University of Central Florida (UCF)


CMAS Ranking: ♦♦-1/2

Type: University
Size:  Large (52,532 Undergraduate);
Student Body: Undergraduate/Graduate/Ph.D.
Testing: SAT/ACT 
Admissions: 48.9% Acceptance Rate of 31,850 Applicants;
Minority Enrollment: 41%
Freshman Retention Rate: 87.1%
Freshman Graduating After 4 Years: 40%
Travel Cost/Time/Airport: Low; 2.5 Hour Drive or Direct Flight (MCO)
Location: Orlando, Florida
Best For: Music, Music Minor, Non-Music, Florida Prepaid

University of Central Florida

The University of Central Florida (UCF) is very large, but very small if you’re in their Music Department, or you have the grades to enter the Burnett Honors College We can recommend both of those wholeheartedly if functioning inside a much bigger school.  As regards the general college, read the report and our evaluation and consider how it fits your particular circumstances.

UCF is the second largest school in the nation after Arizona State.  Oddly, at freshman orientation they tout being “#2” in size as some sort of advantage, but with each class year size at approx. 15,606, and  31-to-1 student to-faculty ratio, students going immediately on to graduate school at 22%, and those entering the workforce finding jobs within six months at 69%, size does not appear to be an advantage of this university.

“UCF and our Alliance partners believe in making high-quality, marketable college degrees accessible to diverse students at a cost that working and middle-class families can afford,” touts their website.  

It is a place that you will get a degree,  but, for those who want to seek a higher degree in academia, medicine, law, etc.,  the general university’s educational value may be more questionable if you are not good at pushing through large packs of students to get the time/attention you need.

“UCF and our Alliance partners believe in making high-quality, marketable college degrees accessible to diverse students at a cost that working and middle-class families can afford,” touts their website.  

Their quality and the affordability are issues which we will consider in this report.

Perhaps a good bellwether of how UCF is considered by students like many found at a performing arts high school is to see how many top students they attract by using the number of  National Merit Scholars (NMS) they admit, and also to look at their freshman retention rate, and their freshman graduating after four years.

National Merit Scholars Admitted

UCF overall brought in 275 NMS students in 2014. That’s 1.7% of their freshman class overall, but the general university had only 79,  a tiny .5% of students admitted to the main university.

The Burnett Honors College maintains a separate admissions path and took in 196 NMS students out of its roughly 500 admitted or 39.2%.  This makes sense as the upper 10% of any class pool is invited to take part in Burnett.

Freshman Retention Rate

At 87.1%, roughly 13% of the Freshman Class does not return after the first year.  We like to see a retention rate of 92% or higher for year one, meaning that UCF’s general university (not Honors College)  falls below our expectations for a quality of life/education

Freshman Graduating After Four Years

40% of Freshman graduate after four years. That’s the third highest in Florida, but UCF lags notably behind UF at 67% and FSU at 61%.  So six out of ten students who enter UCF do not graduate after four years, speaking to the quality of life.

The GPA Bar Rising

UCF used to be a place somewhere between the community (state) college system and the top state universities in the system.  No more: UCF is a 3.9 GPA school with a 1900+ SAT/27.4 ACT for Fall admission. Likewise the summer admission GPA number has gone up too, to about 3.68 this year, which has been a gateway into the school for many talented music students.

Why the big spike in GPA cut-off?  It is likely a function of:

  • The rising number of students applying to get into college;
  • The growing Orlando-Tampa area (UCF has a large commuter population);
  • The other major Florida universities, UF and FSU, casting themselves as “national” schools with a more diverse student body that cuts out slots for Florida students.

Bottom line: More students are applying to UCF, and it ups the ante for entry into the school. It also changes the dynamics of a student body to an academic level that such a large campus may not be able to serve as well.

The Price Is Right?

The price seems right for the budget-conscious family, with “list price” at about $16,848 a year including housing/food, and with reductions for Florida’s Bright Futures students and music scholarships.  

UCF is a Florida Prepaid (FP) school, which has been its large appeal in recent years. Depending upon which of the prepaid plans you purchased when your student was younger, tuition and housing can both be covered fully, or you might be paying for housing. Bright Futures reduces tuition so some of that money can be applied to books and incidentals.

