In-state not in-debt

The+University+of+Central+Florida+reflecting+pond+is+an+iconic+landmark+on+campus.

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The University of Central Florida reflecting pond is an iconic landmark on campus.

After suffering through five years of elementary school, three years of middle school and four years of high school working to make the best grades and scores possible, participating in clubs and getting volunteer hours, the majority of students choose to apply to a four-year university. And despite the 5,300 other colleges and universities in the U.S., students choose to attend one of the 171 colleges located in Florida.

Diedre Meekins is one of those students. After graduating from Hagerty (‘19) she is attending the University of Central Florida (UCF). Meekins majors include neuropsychology and minoring in cognitive science, and hopes to ultimately go into neuropsych research and study the brain.

“I chose to go to UCF for a lot of reasons,” Meekins said. “It has a really reputable psychology program, it is local so I can live at home and save money, and they offered me a really good scholarship.”

Located in the Orlando area, UCF offers a wide range of programs. Students choose UCF due to its close proximity and the opportunity to use the Bright Futures Scholarship. 

The highest level of the Bright Futures Scholarship is the Florida Academic Scholars award that covers $212.71 per credit hour, equivalent to a four-year education. 

Hagerty graduate (‘15) Kevin Bunkowske chose to attend an in-state university because of the Bright Futures Scholarships. Bunkowske graduated with his bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation at the University of Florida (UF) after earning his AA at Seminole State College (SSC). Bunkowske currently works as a biologist and forest re-technician. 

“Bright Futures covered half of my college tuition and by getting other small scholarships paired with being working throughout college I don’t have any student loans,” Bunkowske said.

The Florida Medallion Scholars (FMS) award does not provide as many benefits as the FAS award but still covers half the cost of tuition. By applying for as many scholarships as possible, students can attend an in-state college without having to deal with student loans for the rest of their lives.

However, students like Senior Caitlin White have more than just financial reasons for staying in state.

White plans to attend UF. She wants to major in Health Sciences to become a pediatrician or be involved in primary care. 

“I have wanted to attend the University of Florida since I was little,” White said. “I would be able to stay close to my family and friends, and the school just felt right for me.” 

Going to college in a student’s home state means that they can stay close to those they grew up with.

“My daily life hasn’t changed much because I still have friends that live here and I was able to keep my job,” Meekins said. “The only difference is that college is less strict than high school.” 

 Attending a Florida college also allows students like Stephen Tomlinson to live at home with their parents rather than staying in a dorm or apartment. Staying in a dorm at a public college costs students about $8887 a year. This price can go up if students choose to stay at an apartment near campus.

Tomlinson is a freshman at SSC and working on getting his bachelor’s in Engineering. Although not sure of his career track yet, Tomlinson hopes the college will allow him to find the right path for him.

“If I had moved out of my parent’s house, things would change; I’d have to work more hours at my job and worry about my own food,” Tomlinson said. “More bills come with living on your own. If I work more hours then I have less time for school and it could start making things difficult.”

Living at home allows students to make their college life easier by eliminating the challenge of adjusting to living on their own in a completely new area.

“My parents were a big part of my decision,” Bunkowske said. “They were able to support me financially as I worked to pay off the rest of my tuition. Living with them meant I wouldn’t have to starve.”

Staying in Florida provides social and financial incentives, many Florida schools also have the best options for students desired fields. The three highest ranked colleges in Florida are the University of Florida, Florida State University and the University of South Florida. 

“I’ve wanted to attend the University of Florida since I was little and after researching other schools, UF was just the best option,” White said.

As the school year ends, upperclassmen have already decided or should be looking into what college they want to attend. Staying in Florida for schooling provides students the opportunity to receive in-state tuition pricing, remain near people they are familiar with and live under their parents roof until they are comfortable enough to be independent. 

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