Virtual Chat: University of Kentucky (UK)
I last visited the University of Kentucky (UK) two decades ago, long before I became an independent admissions advisor. A short time ago, the University of Kentucky’s admissions office contacted independent counselors, and invited us to learn more. I responded quickly to ask if I could do a Zoom interview. Cara Franke, Associate Director of Admissions at UK was quite generous with her time.
I did a little research before the interview, so I have a few nuggets to share about UK.
I’ll start with academics and residence life. Here are a few things that you might like to know:
- UK has 14 Living-Learning Programs in four residence halls. These opportunities are organized by academic interests.
- The Lewis Honors College has 2,000 students, nearly ten percent of the undergraduate student body. Students typically have a 3.5+ high school GPA and a 28 or better on the ACT. However, UK went test optional this year, so prospective will be considered without test scores.
- Admission to the Lewis Honors College is as fair as it gets. Prospective freshmen are invited to complete a separate application. They should not be discouraged. The Honors College sets no minimum cut-off for high school grades or standardized test scores. Rising sophomores and juniors are invited to apply. A 3.6+ GPA is preferred, but not required for upper-division applicants.
- Since 2013 UK has demolished outdated residence halls constructed during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s and replaced them with new housing. The university redesigned its halls and student center around living-learning environments, encouraging individual and group study The residence halls, which house 90 percent of the freshmen, are some of the nicest that you will find at a state university. Another plus: the newest halls were built quite close to the academic buildings.
- The Gatton Student Center is impressive. It’s over two years old. Take the tour, and you’ll be impressed with the faculty. The university added on to the previous student center. But you wouldn’t know it from taking the tour.
- Greek life is relatively important at the University of Kentucky. It attracts over a fifth of the men and over a third of the women.
- This is a less intimidating campus setting than you will find at many state schools, including Rutgers-New Brunswick and Penn State-University Park. It feels far less crowded. Downtown Lexington, home to UK’s Rupp Arena, is a mile from campus, accessible by shuttle buses and bikes. Students can get by without a car here.
Don’t sell Lexington short as a college town.
With over 320,000 residents, Lexington is the second most populous city in the Southeastern Conference, after Nashville.The city is also America’s national capital for horse breeding and horse racing. I’m sure that young Wildcats have as many off-campus dining and entertainment options, if not more, in Lexington as their peers do in Gainesville or Tuscaloosa. Lexington might also be the first place where you develop a taste for bourbon, after you turn 21. Among the more than 148.000 Wildcat alumni registered in LinkedIn.com, over 30 percent live or work around Lexington. It says a lot for a college community when graduates don’t want to leave.
The University of Kentucky is legitimately America’s Basketball School
Since 1976, according to the NCAA, UK has ranked no lower than second in the nation in attendance per home game. UK and Syracuse have traded the top spot most of these years. The Kentucky Wildcats Men’s Basketball team has won eight national championships. Only UCLA has won more, but only one of their titles has come since 1975. Since 1903 the Wildcats have won more games than any other college basketball team as well as 45 conference titles. While current men’s coach John Calipari is oft-criticized for the “one and done” players who left for the NBA early, it’s tough to argue with his results. He has coached Kentucky to four Final Fours in 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015, winning the title in 2012. Five Wildcats were chosen in the first round of the 2010 NBA Draft. Six were taken in 2012.
The UK women’s program began play in 1902, a year before the men. According to the NCAA, the Wildcat women have ranked in the nation’s top 20 in attendance since the 2009-10 season, ranking as high as seventh in 2014-15.
But UK’s sports successes go beyond basketball
UK Football is fortunate to compete in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) Eastern Division. The Wildcats do not play Alabama or Auburn every year; the Tide and Tigers are in the West. As a result, they have played in a bowl game each season from 2016 through 2019. The last two seasons they have beaten Penn State and Virginia Tech, two programs with much stronger football traditions. During those bowl seasons the Wildcats have ranked no lower than 28th in attendance per home game in NCAA Division I play. That placed UK no lower than the upper fifth in the nation. The University of Kentucky cheerleaders have won the Universal Cheerleaders Association (Division I-A) Cheerleading Championship 20 times, more than any other school. The Rifle Wildcats have won two National Championships since 2011 and were the runner-ups six times.
It’s not hard to get into UK
Last year the university accepted 96 percent of its applicants. Of those who got in, 30 percent decided to come. That’s high for a state school that gets 36 percent of the freshmen from out of state. But it’s down from the 40 percent who decided to come in 2011. However, this past fall UK welcomed its largest freshman class with over 5,300 students. The average GPA was a 3.5. The middle 50 percent of the class scored between 22 and 29 on the ACT. The campus is about 90 minutes from either Louisville or Cincinnati. I’d have no doubt that there’s some cross-shopping between UK and the public universities in those cities.
More recently, the students who came were more likely to stay and graduate
Eighty-five percent of the freshmen who arrived two years ago returned for their sophomore year. The four-year grad rate was 32% in 2003. It rose gradually reaching 47% for the freshman class that entered in 2014. Other flagship state schools have done better. But the university has done the right things to improve the residence life and living-learning experience to pull both rates up over time.
Some generous awards make the University of Kentucky worth considering
A New Jersey or Pennsylvania resident who would be in the middle of the freshman class at Rutgers-New Brunswick or Penn State-University Park could qualify for a non-resident scholarship of at least $10,000/year. And the awards get better from there. If you find an academic program that stands out and enjoy the atmosphere on campus, UK could be a great fit for you.
There are some surprises in the alumni demographics
The UK alumni base in the New York area is, believe it or not, smaller than the alumni base for the University of Cincinnati, which is only 90 miles away. There are 2,600 former Wildcats in and around New York City, but over 4,100 Bearcats. U of C has twice as many Bearcats in and around San Francisco (about 3,400) as there are Wildcats (around 1,700). But the number is about the same in Chicago (around 3,400 each).
Like any large flagship state university, UK has a lot to offer motivated students. However, UK is more of a spirit and sports school than places like Rutgers-New Brunswick and the University of Maryland-College Park, and the community is a bit more festive. If you like to balance school and fun, on and off campus, at a reasonable cost, UK might be your school.
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Listen to my talk, College Is A Learning AND Living Community, hosted by Dr. Cynthia Colon from Destination YOUniversity on Voice of America Radio!
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