Road Trip: the University of Florida

We toured four Florida schools and found out what it's like to attend them.

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Gator pride is everywhere at Florida's flagship university; a remarkable number of students start their day by dressing in orange-and-blue T-shirts, shorts, hoodies, hats, or sweatpants. On sunny days and game days especially, the giant campus is awash in a choppy sea of school colors.

Florida is one of only two schools to appear in the top 10 in each of the past 25 NCAA national all-sports rankings (the other is UCLA), but there's more to being a Gator than football and basketball. Its reputation as a party school is misleading; students say this is not a school where you can coast through classes. The school traces its beginnings to a small seminary in 1853, but over the past decade the university has become increasingly selective, especially among out-of-state students, posting steady increases in its incoming classes' average GPAs. "I used to encounter students with truly amazing minds every five or so years, but now I find those students all the time," says David Denslow, who has taught economics at UF for nearly 40 years.

The administration is also hungry to establish itself as one of the nation's top research institutions, a fact it stresses to parents and students. But at least half of what you get out of college, you get outside the classroom, says UF President Bernard Machen. Gainesville is a traditional college town whose residents love the Gators as much as the students do, and small businesses, restaurants, and bars located near the 2,000-acre campus are tailored to their student patrons.

Although students, freshmen included, can bring their cars to UF, many use bicycles or mopeds to get around the expansive campus. But be cautious of traffic laws no matter what kind of wheels you're riding: UF police ticket violators vigilantly, even those who are pedaling.

If you're looking to find your niche but sports are not your thing, UF has a small but hearty Greek-letter system whose members frequently become active in student government and a plethora of more than 700 student organizations. (One organization's sole purpose is to help students identify other groups they might like to join.)

Perhaps nothing is more emblematic of what it means to be both a Gator fan and a Gator scholar than something Machen noticed at last year's commencement. "As faculty filed out of the ceremony upon its completion," he says, "the graduates stayed for 20 more minutes belting out the words to our fight song."

More About the University of Florida

Plus factor: Apply for admission before November 1 and you'll hear back by mid-February.
Undergrad enrollment, fall '08: 34,654
Est. annual cost, 2008-09: in state, $10,927; out of state, $27,772 

Florida Road Trip

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