Florida’s highest-achieving high school students will now be awarded for their academic success with automatic acceptance into the University of Central Florida.

The new initiative, Top 10 Knights, was developed to recognize academic achievement in high school. Top 10 Knights also protects against budget uncertainty and potential legislative changes by providing Florida residents with guaranteed access to an affordable, quality college education.

The first class of Top 10 Knights will start at UCF in summer 2014.

“This effort, among the few of its kind in the nation, rewards academic success, streamlines the university selection process and promises to attract more of Florida’s best and brightest students to UCF,” said UCF President John C. Hitt. “Top 10 Knights is a winner for high-achieving students, for their families and for UCF.”

Top 10 Knights will have an impact upon Florida high schoolers like Rosa Elena Alcantar, who ranks second out of 430 seniors in her class at Evans High School in Orange County. Alcantar, a would-be first-generation college student, is a native of Mexico who grew up in Orlando and hopes to one day go on to UCF’s College of Medicine.

“Most people say that what you do in high school doesn’t have the same rigor as college,” said Alcantar. “When I heard about Top 10 Knights, it shows that everything I’ve done so far means something. I’m happy there’s an opportunity to be recognized for what I’ve done in high school.”

To become a Top 10 Knight, students must first apply for admission into UCF. To qualify for the program, applications must be completed by Dec. 31 of students’ senior years.

Students also must meet criteria such as a top 10 percent ranking in their high school class or a GPA of 3.9 or above if the high school does not rank; the completion of high-level math courses; and a minimum of 1010 (1500-3 score) on the SAT or 21 on the ACT.

UCF Undergraduate Admissions will determine which students qualify as Top 10 Knights, and students who meet the criteria will be notified by Feb. 15.

“As admission into Florida universities becomes more competitive, we’re responding to the students and families seeking a quality education by making admission to UCF certain for the state’s top students,” said Gordon Chavis, associate vice president for Undergraduate Admissions. “The Top 10 Knights are among the best students at UCF, and we’re excited to see what they will contribute here.”

Top 10 Knights is UCF’s latest effort to expand college access and opportunity. More than 31,000 students have been admitted to UCF since 2006 through the DirectConnect partnership with regional state colleges, which helps students smoothly transition to UCF to complete their bachelor’s degrees.

California and Texas offer similar initiatives to their highest-achieving high schoolers, but Top 10 Knights is among the first of its kind in Florida.

UCF hopes to announce scholarship opportunities for Top 10 Knights in the near future. Earlier this semester, representatives from Undergraduate Admissions met with high school counselors from across the state to explain Top 10 Knights and provide guidance on acceptance into UCF.