The UC Admission Process - How it Works | Ivy Scholars (2024)

  • Sasha Chada
  • February 14, 2022

The UC Admission Process - How it Works | Ivy Scholars (1)

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The UC system is one of the best public university systems in the country, with both UCLA and Berkeley ranking in the top 30 schools nationally. The entire system uses the same application; though each school reviews applications separately. Because of how their application differs from the Common App, students are often concerned about what the schools are looking for, and how their application will be reviewed.

Fortunately, the UC system as a whole published a document that goes over admissions policies for the system, along with notes on university-specific policies. While this is not the same as knowing exactly what admissions officers will say about you, knowing how your application will be read and weighed will let you know what you should focus your efforts on.

Read on to learn more about the UC admission process and how it works.

UC Selection Process

All UC campuses use a holistic review process they call comprehensive review. The purpose is to understand the applicants in context. Each campus has its own unique standards, which we will discuss later, but a comprehensive review as a whole looks at the following things:

  • GPA in all courses that fit into the A-G course system, including weighting from classes the UC system considers honors.
  • Performance in classes beyond the minimum A-G admissions requirements.
  • Performance in and number of honors courses, including AP and IB courses, plus dual enrollment college courses.
  • Ranking in the top 9% of your graduating high school class.
  • Quality of senior year schedule, judged based on number and difficulty of academic course load.
  • Academic performance in the context of your high school.
  • Outstanding performance in one or more academic subject matters.
  • Outstanding work on a special project in an academic field (such as independent study or research).
  • Signs of improvement in academic performance over time.
  • Special talents or achievements in a non academic field, including the arts, music, athletics, significant leadership experience, notable community service achievements, or other significant achievements that demonstrate your intellectual vitality and ability to contribute to campus.
  • Academic achievements in the context of your life outside of school, and any special considerations which arise.
  • Your geographic location.

So what does all this tell us? First, all students are evaluated in their context. Thus if you attend a school that does not offer AP or IB, then you will not be penalized for not taking those classes. Conversely, if your school offers a full AP curriculum, and you take only one or two, that will also be taken into account.

Your academic performance and preparation are the most important single aspect of an admissions decision. UC schools want you to have taken hard classes, and to have done well in them. If you struggled initially but have shown major improvements recently, that is still acceptable, if less prized than consistent high performance.

California residents who are in the top 9% of students statewide, or who are in the top 9% locally, are guaranteed admission to a UC campus which has room. They are not guaranteed admission to any campus in particular, merely to the system as a whole.

Finally, all majors and colleges require academic performance above the minimum specified under the A-G guidelines. The minimum specified is just that, the minimum; UC schools want to see students who are eager to learn, rather than those who are satisfied with the bare minimum.

Each school has its own unique admissions procedures as well. We won’t go through all of them, but we will cover UCLA and UC Berkeley’s procedures.


UCLA’s review process is based on 13 criteria, selected by the faculty. While they do not disclose these criteria publicly, they include both qualitative and quantitative elements, your accomplishments academically and personally, and your personal context as a student and person.

All freshman applications are read at least twice, and each reader assigns the application a score. Readers consider the following criteria when conducting their holistic review:

  • First is your academic performance and preparation for college. This considers both the number of courses you took and the academic rigor of those courses. They look favorably on taking courses beyond the A-G minimum, and on taking a challenging senior year course load. This means they favor AP and IB courses. They compare your achievement to students at your high school, to understand your accomplishments in context.
  • Next are your personal qualities. They look for leadership, character, motivation, initiative, responsibility, creativity, intellectual independence, maturity, and concern for your community. They look for these in your academics and your extracurriculars; your essays are seen as the best demonstrator of these characteristics.
  • How you can contribute to the intellectual vitality and community on campus. There is no one way to contribute they’re looking for, rather they want to admit students who will generally add to the intellectual atmosphere on campus through their passions and interests.
  • Your achievement in academic enrichment programs. This includes programs run by the UC system, as well as other summer programs run by colleges which prepare students for university. They care about time and depth of the program, academic rigor, and level of accomplishment.
  • Other evidence of your achievements. This includes athletics, arts, employment, leadership, or community service.
  • All of your achievements are judged in the context of opportunities you had, from your school, community, and background. They compare students in the same applicant pool who attended the same high school, as these students are thought to have had equal opportunities to succeed.
  • Finally, any challenges you may have faced are taken into consideration. This includes financial situation, language spoken at home, and parental education level. They want to see how you responded to and overcame these challenges.

