Expert SoFlo tutor Madeline Much knew she wanted to take advantage of the scholarship opportunities the Bright Futures program offers for in-state students who attend schools in Florida. After investing significant time and effort into her essays and studying for a perfect 36 ACT score, Madeline received a full-ride scholarship to University of Florida. Read on to hear her full college application story and tips for students currently undergoing the process.

Madeline Murch, UF ’25

How did you approach your college applications?

Going into my college application process, I knew a big factor for me was location. Florida really has an amazing university system, and the Bright Futures program for in-state students provides an amazing education for an unbeatable value. I always knew I wanted to pursue graduate school, so I thought making use of the program was smart. I’m also very close with my family and didn’t want to be too far from home. My college applications were focused on Florida schools for these reasons, and I went on a tour of about 10 different Florida schools during my junior year with my classmates.

Why did you choose UF?

The University of Florida has a great academic culture and academic opportunities, but it also has an amazing student life outside of that when it comes to sports and general community. I knew the school would academically challenge me, as it is the best school academically in Florida, but also bring balance with a great student life. Balance is something that is very important to me, and I instantly saw myself at UF. All these factors, along with a scholarship I was offered, made me pick UF.

What was your testing journey like?

My testing journey took almost a year from start to finish. The PSAT allows you to review the problems you missed, so I used the PSAT as a diagnostic test. I began reviewing specific problem areas based on the questions I missed, mainly in the form of YouTube videos and worksheets I could find online. After reviewing all my problem topics, I started doing SAT/ACT practice tests every week, and I was generally shooting for a mid 1500 on the SAT. This strategy was very effective for me, I ended up taking the SAT once and the ACT once before ending up with a composite score of 36 on the ACT.

What did you write about in your college application essays?

My college application essay was completely focused on computer science and my experience with coding. I took computer science up as a hobby after being introduced to it in high school. I took about half a dozen additional coding classes over the course of my high school years, and then did a service project which created a mobile computer lab to teach young girls how to code. I talked about this extensively in my essay. My application was really focused on my interests, and I think this really made me stand out as an applicant in addition to my test scores.

Did you apply to any scholarship programs?

I applied to the Bright Futures program, where I met the requirements for the Florida Academic Scholars award, which covers 100% of tuition to any in-state university. In my UF application, I did not specifically apply to any scholarship programs; however, University of Florida has a variety of scholarships for both in-state and out-of-state students that they automatically consider applicants for. I was offered a Platinum Presidential Scholarship from the school through this system, which just added another reason for me to pick University of Florida. 

Do you have any advice for students applying to colleges and taking the SAT/ACT?

My advice for students applying to college would be to let this process be your own and give yourself plenty of time. Really research all the schools you’re considering, and don’t apply to schools you couldn’t possibly see yourself attending. This research process takes time. Building a good application also takes way more time than you’d think. The process of writing my essay from start to finish occurred over the span of months, not days. If you give yourself time to research and write, and really know your deadlines, the process feels much less stressful.

For students getting ready to take the SAT/ACT, I would say recognize that the process of studying for the SAT/ACT is a marathon, not a sprint. Give yourself more than enough time to study and know that you are probably going to take the test multiple times. It can be hard to sit for the test and not receive your goal score, but it is important to take away something from every test you complete. The first time I took the SAT, I immediately left the test and wrote down a few math topics I thought I needed to review. I think going into my testing journey with the mindset that I was going to need to work towards the score I wanted and probably wasn’t going to get it on the first try helped me persevere and work towards my goal score more effectively.

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