Decision Day: Welcoming the Class of 2026!
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Thousands of high school students who've applied to the University of Florida will learn on Friday, Feb. 25, if they’ve been admitted and will join UF as part of the Class of 2026. It’s an exciting time for students, their parents and for all of us. We can’t wait to welcome the newest Gators! Mary Parker, the university’s chief enrollment strategist, explains in this episode of From Florida what will happen on Friday, what comes next and offers her perspective on enrollment trends around the country. Produced by Nicci Brown, Brooke Adams and James L. Sullivan. Original music by Daniel Townsend, a doctoral candidate in music composition in the College of the Arts.
Nicci Brown: Welcome to From Florida where we share stories about the people, research and innovations taking place at the University of Florida. I'm your host, Nicci Brown.
This Friday, thousands of high school seniors will learn if they've been admitted to the University of Florida as members of the Class of 2026. It's an incredibly exciting time, but the next few days are also going to seem extremely long for these students as they, and their families, wait to find out if they'll be coming to UF in the fall.
I'm hoping today's episode will make that wait a little bit easier.
Our guest is Mary Parker, vice president for enrollment management and associate provost, and we're going to talk about what's about to happen and what goes into admission decisions.
As the University of Florida's chief enrollment strategist, Mary oversees the offices of admissions, the university registrar, student financial aid and scholarships and UF online enrollment services. Mary joined UF last summer, bringing more than 27 years of enrollment management experience that includes leadership at Kent State University and the University of Utah. Given all the work underway for Friday's announcements, I'm particularly grateful Mary could join us today. Welcome Mary!
Dr. Mary Parker: Thank you. Very excited to be here!
Nicci Brown: So, thousands of students are anxiously awaiting word from your office about whether they've been admitted to the University of Florida. What time and how will the news be shared?
Dr. Mary Parker: Yes, thousands of people are waiting and I'm excited to say on Friday at 6 p.m., admissions decisions will be released. Prior to Friday, students will receive an email that will tell them to go into the admissions portal on Friday at 6 o’clock and that's where they will find out their admissions decision. So, on Friday at 6 o’clock will be go time for all students and their families.
Nicci Brown: Wonderful! And what happens next after they get those decisions?
Dr. Mary Parker: It is just beginning. First, I want to say they should celebrate! They should celebrate the accomplishments of their students, whether they got in or not, they should celebrate. Their students have been in high school doing amazing things. They should celebrate that.
But I will say for those students who are admitted, there are a list of things they need to be thinking about. Most importantly, I want them to think about, we want them at UF. We want them to come here and have an amazing experience with world-renowned faculty. And they will have an experience that will change their lives. They will be taught by some of the best faculty. So, the first thing they need to do is to think about am I going to live on campus? And if so, they'll be receiving an email from housing. They need to do their housing application. They will need to be able to say, "Yes, I'm coming," to confirm. They will do all of that through the admissions portal. And so, students need to think about that.
Throughout the month of March, these events these admitted students will be invited to and it's a way for them and their families to come and really learn more, learn more about the academic programs that those students have been admitted in, to learn about the experiences their students are going to get inside and outside of the classroom. Another way to help them make those decisions. We highly encourage students and their families to come to those yield events because they learn, again, more information. But if they follow the admissions portal, it gives them step-by-step exactly what they need to do.
Nicci Brown: Terrific. And those events, are they all in person or are there some that are virtual for students who may not be here, close to the University of Florida?
Dr. Mary Parker: Great question. We are going to have both. We're going to this year have in-person events, but we're also going to have virtual events. Colleges are going to host virtual events, so those students who can't come can learn more about the colleges. We'll have financial aid, Preview, which is like our orientation program. We will do a set of virtual events as well. Admitted students don't have to worry, they will get all of this information sent to them and their parents so that they can decide if they want to come in person or do one of our virtual events. And of course, if they have any questions, they can always call us.
Nicci Brown: That was my next question. Even during those events, they can ask questions, interact?
Dr. Mary Parker: Absolutely. It is really important that we make sure that during these events that we have the necessary people there that can answer all of the students’ questions and the parents' questions. So financial aid will be there. How much does it cost? What type of aid, what scholarships can I get? We want to make sure we have that. What do the dorms look like? What does it cost to live into the residence halls? What student organizations are they? We want to make sure everything the students have access to, the parents have access to, to answer their questions.
Nicci Brown: And can you tell us a little more about this year’s incoming class? I know you can't give us all those granular details, but maybe the number of applicants or some noteworthy characteristics of the class.