The most important takeaway from this is that all of your achievements are reviewed in context. This can be good or ill, but the more students from your school who apply to UCLA, the more you will need to stand out.

Visit our UCLA guide for more insight into the admission process.

UC Berkeley

UC Berkeley’s selection criteria are quite similar to UCLA’s, which is, perhaps, to be expected. They care about the following during their review of students:

  • Your weighted and unweighted UC grade point average. (All UC schools calculate GPA using 11th and 12th grade courses only).
  • Your 12th grade courses, and your pattern of grades over time.
  • Any college preparatory, honors, AP, or IB courses you have taken. They also care about how well you have performed on AP or IB exams.
  • Your achievements are compared to other applicants from your school, to help understand you in context.
  • How you will contribute to the intellectual vitality and community on campus. They are looking for students with diverse passions and interests, who will be able to contribute to campus in unique ways.
  • Your personal qualities, including character, leadership, initiative, originality, maturity, and concern for others.
  • Any other achievements you have outside of academics, including in the arts or athletics.

As with UCLA, your achievements and successes are judged in the context of your school, and you are directly compared to your classmates. Thus, the more students from your school who apply to Berkeley, the more you will have to stand out in your achievements. Similarly, the more advanced courses your school offers, the more you are expected to participate in.

Visit our UC Berkeley guide for more insight into the admission process.

What this Means for You

Both UCLA and Berkeley are looking for evidence that you are academically prepared for college and that you are intellectually capable of handling the work involved. You should take the most rigorous courses available to you, especially since you are judged relative to your high school opportunities.

Your grades are the most important part of your application. The ideal is that you have high grades throughout your high school career, but showing improvement from freshman year on is also acceptable, especially since freshman grades are not counted in your GPA. Your senior grades are not counted, but the courses you take are, and you should not slack off academically in your senior year.

When writing your essays, you should look for places to show off your character traits. This is especially true if your extracurriculars do not directly display them. Being president of the student council clearly shows your leadership, but your involvement on a robotics team does not unless you tell them how you displayed it in an essay. Your essays are your last chance to speak directly to admissions officers and let them know who you are.

Final Thoughts

The UC Schools are among the best in the country, and they are incredibly popular with students. UCLA and UC Berkeley see some of the highest application numbers nationally, and their system for reviewing applications reflects that. They are looking for students who do more than simply what is the minimum required, but for ones who excel, and who will continue to do so.

College applications can be daunting, especially to schools that see so many applicants. If you want help preparing your applications to a UC, or want to know more about how applications are reviewed, schedule a free consultation with us. We have a depth of experience helping students get into college, and are always happy to hear from you.

Need help with college admissions?

Download our "Guide to Everything," a 90-page PDF that covers everything you need to know about the college admission process.

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The UC Admission Process - How it Works | Ivy Scholars (4)

Wendy Y.


Below is my son's review. He was accepted to his dream Ivy League school!From an admitted student's perspective, I am incredibly grateful to have met Sasha - he has been instrumental in helping me achieve my educational dreams (Ivy League), all while being an absolute joy (he's a walking encyclopedia, only funnier!) to work with. Many people are dissuaded from seeking a college counselor because they think they can get into their desired college(s) either way. Honestly, going that route is a bit short-sighted and can jeopardize your odds of acceptances after years of hard work. The sad truth is, the American education system (even if you attend a fancy private school and ESPECIALLY if you go to a public school) doesn't really tell students how to write a compelling and authentic application. Going into the admissions process alone, without speaking with an advisor, is like going to court without a lawyer - you put yourself at a significant disadvantage because you don't have all the facts in front of you, or the help you need to negotiate the system.That said, you need a good lawyer just like you need a good college counselor. And that's where Sasha distinguishes himself from the crowd of people claiming they'll get you into Harvard. I came to Sasha worried about and frankly dumbfounded by the college admissions process. I was unsure what to write about and how to go about drafting the essay that perfectly captured my passion, interests, and self. And I was highly skeptical that anyone could really help me. But, damn, did Sasha prove me wrong. From the beginning, Sasha amazed me with his understanding of the process, and ability to lend clarity and direction to me when I desperate needed it. After interviewing me about my background, experiences, activities, outlook, and vision, he helped me see qualities about myself I had not previously considered 'unique' or 'stand-out.' This process of understanding myself was so incredibly important in laying the groundwork for the essays I eventually wrote, and I'm certain I would've drafted boring, inauthentic essays without it.Looking back, Sasha's talent is that he can see where your strengths lie, even when you don't see them. The truth is, although we don't always realize it, everyone has a unique story to tell. Sasha helped me see mine, and with his big-picture insight I was able to write the application that truly encapsulated my life and vision. He inspired me to dig deeper and write better, challenging me to revise and revise until my essays were the most passionate and authentic work I had ever written. As clichéd as that sounds, that's really what universities are looking for. In retrospect, it makes sense - in the real world passionate (not simply intelligent) individuals are the ones who make a difference in the world, and those are the individuals colleges would like to have associated with their brand. In the end, I was accepted to the college of my dreams, a feat I could not have achieved without the direction Sasha lent to me. Essays (and the personal narrative you develop through your application) matter so much, and can literally make or break your application. I have seen so many of my 'qualified' friends receive rejections because they wrote contrived essays that didn't truly represent who they were; conversely, I have also seen so many friends with shorter resumes accepted because they were able to articulate their story in a genuinely passionate and authentic way - I fall into the latter category.As a former admissions officer at Johns Hopkins, Sasha knows what types of essays jibe well with universities, an invaluable asset to have in the admissions process. He is responsive, flexible, creative, positive, and witty. For anyone who is serious about going into the college admissions process informed and prepared, I highly recommend Sasha.

