KYLE WARNKE & STEVEN BARNHART

UCF has long had the reputation of being a commuter school, a place you only go because you didn’t get into any other schools.

This view is quickly dying, and students like Mike Valente are the reason. Valente, a freshman pre-med student, is from Wells, Maine. His parents' house is 1,500 miles away, a bit far away for a commute. In fact, 1,500 miles is too far for him to go home more than twice a year.

But he says it’s worth it, and UCF is slowly becoming his second home.

“I don’t think I’d be as happy anywhere else,” Valente said.

Skype, Facebook and texting keeping him in close contact with family and friends from home.

Valente’s choice in UCF wasn’t easy. His heart was set on Boston University, but after receiving word of a scholarship from UCF, he decided to look into it more.

“I left Boston set on going to Boston University,” Valente said. “But when I came down here, it all changed.”

The energy and diversity of UCF's students and campus got him to change his mind. Wells, his hometown in south Maine, holds fewer than 10,000 residents, according to the 2010 census. Energy from other people was something new. Those weren’t the only reasons why he made the choice to attend UCF.

The cost difference between Boston University and UCF for Valente was only $4,000, favoring UCF as the less expensive option.

“I loved it down here just as much as I did anywhere up north,” Valente said. “So for saving the money for coming down here, it seemed like a good deal.”

The distance from his family hit hard, he said. His two sisters stayed close to him, one attending school in Maine, the other in Massachusetts, but even his mom agrees that he made the right choice in going to UCF.

Friends and family are what he misses the most. The climate change also took some getting used to.

“I wasn’t used to the constant rain,” he said. “In Maine, it doesn’t rain every day. If it rains, it rains for like a day or two straight.”

The weather patterns didn’t faze Ashley Loonam, a freshman advertising and public relations major from Long Island, N.Y., when she arrived in Florida. Although she considered other schools in California, she ultimately decided on UCF because of its proximity to the Walt Disney Company, where she hopes to work.

Although she loves Florida, Loonam misses certain aspects of her hometown that aren’t replicated in her new city.

“I miss having the ability to just walk around town and find one of my friends at their house,” she said. “Being in New York, everything is super close to wherever you are, so walking around in the safety of my own town is what I truly miss.

Danna Provost, a junior studying industrial engineering, is from Toms River, N.J. After applying to schools up and down the East Coast, she came to Florida to visit the University of Tampa and UCF. While both had one key ingredient she wanted, palm trees, UCF had the community feeling she desired in a school.

“There’s so many students and so many people doing different things, it’s almost like a little town,” she said.

Part of Provost’s desire to attend UCF came from a need to escape from New Jersey. Her family wasn’t surprised, or upset by her choice. They were excited for her when she left and are helping her to pay the full out-of-state tuition every semester, she said.

“They miss me, but they’re proud of me," she said. "I’m a first-generation college student.”

Thomas Hagan, a first-year biology major at UCF, flew from Long Island, N.Y., to attend UCF, which offered him a scholarship. What really drew him to the university is its unmatched size and population. Getting away from his small high school, where “everybody knew each other and their siblings,” was high on his list of priorities.

But Hagan is quick to point out it took a big commitment to live in Orlando, so far away from home.

“It’s not something you can just say, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore,’ after a week,” said Hagan. “It was a big decision for me, and it’s a big commitment. You can’t go home for the weekends. You can’t drive to a friend’s house. You’re basically starting a new life.”

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