Dr. Mary Parker: I will tell you, I was so impressed with this year's class. We got over 65,000 applications this year. More importantly were the individual characteristics of these students. Not only were they highly academically qualified, but they also had service. Service, not only within their high schools, but within their communities.
Many of our students, we saw, participated in service that had an impact on a community or on an organization. And I think for me, that was really important to see, because we look holistically at our students. It's not just about the ACT and GPA, we want to make sure that we are looking at students who are going to be able to come here and be a part and engage in conversations in the classroom. And that the experiences of the students we admit maybe are different because they can learn from each other. So, to see those students not only be academically qualified, but have those experiences was amazing. Many of our students did dual enrollment. We had a lot of our students, probably about 70% of them, took AP honors or IB courses. So again, incredibly talented, diverse group of students that applied.
Nicci Brown: And I think it's worth underscoring just the amount of time that is given to these applications. This is not just about test scores or anything like that. To your point, this is about evaluating these students on a holistic basis and really understanding who they are and what they're hoping to achieve.
Dr. Mary Parker: Absolutely. I think many times families, it's a confusing process when you hear what is holistic review? And I think it's important for families to know that we don't just look at test scores and GPA. We also look at what high school did that student go to? What opportunities did they have, did they have at their high school? Not all students have opportunities to take IB courses or AP courses, that needs to be part of our conversation. We want to look at students, how well did they do in the courses that they actually took? What are their grade trends? We look at what activities that they had to do. Students tell us they have to work. I haven't been able to do extracurricular because I'm working to help support the family. Those situations are important to know through our application process. So again, we evaluate each individual student holistically and we want to make sure that we are giving the students who are admitted, those students who can be successful here, who can thrive here and who can actually be a part of the Gator community and give back.
Nicci Brown: You've been at this for quite some time, you know the area. I'm sure that over COVID, you've seen some real changes in terms of those experiences and challenges that students have faced.
Dr. Mary Parker: Absolutely. I think everyone has been impacted, whether it's K through 12, whether it's higher education. I think learning in the United States, students have been, and teachers and administrators, have been impacted. I think one of the things that we as an institution, and I know institutions across the country are looking at, is how do we make sure, if students had lost learning through the impact of COVID, that we make sure we're supporting those students when they get here. We've seen students not be able to engage in some of the activities that they normally would because of COVID.
And that's had an impact, that's had an impact on them. And it certainly has an impact on the process as well because things maybe we would've looked at, are not there. So again, it's evaluating that, having the student talk about that, having to talk about how else were they able to give back or do support in the community that maybe didn't have a face-to-face type of implication.
Nicci Brown: Given all those implications, though, it must be a particularly intense time for you and your whole team when you're just poised to send out these admissions invitations, really, is what we're talking about, and also the life changing experience that being a Gator offers.
Dr. Mary Parker: It is a responsibility and something that we don't take lightly in our office. These are not easy decisions to make because they do impact families. So, we want to make sure, and I make sure that our team looks at all these applications, make sure that we are assessing, because again, these decisions impact lives. And we do our very best to make the best decisions for UF, for the students, because again, we want students who can come here and be successful, with the caliber of the university. So, it is a tough decision.
However, it's one that we also, again, it is so heartwarming to see when you release admissions decisions and then people put on Instagram or social media I got in! I'm a Gator! Posing pictures! I think that makes all of the tough decisions that we have to make, the tough conversations we have to have, for those 6,500 students that I'm able to say, "You're going to be a Gator!" Wow. I'm changing their lives, but they're changing our lives by being a part of this community.
Nicci Brown: And I was going to say that, aside from the 6,500 students and their families, this really is a day of celebration for the whole Gator community and a day of excitement of, come join us! We're so thrilled that you're interested in becoming a UF student and hopefully an alum moving forward and being part of the Gator family as well.
Dr. Mary Parker: Absolutely. We hope that the students know, those students who are selected, we want you to come. It is an invitation to say, we want you to be a part of the Gator community. You belong here. We value you. And I hope that they get that through our admissions. I hope they get that through all the communication they receive up until when they make a decision, and even after they make that decision.
It is, again, something that also our Gator community is saying, “Wow! We're embracing you,” because part of what we do here is take care of our students, right? Providing those experiences, making sure our faculty and staff are supporting our students from the time we admit them through graduation. So, everyone's going to be welcoming that class.
Nicci Brown: And I think it's fair to say that journey doesn't end, though, once they graduate. This is a relationship that goes on for years and years. And it's a two-way street as well.
Dr. Mary Parker: Absolutely. And thank you so much for pointing that out because it doesn't end at graduation. It is important that we are creating an experience students are going to love and have and when they graduate, we hope they become alumni who give back, but not just monetary, but also give back to this community by supporting us through admissions, through recruiting, helping us get future Gators to come here. It is so important to make sure that experience leads to them wanting to continue to stay involved.