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The UC Admission Process - How it Works | Ivy Scholars (2024)


The UC Admission Process - How it Works | Ivy Scholars? ›

California residents who are in the top 9% of students statewide, or who are in the top 9% locally, are guaranteed admission to a UC campus which has room. They are not guaranteed admission to any campus in particular, merely to the system as a whole.

How do UC acceptances work? ›

Each UC campus evaluates each application without knowing the status of the same application at another campus. In making admission decisions, campuses do not consider where you've applied or your admission status to other campuses.

How does UC Berkeley select students? ›

Berkeley wants students who are intelligent, leaders, passionate about what they're studying, and will have a positive impact on campus. To show Berkeley that you're the type of student they want to admit, you should aim to take difficult classes and get good grades in them (aim for an unweighted GPA of about 4.3).

What is the application process for UC schools? ›

How to Apply to the UC Schools
  • Step 1: Create an Account. Your step to applying to UC schools is to create an applicant account. ...
  • Step 2: Complete the UC Application. ...
  • Step 3: Pay Admission Fees and Submit Your Application. ...
  • Step 4: (Optional) Complete Additional Materials.
Nov 30, 2021

Are UC admissions first come first serve? ›

Applications are reviewed on a first-come, first-served basis. See Financial Aid timeline for more details. List UC San Diego school code 001317 on your application. Meet the March 2 deadline to be considered for the best possible funding.

Does UC look at senior year grades? ›

UCs do look at courses you take in senior year and take the rigor into consideration when evaluating you for admission; but as long as you maintain satisfactory grades (typically an unweighted B average, with no non-passing grades, is sufficient), your performance in your senior year courses will not affect your ...

What is the highest acceptance rate for a UC? ›

UC Rankings
SchoolOverall acceptance rateGPA
UC Merced85.4%3.40 - 3.96
UC Riverside56.3%3.69 - 4.11
UC San Diego38.3%4.04 - 4.28
UC Santa Barbara36.9%4.03 - 4.27
5 more rows
Mar 31, 2023

What is the least competitive UC school? ›

The easiest UC schools to get into include UC Santa Cruz, UC Riverside, and UC Merced, all of which have acceptance rates over 50%.

Is it harder to get into UCLA or Berkeley? ›

The difference in admissions rates between the two schools is actually wider among in-state applicants. For the 2022 fall semester, Berkeley admitted 14% of California residents, while UCLA accepted 9% — a five percentage-point difference.

Is Berkeley the hardest UC to get into? ›

Receiving a staggering 128,196 applications in the latest admissions cycle, the University of California, Berkeley is one of the most competitive institutions in the United States. UC Berkeley is one of the hardest universities to get into within the University of California system.

Do UC admissions talk to each other? ›

UC's don't talk to eachother when making admissions decisions.

How long does it take for UC to accept you? ›

Each UC campus will notify you of its admission decision, generally by March 31.

Does it matter how many UC schools you apply to? ›

Apply to more than one UC campus.

This will significantly increase your chances of being admitted to the UC system. While you may not receive an offer of admission from your first-choice campus, all of our campuses — without exception — provide outstanding opportunities for you to learn and grow.

Does turning in UC application early help? ›

Myth #3. Does Applying Early to the UCs Give You an Advantage? Rest assured that applying early to the UCs won't improve your chance of admittance (at all, regardless of your major). The UCs are very adamant that they don't review students in a vacuum.