Music scholarships factored in with Bright Futures can bring the cost of the academic portion of school to zero for tuition. Performing arts high school students have been at the top of the music scholarship offer list, particularly if they have All-State, and other honor bands on their resume or exceptional talent that clears them at audition.  It is worth the investment of time and effort to do a private lesson or two with the faculty at UCF in their late Sophomore and/or Junior year under their belt to put you on the radar of the music faculty.

It is rarer that they award music scholarship money to music minors, but it is a subject to broach when at a private lesson with the faculty member.

Students on scholarship at UCF need to be aware that they must maintain the right number of academic credits, with some music courses not counting in that category, or they can find themselves in jeopardy of losing that scholarship.  Advisors are not always good about factoring students scholarship needs, so it is up to the student to learn how to “play the game” to win.  You will get one semester’s warning, and then after that it can become a long and arduous process to recover your scholarship from the bureaucracy.

For families in FAFSA’s “donut hole” who earn more than $60,000 and less than $200,000, without music expect to pay about $4,000 to $9,000, with some tuition, and most or all of the room, board, books, and incidentals.  That is a price point where UCF may not be as competitive against schools smaller, more nimble schools with better numbers in retention and completion of four years.

Social Life/Quality of Life

Generally, the social life and services offered to UCF students is excellent. UCF is still a huge commuter school, bringing in a lot of local students who do not live on campus.  Their on-campus social culture is built around the Greek (fraternity/sorority) system, their Division 1 Football and Basketball teams, and their massive student union.

There is a ton of housing, on campus and off, mostly quite affordable. Even on-campus housing, which many schools have overpriced in recent years on supply/demand, is pretty low here. There are a lot of college apartments outside the campus.

Several of the off-campus housing units across the street banded together and offer shuttle service to the campus daily.

UCF just completed its first round of off-campus housing and retail shops across the street from the campus.

Dozens of restaurants and bars, grocery stores, and large “box” stores that cater to the campus are found on the streets outside of “the ring.” Most are accessible by bus and car.

Orlando’s entertainment mecca is about a 45 minute drive across toll roads.  Many students work in the entertainment industry at Disney, Universal, Sea World and all of the lesser tourist traps, usually in entry-level jobs. Some music students find their way into the Disney music department, and there are some more limited opportunities at the other parks to play.

Orlando is a huge city full of hotels, restaurants, convention centers, and the tourists who come in for everything from meetings to vacations to weddings. There is a lot of work to be had by enterprising music students, if they so choose.

Having a car is not essential if you are remaining on campus, but, just as with our part of Florida, it is an additional cost of attendance that should be considered for anyone who wants to live/work in Orlando.

A Large Bureaucracy

With a campus student population that hovers around 60,810 currently, UCF’s administration is increasingly automated and can present challenges. Their student system puts “holds” on student accounts, at times without much or any notice of what it was that triggered the hold. It’s a means of getting students’ attention to take care of important business.

If you’re fairly focused and organized, you can stay on top of, and occasionally, ahead of the bureaucracy if you check your student account regularly, read all of the notices sent to your email in detail, and act on them in a timely manner.

That level of organization doesn’t describe a number of performing arts high school students, so be aware that you may be spending time chasing paperwork, less-than-clear requirements for enrollment, coursework etc.

You will be dealing with people outside of your department or major, who have little or no idea who you are.  It’s so bad that Rollins College advertises outside of UCF with a billboard that says they know more than your major… “We know your name.”

If you are in the Honors College or the Music School you will still be encountering “big UCF” at the library, campus parking, records, etc. Be prepared, and watch your student account online regularly.

How does a performing arts high school student excel at UCF?

Music Department

Their music department is one of the top in the state, and in the nation, with strengths in Jazz, percussion, brass and woodwinds. With just about 330 students in the whole music school, and around 37-40 in the Jazz Studies program, their faculty-to-student ratios are generally smaller than most of the top conservatories.  They provide a high level of preparation for graduate music schools on the instruments at which they excel, and in the Jazz department overall.

The Jazz Studies program has one of the best coordinated faculty groups of any school in the country, puts its students on albums that hit the JazzWeek charts nationally, and has a great rep for moving students into conservatories and the working world.

Their concert percussion program likewise has an exceptional reputation and national footprint, and their Music Education program is excellent.

If you go for the music, most earn a Bachelors of Music, which at UCF means that you will have your primary focus there. You will generally take one or two outside classes per semester.