Nicci Brown: And by employing those UF graduates as well. They know how good they are.
Dr. Mary Parker: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Nicci Brown: For those students who don't get the decision that they want, what kind of message do you have for them?
Dr. Mary Parker: First of all, I want them to congratulate. The group of students that applied were strong and it was a really tough decision. So, I want them to know that they are valued and certainly it's a tough call. And it didn't maybe go the way that they wanted. But what I want them to remember is that there are multiple pathways to UF. And maybe it didn't happen through the freshmen, but maybe it might be through a transfer once a student has gotten their AA degree. Maybe it may be through a graduate program or a certificate program, but there are multiple pathways. So, if you are not one of those students who get admitted and you want to talk about the multiple pathways, that is what we're here to do, to help you understand maybe this wasn't the right time, but maybe we can help you find another path to UF.
Nicci Brown: Terrific. So, across the country, there are many colleges and universities that are not in the situation that UF is, and we have seen declines in enrollment. What would you share in terms of your perspective of those declines in enrollment?
Dr. Mary Parker: We are very fortunate in Florida, as we look at high school graduates, as we look at demographics, you know, we're one of the few states who aren't seeing major declines, like my colleagues are around the country. But we are as a nation, I guess I should have said. And that impacts all higher education. Because it is a competitive process and universities are going all over now to recruit students. So, we are seeing that.
But I think affordability plays a huge piece in this. And I think it is incumbent on us as the flagship university in the State of Florida to make sure that we are educating our citizens. And maybe that's not educating them here, but also educating them about financial aid, educating them about access, helping them find the right path for them. I think that is important because we know that families and many low-income students aren't going to college because they think they can't afford it. And there are financial aid programs and other programs that are available.
So, one of the things we're really going to focus on at UF is our financial aid office wants to do more outreach, so making sure the State of Florida and our students in the communities know what's available and how they apply, whether they come to UF or not. I think that's important. I think that if we all do that around the country, that maybe that can help us.
But nationally, again, the demographics with the high school graduation rates, we're seeing more our students of color. And so, I think from an enrollment perspective, I'm also recognizing that the students I admitted five years ago are not going to be the same students I admit in five to 10 years. And what are we doing as an institution to make sure that we are developing our outreach to those populations, that we make sure that we are providing an experience for them when they get here and we're helping to support them.
And I think whether it's UF, whether it's any other school in the country, that is what we have to be thinking about. Students are going to be at a different place. They're a different type of student, and we need to make sure that we are providing and meeting them where they're at and helping to support them through these processes, whether they come to our institution or not, is the only way we're going to continue to try to solve this problem about how do we increase college-going rates.
Nicci Brown: I think it's particularly powerful that you mentioned about students really having a strong understanding of the options that are available, because it seems that some may be ruling themselves out before even knowing what could be possible.
Dr. Mary Parker: Absolutely. In higher education, in recruitment, many times we've waited in the past till a student's senior year to talk about financial aid. In today's society, we've got to start earlier. We've got to start in junior high. We've got to start in elementary, talking to them about college is possible and continuing that communication. And then we've got to start doing more in the communities, more grassroots efforts to really talk about what's available and how they apply. And I think that's where you're going to see us focusing more here at the university, to really make sure that if a student is academically qualified to come to UF, we do not want cost to stand in the way. We do not want them to think I can't apply there because I can't afford it.
Nicci Brown: On the national front, we are seeing more women than men applying and pursuing college education, and it's been a bit of a trend. Is that something that we're seeing here at UF as well?
Dr. Mary Parker: It is. And when you look at, again, the national data in the students who are graduating high school, you're seeing more females across the country than males. And we definitely are seeing that here. When we look at our enrollment at UF, total enrollment, we're 54% female and 45% male, so we are seeing that same trend. So, one of the things we're certainly looking at, there are certainly populations, our STEM, we're so focused on we need to get more women in STEM, but we also have to look at what are the programs like nursing. How do we help to get more males into that? How do we look at, I guess, how do we look at these students that are not graduating, that are maybe not considering college and talk about what's available, how to apply, what you can do. But absolutely, we are seeing that.
Nicci Brown: And what do you think is driving that trend?
Dr. Mary Parker: I think many times we've seen particular populations when the economy's doing well and jobs are available, certain populations may not go to college. I think some of that is attributing to that. I think we have to, again, provide opportunities and experiences and pathways to support. Just as we've done in the past for women, I think we need to think about that for all segments of the population. And I think for all of us in the country, male will be another population that we need to think about.