Are UC admissions random? ›

Remember that the UC system conducts application verification for a randomly selected pool of applicants each year.

Do UC schools verify extracurricular activities? ›

Will my extracurricular activities be verified? Answer: UC will randomly choose applicants to verify elements of their application. If you are selected, you will be given instructions on what they will accept. They will want to verify any extracurricular activities you included on your application.

Do UC's accept D's? ›

No, UC's do not take Ds. A 'D' will jeopardize your chances of being accepted into a UC. So, do whatever you can to get at least a C to give you a better chance of being admitted at UC.

Does UC accept C grade? ›

Getting a C- or lower

You must report these grades immediately to the UC so you can (hopefully) work out a remedy. Obviously, a C- is better than a D. If you get a D, especially in a major requirement you might very well get rescinded. If it is a selective major you can basically count on it.

What do UC schools look for in essays? ›

Since there is no dominant personal statement that you will submit, it is helpful to approach the UC application essays as if they form a portfolio. Each essay should speak to different aspects of your character, commitments, responsibilities, values, and goals.

What is the hardest UC to get into in California? ›

The odds of getting into the UC system can drastically differ depending on which campuses a student applies to. UCLA and Berkeley are the most competitive campuses, with just 10% and 17% of California applicants, respectively, admitted to each in 2021.

What is the easiest major to get into UC? ›

10 Easiest Majors to Transfer into UC Berkeley
1.Development Studies41%
2.Environmental Economics Policy49%
3.Society and Environment54%
4.Landscape Architecture39%
6 more rows
Jan 19, 2017

What is the lowest GPA UC will accept? ›

UC has a specific way to calculate the grade point average (GPA) it requires for admission. California applicants must earn at least a 3.0 GPA and nonresidents must earn a minimum 3.4 GPA in all A-G or college-preparatory courses to meet this requirement.

What is the most liberal UC school? ›

University of California - Santa Cruz

#1 Most Liberal Colleges in California.

What is the nicest UC? ›

1. Which UC School is the Best? While any school within the UC system is a good choice for your undergraduate degree, based on its prestige, cutting-edge programs, and award-winning faculty, the University of California- Berkeley can be defined as the best UC school.

Which UC is the most rigorous? ›

UC Berkeley is the number one public university in the United States. Its rigorous undergraduate academic standards make it one of the most challenging UC schools to gain admission.

Is Berkeley more prestigious than UCLA? ›

UCLA is No. 1 among public universities and is tied for 19th among all national universities in the USN&WR Best Colleges rankings. Five University of California campuses rank in the top 15 among publics: after UCLA, Berkeley (2nd), Santa Barbara (5th), Irvine (7th), Davis (10th) and San Diego (12th).

Why is UC Berkeley ranked so high? ›

T he University of California at Berkeley has it all: World-class academics, great sports, a stunning Bay Area setting, reasonable costs and a storied history.

Is USC or UCLA harder? ›

2. Is It Harder to Get Into USC or UCLA? Both schools are highly selective, though UCLA has a slightly lower acceptance rate.

What are the top 3 popular majors at UC Berkeley? ›

The most popular majors at University of California, Berkeley include: Social Sciences; Computer and Information Sciences and Support Services; Engineering; Biological and Biomedical Sciences; Multi/Interdisciplinary Studies; Mathematics and Statistics; Natural Resources and Conservation; Business, Management, ...

Which UC has the nicest campus? ›

1. University of California, Santa Barbara – Santa Barbara.

What are the top 5 most popular majors at UC Berkeley? ›

Top Ranked Majors
  • Computer Science. 845 Graduates.
  • Economics. 751 Graduates.
  • Cellular Biology. 724 Graduates.
  • Political Science and Government. 482 Graduates.
  • Electrical Engineering. 452 Graduates.
  • Computer and Information Sciences. 392 Graduates.
  • Business. 385 Graduates.
  • Environmental Science. 374 Graduates.

What is a common mistake some students make in submitting the UC application? ›

While many parts of the UC application are self-explanatory or provide clarifying instructions, some tend to trip up students. Something as simple as mistyping your date of birth or accidentally clicking that you are not a California resident can cause a headache down the line in order to correct this information.

Do UC admissions read all essays? ›

Not every UC reads the Personal Insights for transfers so your great essay might not even be seen. Yes, it's true: Berkeley, UCLA, San Diego, Merced and Davis are the only UCs that read the transfer Personal Insights. Santa Barbara, Irvine and Santa Cruz do not. However, every UC sees the additional comments.

