second in Kiplinger’s “Best Values in Public Colleges.” As a result, the admissions process has become highly selective.
I visited the University of Florida on a rainy, windy day, which is atypical weather for this warm and sunny campus. Admissions graciously provided us with ponchos as they guided us through the two-hour tour.
Gainesville is the county seat and largest city in Alachua County, with a population around 128,000 people. In the 2007 edition of Cities Ranked and Rated, Gainesville was named as the No. 1 place to live in North America. That same year, National Geographic Adventure ranked it as one of the best places to live and play. The University of Florida is accessible from several airports—the closest is in Gainesville (a 15-minute drive from campus), while airports in Jacksonville, Orlando, and Tampa are all an easy two-hour drive from campus. Over the past several decades, Gainesville has undertaken a large historic preservation initiative that has resulted in multiple buildings being added to the National Register of Historic Places. Among these is Gainesville’s cultural hub, the Thomas Center, which contains art galleries, local history exhibits, performance space, and the surrounding Thomas Center Gardens. The sport of auto racing is a prime focal point for area sports fans.
The University of Florida is home to 30 certificates, 100 undergraduate majors, and 200 graduate programs. While UF is known to have strong academic standards across the board, programs in Business and Journalism are ranked particularly high. The Psychology and Biology programs are also well renowned. Though UF is a large school, students feel that its size doesn’t affect their ability to focus on their course of study. Some may see it as a disadvantage that 80–90 percent of classes are lectures with over 300 students, but students at UF love the fact that their classes are taught by experts in their field. Students praise the “truly incredible faculty and staff” and believe that a great strength of the school is that there is always someone to turn to for help. Another advantage to a large school is that there is more funding available for research, opening endless opportunities for focused study. The school also maintains a broad alumni network, which is beneficial when students seek opportunities for networking and research.
Over 1,200 UF students participate in the Honors Program, where most classes are limited to 25 or fewer students. The Freshmen Honors Program (FHP) is open to high school seniors, and the University Honors Program (UHP) is open to sophomores through seniors. Members of FHP automatically advance to UHP after successful completion of the first year, but students do not have to be in FHP to join UHP.
Because Gainesville revolves around UF, Gator Nation can be found everywhere. The community caters to students and student life. Students love to go out with friends on the weekend to Midtown, where bars and the vibrant music scene are big attractions. For those over 21, it is a UF staple to party at either Grog House Bar and Grill, Balls, or Salty Dog Saloon.
Ranking high on the list of what students love about UF is the abundance of school spirit. Much of the culture at UF revolves around sports, and the school boasts stellar athletic programs. Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, also known as “The Swamp,” is widely recognized as one of the toughest environments for a visiting team in all of college football.
With more than 1,000 student organizations on campus, there is something for everyone to be involved in at UF. Greek life is also prevalent in both the social and extracurricular scene, and being part of a Greek community offers additional opportunities to participate in activities. For outdoor enthusiasts, there are two state parks nearby: Paynes Prairie and Devil’s Millhopper.
While the opportunity is there to party every day, students also find plenty of quiet time to study. When it comes to exams, papers, and finals, students dig in and get to work. The classes are demanding, but students understand this is necessary to best prepare them for their career.
Housing and Dining
More than 80 percent of incoming freshmen at UF live in one of 26 on-campus housing options. Many of these buildings house one of 19 Living Learning Communities (LLCs). Hume Hall is home to the Honors Residential College. Students are encouraged to apply for housing even before they’ve been accepted to UF to have the best chance of being placed in their preferred spot. Seventy-six percent of upperclassmen choose to live off campus.
Gator Dining Services is the official food service provider for UF. They offer over 45 dining locations on campus, including favorite national brands like Subway, Chick-fil-A, and Starbucks. Students choose between two types of meal plans: Meal Plans and the Declining Balance Account.
Who Would Be Happy Here?
Outgoing Minnesota students in search of a large public institution in a warmer climate would enjoy the University of Florida. Given that a high percentage of students are residents of Florida, students from out-of-state need to be willing to step outside their comfort zone to meet new people. The University of Florida would be great for someone looking for a breadth of opportunities at a value price.