If you are in performance, you will not be able to sign up for courses outside of the department until you have auditioned and been placed in your music classes. For many in the music department, that means you get the “leftovers” of the general catalog of classes, which will have been open for five months at the time you have to enroll.  Some people don’t care, and that’s fine. If having a fuller college life than just music is what interests you, consider the Burnett Honors College.

Burnett Honors College

The Burnett Honors College is their “school within a school.”  1500-1700 students with a low student-to-faculty ratio. They offer admission to the top 10% of the incoming freshman class at UCF with about 500 students entering with each Freshman class.

It’s an excellent choice for students with great grades on Florida Prepaid, particularly for students whose interests range into aerospace engineering, as companies that build cutting-edge aerospace tech and NASA are just a few miles away. In the state schools, Burnett is your best bet for an education, a degree, and possibly even a music minor all at an affordable price.

Many Burnett students perform for UCF Music, and quite a few end up in their top ensembles without being a music major.  Be sure to mention your intent to enter Burnett when you’re taking a private lesson with your instrument instructor prior to applying, so they can tell you what your options are on your instrument.

Greek System Social Networking

The largest road to success in the real world at UCF, outside of Music and Burnett, is their gargantuan Greek system of fraternities and sororities. It got a big overhaul a few years ago, with the Administration shutting down much of Greek housing on campus, remodeling their on-campus “Greek Row” facilities, and inviting those groups who would live by UCF’s rules back on to campus. The rest are located in different places off-campus.

Socially they offer the kind of networking both in and out of school that can make navigating the massive system in school, and finding a job/career after school, a bit easier.

Life After UCF

The university does not currently publish data for recent years, but has 2003 data that shows that 22.42% of UCF undergraduates seek a higher degree immediately.  That’s not too far off large college averages. Be aware, if you do not pursue a higher degree and enter the workforce, which will be equally competitive,  it can mean you stand a much greater chance of entering the workforce at a mid/lower organizational level and in your earning power, than your peers who seek a higher degree.  UCF is less adept at preparing students to pursue higher education than it is in awarding diplomas in the general population outside of Music and Burnett.

Like most large universities, UCF has a Career Services unit to help students transition into the work world. You join a little over 11,000 other people actively seeking employment.  Many do not use the system, and they have offer or nothing for music students.   The success rate of students coming out of UCF is adequate.  According to Collegedata, 69% of students find employment in the first six months of leaving the school. 

If you are in the School of Music or Burnett, they will work with you separately to help you move on to graduate schools, or transition into the business world.

Many of those in the Greek life, the fraternities and sororities, will find a much more dedicated network of alumni who help them find their way.  If you are rushing for one of these organizations, find out how they do with business networking on the other end, not just how cool are their parties.  Their alumni network outside of the Greek system, given the massive number of students they graduate, is surprisingly unhelpful at connecting you to career support in the general college.

Admissions Tips

ALL STUDENTS – Apply before October 31st in your admission year, regular admission, and you will be included in the pool that receives early consideration of your application, and notification in December.  THIS IS IMPORTANT if you are a MUSIC STUDENT in particular, as being pre-approved by admissions will aid the music faculty in clearing you for music scholarship/merit money.  

Music Students – Contact professors on your instrument and take private lessons with them as early as the late Sophomore year, and continue doing so once a year until auditions. First, they are a great learning opportunity, and second they give the faculty there a track on you that gives them more of a baseline than just a one-off audition.

If you are interested in Burnett, see our guidance on the honors college for additional tips (Coming soon).

Our Take

When UCF was a 3.3-3.5 GPA entry school, its large size and high student-to-faculty ratio were more in line with its mission as an affordable, largely commuter school that provided the opportunity to earn a college degree and for students to grow at a school built for those who find their academic “footing” a bit better in college than they did in high school.

At a GPA of 3.9+ it is competing for a different quality of student for which it is not well designed, as a general university, to serve.

Students enter college for all kinds of reasons that have very little to do with academics or an education.  Those whose first consideration is the “big college experience” might find better large universities to attend with more reasonable student body sizes. For Burnett or the Music Department, you can find some amazing experiences at bargain rates.

UCF loses two-1/2 diamonds for not meeting the exceptional education and pathway to the future, and a 1/2 diamond under quality of life for the fact that 60% of students who start do not finish, and the 13% drop off in freshman retention rate after the first year.  We note the exceptions of students in Music and the Burnett Honors College, which are both considerably stronger.

Find out more…