The main campus of the University of Alabama has been recruiting non-resident students quite aggressively since I have been a college advisor. While I have not had a chance to visit the school, I was curious to learn what some of the attractions might be.
I looked at data on the university’s institutional research pages as a starting point. It’s not overly hard to get into this school: the average SAT is around 1200, the average GPA a 3.7. Freshman retention is good (88%). Just over half of each freshman class that arrived from 2012 through 2014 graduated on time. There are flagship state schools that do better. There are also many that have done worse with the students that they attract.
With more than 33,000 undergraduates, the University of Alabama is probably the largest flagship state school to have the majority (61%) of that population come other states. The largest numbers of out of state undergraduates came from Georgia (2,246), Illinois (1,621), Texas (1,575), Florida (1,389) and California (1,127). New Jersey, New York. Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina have each sent at least 600 students.
Each of those states that sends students to the University of Alabama has a flagship state university that is more selective for residents. Admissions to the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech, the University of Florida and Florida State, are not only more selective; the generous in-state merit scholarship programs make it silly to say no if you get in.
Alabama’s largest non-resident merit scholarships are quite generous for a flagship state school. The Presidential Elite Award, which requires perfect grades and test scores, is a full ride. The Presidential and UA Scholars awards might make Alabama a less expensive place for some non-residents to attend over their home state universities (Illinois, Rutgers-New Brunswick, Penn State-University Park, Virginia and William and Mary). But you’ll need a 3.0 GPA or better each year to keep the money. Otherwise your costs can exceed $50,000 for an academic year.
If the scholarships work out, chances are that you can also be admitted to Alabama’s Honors College. The minimum ACT (30) and SAT scores (1360) expected by the Honors College are significantly lower than they are for state schools in the other states that send the most students. So is the minimum GPA (3.5).
Surprisingly, the numbers who take advantage of this opportunity, while quite large, have dropped. Two years ago, Alabama had more than 9,700 undergraduates in its honors college. That number dropped to 8,300 for 2019. The number of freshmen who entered the Honors College dropped from 2,500 in 2016 to 1,800 for the current academic year. I do not know if this is because more of the freshmen who arrived before this year have remained in the Honors College as sophomores, juniors and seniors, or if the Honors College has become a less popular option.
I can understand the appeal of the awards and honors to students who live in the neighboring states. Out of 204,000 alumni, the largest cohorts outside of Alabama are in Georgia (16,800), Florida (11,200), Tennessee (8,900) and Texas (8,100). I can imagine that an Alabama alumnus will have no problems making connections in the major cities in these states. A family that knows Alabama as well as these states, or plans to live in one of them, will probably be more attracted to the school.
The same is true for Greek social life. Alabama has the largest Greek community in the nation, involving a full third of the undergraduate student body. Unlike many public colleges that I have visited, Alabama allows first-semester freshmen to rush fraternities and sororities. If you do not come from Alabama, a neighboring state or Texas, and you have absolutely no intention to rush, or even attend house parties as a guest, the University of Alabama might not be your school.
It’s difficult to write about the University of Alabama without considering athletics. Alabama competes in 15 Division 1 scholarship sports. Rutgers, which is nowhere close to Alabama as a football school, has about the same number of undergraduates and competes in 22. The University of Wisconsin-Madison also has about the same number of undergraduates, has strong appeal from out-of-state, wins in football, and competes in 23. With only 15 scholarship sports, I can guess that Alabama’s football program gets most of the money dedicated towards athletic scholarships and facilities. A student season ticket costs $125. But there are options to buy packages to attend fewer games. The prices are not bad, considering the quality of play.
One thing that I can add about the University of Alabama: their alumni are more loyal than those at most other research universities. Just under 24 percent have given to the school over the previous two years, higher than any other public university in the country. Greek life and football might have some to do with that.
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