Nicci Brown: We hear a lot in the media and just general discourse about the attributes of kids this age. This is a group of individuals who grew up after 9/11, who the phone is like an extension of their being. And I'm sure that phones are probably out now. They don't wear watches, all of these things. What are college-age students looking for in an educational experience now that might be different to that of the past?
Dr. Mary Parker: I have a sophomore in college, so I feel like it's my professional life, but I just went through it in my personal life.
Nicci Brown: I hear you, yep.
Dr. Mary Parker: So, I feel like I've covered fronts on this. I think 10 years ago, five years ago, we were all building rec centers or you may have all of these fancy services for students. What I see now is students want to know how they want to make an impact, how they can make an impact, what we have to provide to them, what can they do to come here and help solve world problems or problems in the community. They want to give back.
I think it is not so much about ... certainly facilities matter. I'm not going to say that facilities don't matter, but I also think there's this combination of we need to have nice facilities, but we also need to be showing students that they can come here and they can make a difference and they can make a difference through these various avenues.
And we're seeing a lot more of that. Students want to know about how they can do a Study Abroad to learn about other cultures. Students are asking more questions on the front end, not necessarily about do we have a lazy river in the rec center, but where can I go, because I want to be able to learn more about this culture or I want to do undergraduate research that's going to help solve a problem. We are hearing more of that now on the front end than about, I need to see this specific residence hall. I need to see this specific facility.
Nicci Brown: Do you think there's an element of pragmatism there, in terms of the pathway to getting a job or the pathway to a career?
Dr. Mary Parker: Absolutely. Absolutely. I think now more than ever families, students and parents are asking about the value. The value, if I'm going to invest in my son’s or daughter's education for them to go to UF, what opportunities are they going to get and what are the outcomes? Who's going to be hiring them, or what graduate programs are they going to get in?
And I think about that as my own child was going through the decision process and so I try to take that and provide that information in the work that we do and what we provide to parents. They want to know if I'm investing, because maybe they're concerned about this cost and how am I going to pay for this? We want to show them, A, we can help to support and provide a nice financial-aid package, but also by your student investing, here's what this education at UF is going to do for them. And now more than ever, we are focusing on that conversation from early recruitment, all the way through the yield process until a student raises their hand and says, "Yes, I'm coming."
Nicci Brown: It's an interesting balance because we've got that pragmatism of getting the job, but we've also got the notion that we know that these days people are not staying in the one field or the one job for their entire careers. And so we want to give them the skills to be able to learn and change when they have graduated, in some ways, future-proof our graduates.
Dr. Mary Parker: Absolutely. You know, I think right now the state of Florida, our BOG is really talking about this very thing, of skills, workforce aligned with education and making sure that the skills and things that we are providing to our students help for that very thing. It's not just providing and getting that student ready for the first job. It's how are we making sure they're ready for job five? Because we know students are going to change. How do we help them develop skills that are adaptable?
And then how do we, as an institution, also think about, how do we take our alumni and say, "You've been out X long, how can we help you with credentials? These are the new things in the work environment. How can we help you gain those skills that you need?" Lifelong learning, I think that's going to be the other thing that we see a lot of right now — not just getting the student to graduation, but how do we continue to help them develop as a professional once they're out.
Nicci Brown: And again, talking about that lifelong experience and that tie with the Gator nation.
Dr. Mary Parker: Absolutely.
Nicci Brown: You mentioned the BOG, the Board of Governors. The university's tuition and fees are an incredible value and we do have great support and investments from our state legislature. How do we compare to other top ranked institutions?
Dr. Mary Parker: I like to say that a student can get this amazing, reputable education at a very affordable price because the state has invested in our state scholarship programs for the citizens of Florida. We know that many of our students that come in, a majority of them already have the state scholarship that helped to reduce that. I think we are very affordable compared to our colleagues around the country who are also in the top five, and the education that you're getting is top notch.
And so, I think, you know, we need to really talk about that because students can come here and get a top five education with amazing experiences for a very affordable price. And if you're a Florida resident and you have one of our state scholarship programs, it even helps. Again, I'm going to say, our goal is to make sure, whether you're a Florida resident or not, that cost does not stand in the way to get you to come here.
Nicci Brown: Mary, thank you so much for joining us today.
Dr. Mary Parker: Thank you so much for having me.
Nicci Brown: We are excited for Friday to get here so we can learn more about the newest members of our campus community and offer them our warmest welcome. It's a big day for all of us!
Listeners, thank you for joining us for another episode of From Florida. I'm your host, Nicci Brown, and I hope you'll tune in next week.