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College Applications University of California

The Ultimate Guide to the UC Application Process

Picture of Ana Boskovic
By Ana Boskovic on December, 27 2023 | 13 minute read
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The University of California (UC) schools continue to be among some of the country's most renowned and sought-after colleges. While thousands of students seek admission to one of the UC schools, this aspiration does come with a challenge.

Each year, over 200,000 applications are submitted to the UC system, and as the competition intensifies, many students find themselves feeling overwhelmed by the thought of setting themselves apart from other qualified candidates. How can students successfully navigate the UC application process? Let’s get into it. 

Table of Contents:

An Overview of UC Campuses

The UCs or the UC system refers to a centralized admissions system for 9 campuses spread across California. These college campuses include:

  • UC Berkeley
  • UC Davis
  • UC Irvine
  • UCLA (Los Angeles)
  • UC Merced
  • UC Riverside
  • UC San Diego
  • UC Santa Barbara
  • UC Santa Cruz

Often praised for their research opportunities, diverse campuses, and high-quality education, it is no wonder these schools are a popular college choice for students, domestic and international. 

 

Despite being part of the UC system, each campus offers a unique culture, academic opportunities, and admission rates. Among the most competitive UCs, UC Berkeley and UCLA are often regarded as highly selective colleges for their strikingly low acceptance rates. Whereas UC Riverside and UC Merced tend to have a fall on the other side of the spectrum with refreshingly high acceptance rates in recent years. 

 

College

Acceptance Rate 2023

Applications Received 2023

UC Berkeley

11%

125,874

UC Davis

42%

94,609

UC Irvine

26%

121,074

UCLA

8%

145,882

UC Merced

88%

25,730

UC Riverside

70%

56,462

UC San Diego

25%

130,830

UC Santa Barbara

28%

110,861

UC Santa Cruz

63%

68,820

 

Which UC School is the Best?

If you’ve read some of our previous blogs or attended a webinar or two, you know that we don’t believe in college rankings. In fact, our philosophy is that students who spend the time to find colleges that best fit their needs, academic ambitions, and budget, are often more successful and happier in college. 

As we’ve mentioned, each UC campus features unique offerings to its students. It’s important that students spend time getting to know each school before deciding on where they want to attend. Here are a few considerations we encourage students to keep in mind while conducting college research:

  1. Location and campus size
  2. Tuition fees and potential scholarship opportunities
  3. Extracurricular opportunities 
  4. Academic courses and major offerings

Though the UCs often appear on online college rankings sites, such as US News & Global Report’s Best Global Universities Ranking, rankings systems do not capture valuable information that impacts students’ college experience. Ranking sites are a good source to reference at the early stages of college planning, but they should not be the driver in the college selection stage. 

Ebook Resources Page (2)

Navigating the UC Application & Eligibility

If the UCs are on your radar, you’ve likely wondered if you meet the criteria to be admitted and how to start building a UC-worthy application. Unlike other colleges that use the Common App, the UC system has its own unique application platform. The good news? If selected, students can apply to all nine UC campuses

But before selecting every campus, remember that this is not exactly a cheap proposition. The application fee is $80 (or $95 for international applicants) per UC campus. Applying to every UC will run you a whopping total of $720. Once again, students should take the time to identify which UC is the best fit for them before submitting their application.

One question we often receive as experts is: “Do the UCs know if I apply to all of the campuses?” The answer is no, they do not. Students are safe to apply to as many campuses as they see fit without any repercussions. 

After creating a profile, students will have to provide information for the following sections:

  • About You
  • Campuses & Majors
  • Academic History
  • Activities & Awards
  • Scholarships
  • Personal Insight Questions
  • Additional Comments

About You

This section is relatively straightforward. Students will be expected to submit personal and contact information, citizenship, residency, and income information. 

Before diving into the next component, we want to stress the importance of honesty and accuracy in this section. What students submit here can impact their eligibility for scholarship opportunities or in what context their applications are being evaluated (to name a few). Our advice? Be sure to run every detail by a parent or guardian to ensure the information being submitted is as accurate as possible. 

Campuses & Majors

This section is where students will be able to identify which campuses they’d like to apply to and what their intended majors are. Every UC school will give students the option of presenting an alternate major. This means that if a student is not admitted into their first-choice major, they can be accepted into the alternative. 

Potentially undeclared students, don’t panic. Students can apply to the UCs without a designated major. This will not impact their chances of admission to these colleges.

Academic History (California Residents & Out-of-State Applicants)

Unlike the Common App, the UC application process requires students to self-report their academic history and test scores as opposed to submitting a copy of their academic transcript. 

