FORT WORTH -- Californian Kelsey Garvella is shopping for the perfect college, and Texas Christian University made the list.
The 17-year-old is looking for a midsize school with conservative values and high academic standards. Oh, and a winning football team is a must.
"For sure it had to have a football team," Garvella said during a recent TCU campus tour. "As we all know, TCU has pretty good football."
Garvella, who will be a senior at Rocklin High School near Sacramento, will soon be applying to colleges. She visited three Texas campuses recently -- Baylor University in Waco, Texas A&M in College Station and TCU. She said she likes the vibe at the Fort Worth campus.
If applications are an indicator, more and more young people want to attend TCU -- including record numbers from outside Texas. A decade ago, some 5,000 potential students applied to TCU. But a record 19,000 have applied to attend for the upcoming fall semester, said Ray Brown, the dean of admission.
The university will whittle that down and admit about 1,800 freshmen.
"We had an enormous increase in applications this year," Brown said. "Sixty-one percent of our increase was from out of state."
Victories on the football and baseball fields helped raise TCU's national profile -- the Horned Frogs won the Rose Bowl in January and advanced to their first College World Series, in 2010. But university leaders said sports is just one factor in the applications spike. The university has stepped up recruiting and marketing while also making campuswide improvements.
Before the Horned Frogs took to the football field last fall, the applications were already coming in, Brown said.
"When we were 0-0, our applications were 60 percent ahead," Brown said.
TCU's applications are up all over the country, but the pool from California has grown the largest. Three years ago, TCU received 692 applications from California. For fall 2010, that number grew to 933. This year, TCU received 1,889 applications from California alone.
"California is leading the pack," Brown said. "I don't think it is a function of the Rose Bowl. I think it is more a function of what is happening in California."
The Western state is a large population center with university recruiters from across the nation wooing graduating high school seniors, said Betsey Hayes, TCU's regional director of admissions for California who is based in Napa Valley area.
Hayes started working with high schools in California on Aug. 1, 2005. She has built relationships and spoken to 11th-graders about TCU.
"Families are referring their friends to me," she said. "They are saying: Call Betsey."
The TCU message got a boost from the Rose Bowl, she said. The campus also drew attention with its planned move to the Big East Conference in 2012.
While alumni like LaDainian Tomlinson, who used to play for the San Diego Chargers, make an impact when they talk about their school, grassroots word-of-mouth is also powerful, Hayes said.
"It just takes one child to come from a school, and then it starts a snowball effect," she said, noting that in fall 2006 fewer than 100 students from California were enrolled.
California families said they are willing to take a closer look at TCU because its tuition and fees are considered comparable with those at some private colleges in California. (Total direct costs for undergraduates for fall 2011 and spring 2012 are $43,860.) Additionally, state budget cuts have taken a toll on California public universities.
Those are among the reasons Mark Garvella said he is willing to shop for his daughter's college out of California. With TCU, things appear stable, he said.
"You know what you are going to get," he said.
He and his daughter were one of two California families that attended a recent TCU tour. Potential Horned Frogs learned about scholarships and recent campus improvements. They also got a taste of TCU tradition: the university's official colors and hand sign.
"Take a peace sign and make it angry," explained Mike Mooneyham, assistant director of admissions.
The Doerrs, who live in the San Francisco area, added TCU to their list of potential colleges for 17-year-old Catherine after she heard about it from a friend. She did some research online and decided to check it out.
Doerr said that she wants to get out of California and that TCU offers a nice setting. One of the biggest draws is the people.
"I just feel people in this area are nicer," she said. "They are more willing to help out."
Diane Smith, 817-390-7675