The GSU of today bears little resemblance to its 1913 origins as an evening school for working adults.
And in yet another sign that Georgia State University has evolved from its commuter campus roots to become a selective and competitive residential college, officials accepted their first early admission students this month.
Students apply through early admission when a college is their first-choice -- a distinction that is becoming more common for Georgia State.
"We have a lot of GSU-hungry students," admissions director Scott Burke said. "We are seeing more applicants and they are more qualified. It's a sign that we are becoming more desirable and selective."
The bustling college enrolled 30,427 students this fall, making it the second-largest public college behind the University of Georgia. Enrollment has increased by about 30 percent over the past decade, according to state data.
Walk around downtown Atlanta and you see Georgia State's presence. Backpack-wearing students often outnumber the suit-wearing professionals during lunch rush on Broad Street. Classroom buildings make their home in the city’s historic Fairlie-Poplar District. Downtown life will only get more collegiate when the Panthers play their first football game in September.
Many people perceive Georgia State as the college it was 20 years ago, but president Mark Becker predicted it will be recognized as one of the world's preeminent urban universities.
"We are a university on the move," Becker said. "We're getting bigger but at the same time we're improving in quality. We have become a destination university for the student who wants to go to college in an urban environment."
That's why junior Kristen Everett picked Georgia State.
"There's this idea that we're all spread out downtown but we're really pretty cohesive," she said. "It feels like a college here, but a different type of college. I didn't want to go to a school with big sororities and fraternities and a campus boxed off from the rest of the world. I'm really not into the UGA thing."
Increased student interest in Georgia State led to the creation of the early admission program, which required students to submit applications in November as opposed to a regular deadline in March. Students knew by Jan. 15 if they got in.
Burke said the college started it this year after noticing how many students applied at the start of the process last year. About 2,200 students applied early and the college accepted 1,307, Burke said. About 460 were deferred and the rest were denied.
Richard Blue attended Georgia State from 1968 to 1975, earning a master's degree and Ph.D. The Sandy Springs psychologist said Georgia State has become so competitive he wouldn't get in now.
"From a selfish standpoint, I'm proud Georgia State has made a name for itself," Blue said. "Other students may not get the opportunity to attend, but if you pay your dues you can get in through the back door."
The college's trajectory can be traced to 1995 when the State Board of Regents elevated the institution from a regional university to a research institution. The change put the school on the same level as the UGA and Georgia Tech, and gave it access to millions in federal grants and research projects.
Just as important, the new designation allowed Georgia State to raise admissions standards and go after a higher caliber of students. The average freshman SAT score increased from 1003 in 1995 to 1090 this year.
Psychology professor Robin Morris realized a couple of years ago just how desirable the college had become.
"Neighbors started calling me asking if I could help get their kids in," Morris said.
In addition to raising academic standards, the school also focused on improving student life.
In 1996, the college turned the former Olympic Village into its first student housing. Georgia State currently has three dormitories, which can house about 3,000 students. Greek housing is scheduled to open in the fall.
The addition of dorms along with the creation of the state's HOPE scholarship helped drive enrollment. Georgia State's growth also reflects a national trend of more students seeking an urban college experience.
The college maintains close ties with Georgia Perimeter College and other two-year institutions to accept transfer students. The college provides tutoring, mentoring, one-on-one counseling and other services to students who struggle academically.
Senior Elizabeth Peiffer said everyone is working to make the college stronger.
"We are becoming more prestigious and I know my diploma will be worth a lot when I graduate," she said. "You want to be at a school that is still trying to get better. You don't want to be at a college that is done growing and improving. You want to push yourself in college and you want the college to do the same thing."
When Morris started teaching at Georgia State in 1982 he was 27 and was often the youngest person in the room. Today, classrooms are full with more traditional post-high school students. The students, he said, have improved academically especially since the college changed its honors program.
The honors program had been in the College of Arts and Science since 1975, but in 2007 it became a university-wide program open to students across five colleges. The program attracts academically strong and motivated students and provides them with priority registration, special housing, small classes and other perks.
Provost Risa Palm said the college will bring in prospective honors students so they can meet with faculty members and learn about research projects and other opportunities.
While Georgia State has accomplished much, Becker said the college isn't done.
"Our focus must be on maintaining quality and continuing our efforts to provide a complete urban college experience," Becker said. "What we've seen is an incredible increase in size and quality and I expect to continue."
Georgia State's Growing Years
1913: Established as the Georgia School of Technology's Evening School of Commerce.
1930s: Becomes the Atlanta Extension Center of the University System of Georgia and students earn degrees from several colleges in the system.
1947: Affiliated with UGA and is called the Atlanta Division of the University of Georgia.
1955: Receives independence and becomes Georgia State College of Business Administration.
1969: Name changed to Georgia State University.
1995: State Board of Regents designates Georgia State as a research institution and shares status with UGA, Georgia Tech and the Medical College of Georgia.
1996: College purchases Olympic Village to serve as dorms.
2007: Georgia State opens University Commons, a dorm with nearly 2,000 beds, and sells the former Olympic Village housing to Tech.
2008: Announcement that the Panthers will play football starting in 2010.
Aug. 2009: College opens Freshmen Hall, a dorm exclusively for freshmen with about 325 beds.
Dec. 2009: Tickets for inaugural football season go on sale.
Source: Georgia State University and University System of Georgia.
Early Admission at GSU
Georgia State University accepts its first-ever early admission for this coming fall. Of the nearly 2,200 who applied, 1,307 were admitted. Here are some of their characteristics:
Average grade-point-average: 3.51
Average SAT score: 1167 (out of 1600)
Average ACT score: 26 (out of 36)
Source: Georgia State University
How Georgia State Compares
Georgia State’s current freshmen earned high marks in high school. Here’s how their high school grade-point averages compare to students from other public colleges:
College … High school GPA
Georgia State … 3.35
University of Georgia … 3.74
Georgia Tech … 3.72
Clayton State University … 3.07
Kennesaw State University … 3.19
Southern Polytechnic State University … 3.22
Source: University System of Georgia
Georgia State is the second-largest public college in the state. Here is how its enrollment compares to other area public colleges:
College … Enrollment
Georgia State … 30,427
University of Georgia … 34,885
Georgia Tech … 20,293
Clayton State University … 6,587
Kennesaw State University … 22,389
Southern Polytechnic State University … 5,183
Source: University System of Georgia, Fall 2009 enrollment report