California residents will be expected to meet the “A-G” academic requirements to be considered eligible to attend college. To learn more about what it means to fulfill the “A-G” requirement, click here for a full breakdown

Most California high school courses are already deemed UC-approved. However, it is important to note that students should be strategic in the courses they select. Simply meeting the requirement does not mean that students will automatically be admitted to the school. While conducting high school course selection, students should continue demonstrating academic rigor, interest, and growth. 

Students applying out-of-state (or internationally) are still expected to meet the “A-G” requirements. However, they will likely be categorized differently depending on where you are applying from. Here is a quick breakdown of how students can identify if they meet the academic criteria:

  • Two years of history/social science 
  • Four years of English (sorry, my math- and/or science-oriented friends) 
  • Three years of math 
  • Two years of science 
  • Two years of foreign language 
  • One year of art 
  • One year of a college preparatory elective

Beyond the minimum academic requirement, students who have taken advanced placement (AP) or international baccalaureate (IB) courses will be expected to submit their test scores, as well as any English proficiency tests (if applicable). 

The UCs are test-blind, meaning they do not consider ACT or SAT scores in their evaluation process. However, hold onto those test scores when applying to schools outside the UC system as many colleges have returned to test-required or test-optional policies. 

Activities & Awards

This section is where students will be able to report on any extracurricular involvement throughout their high school years. Here are key things to consider when approaching this component:

  • There are 20 available slots (No, you don’t have to fill up all 20)
  • The UC application lists 6 categories for activities, including Award or Honor, Educational Preparation Program, Extracurricular Activity, Other Coursework, Volunteer/Community Service, and/or Work Experience.
  • Descriptions can be up to 350 characters (38-50 words)

Scholarships

When applying via the UC application, students will be eligible for a range of scholarships based on merit, financial need, or both. The UCs are a public university system, and most of this scholarship money is dispersed as financial aid to low-income students, not as merit-based scholarships. The UCs also offer “restricted” scholarships that require an additional application from students. 

Remember the “About You” section being important? The household and parent income provided in that section will ultimately determine if a student is eligible for scholarships or other financial aid opportunities.

Personal Insight Questions

The Personal Insight Questions (PIQs) are not to be confused with the Common App’s Personal Statement. However, they are spaces where students can provide a written testimony of their accomplishments, interests, endeavors, personality, and more. 

The UC application features eight PIQ topics, with students being required to answer four of the questions listed. The four questions picked are designed to give the application reader specific insight into who you are as an individual, why you’re a good fit for their UC campus, and what matters most to you. Successful applicants are adept at using PIQs to present information that complements the rest of their application. 

For more information on how to answer the PIQs, click here to view the official UC guide for freshman applicants.

Additional Comments

Many students skip over this section and leave it blank. However, at Collegewise we always encourage applicants to use this space to explain unique circumstances that may have impacted their progress in high school. These circumstances may include personal situations, that may have impacted their academic performance or changes in ones academic environment.

 

UC Application Deadlines

Depending on if a student is applying to the UCs as a freshman applicant or a transfer student, the deadlines may differ. Here are key dates students need to keep an eye out for before starting the UC application:

Application opens (students can create a profile)

August 1

Application period

October 1 - November 30

Last day to submit an application

November 30

Admissions decisions released

~March 1

Last day to submit your college choice

May 1

For a full breakdown of the UC admissions timeline and important dates for freshmen and transfers, click here

Final Thoughts

By this point, you should have a better sense of how the UC application works, the key components, and how students can be successful. So what’s left?

Depending on where you are on this journey, the next steps in this process can include, building out each application component, getting involved in extracurriculars, or seeking additional support to better improve your admissions chances. 

If your family is considering expert help on your UC application, think Collegewise! Founded in Irvine, California in 1999, understanding the UC process is in our DNA. We’ve over 2,500 students gain admission to the UCs. 

To get started, schedule a free consultation with us here. This consultation will include:

  • Candidacy Assessment: The consultation begins with us learning more about your teen's academic background and future ambitions to better determine how we can support your family.
  • Addressing Application Pain Points: We recognize that every family has unique concerns, and we're here to help you navigate any challenges, worries, or unique circumstances you may face.
  • Personalized Program Building: No two students are alike. That's why we cater our programs to best support every family and their unique needs.


About Us: With more than twenty years of experience, Collegewise counselors and tutors are at the forefront of the ever-evolving admissions landscape. Our work has always centered on you: the family. And just like we’ve always done, we look for ways for your student to be their best self - whether in the classroom, the applications, or in the right-fit college environment. Our range of counselingtest prepacademic tutoring, and essay management, all with the support of our proprietary platform, lead to 4x higher than average admissions rates. 


 

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