Why are UC admissions so unpredictable? ›

Competitive majors such as Engineering/CS/Biology etc… are more competitive than the average stats posted on the student profiles. This can be a cause for a misinterpretation of an applicants chances. Also each UC is looking for fit based on their own criteria. There are no guarantees for any applicant.

What is the average GPA of UC applicants? ›

At the most selective school, UC Berkeley, the average high school GPA is 3.87. Average SAT scores range from 1250-1540. At UCLA, the average high school GPA is 4.33, while the SAT scores range from 1150-1480.

Is it harder to get into UC now? ›

Systemwide, UC's admission rate fell from 64.9% in 2021 to 59.5% this year. UC Riverside, however, bucked the trend, welcoming more students. UCR granted admission to more than 68% of applicants this year, compared to 66.4% in 2020.

Do UC schools send rejection letters? ›

Yes, they do. Once UC admissions decisions are released, you will get a status update on your applicant portal. Once you click “view status update,” it will either display an acceptance letter, a waitlist letter, or a rejection letter.

What is the most applied to UC school? ›

The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) received the most first-year and transfer applications. The UC schools in San Diego, Berkeley, and Irvine also had a high number of applications.

What is the honor type on the UC application? ›

The honors box on the UC application form is used to designate a course for which an extra grade point is awarded for a letter grade of C or better.

Can you apply to all UC schools at once? ›

Moreover, you can apply to all UC campuses using the same application, My UC Application. An application fee of $70 is required for each campus you apply to. There is a fee waiver that can cover the application fee for up to 4 campuses, if eligible.

Do you have a better chance of getting into college if you apply earlier? ›

Generally speaking, students have a better percentage, even if it may be 1-2%, of being accepted if they apply early decision. Early action often does not offer a higher acceptance rate but provides the benefit of learning early what the admission decision from the college is.

Does applying early increase the chance of acceptance? ›

Applying early to colleges isn't absolutely necessary, but it's certainly advantageous. Colleges like to see early applicants, and the statistics show it. Both early decision and early action applicants are accepted at a higher rate than their standard deadline counterparts.

What do UC schools look for the most? ›

Quality of your academic performance relative to the educational opportunities available in your high school. Outstanding performance in one or more specific subject areas. Outstanding work in one or more special projects in any academic field of study.

Does UC look at predicted grades? ›

If predicted IB scores are not available at the time you submit the application, you do not need to report them on the application, and you do not need to submit them at a later date (unless a campus requests that you do so). UC campuses do not use predicted scores as the only factor for admission.

What are the chances of getting off a UC waitlist? ›

UC waitlist admissions for first-year students

Chart shows the percentage of students admitted from the waitlist for the fall semester of 2020, 2021 and 2022. MISSING: summary MISSING: current-rows. UC Berkeley accepted only 1% of students from the 2022 waiting list: 48 of the 4,650 students who opted in.

Can you get into a UC without extracurriculars? ›

Generally speaking, colleges do not verify extracurricular activities students put on their applications. However, if having remarkable extracurriculars is the primary reason for a student's admissions, it's not unlikely for the school's admissions officers to take the necessary steps to verify extracurriculars.

Do admissions officers fact check? ›

The answer is a resounding no. In fact, with some exceptions, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which has historically fact-checked random batches of applications, admissions officers at elite universities rarely fact-check much of anything. And why?

Do UCS check your transcript? ›

You will be asked to submit official transcripts from all schools and colleges you have attended, including high school, regardless of your length of attendance or whether you believe the credit is transferable. Some campuses may request transcripts prior to admission.

How long does it take for UC schools to accept you? ›

If you are a fall-term freshman applicant, each campus you applied to during the filing period generally will notify you whether you have been admitted between March 1–31. These notification dates apply only to applicants for the fall term who file during the October 1–November 30 filing period.

How long does it take for a UC school give their admission decision? ›

Checking your UC Application Portal

Freshman applicants will receive admission or waitlist offers through the UC Application portal. Ultimately, answering the question “When does UC results come out” it is safe to say students should expect a UC admissions decision by mid-March.

What is the easiest UC to get accepted in? ›

The easiest UC schools to get into include UC Santa Cruz, UC Riverside, and UC Merced, all of which have acceptance rates over 50%. Located 40 minutes outside San Jose, UCSC earns high marks for its picturesque campus and close beach access.

What average GPA does UC accept? ›

UC has a specific way to calculate the grade point average (GPA) it requires for admission. California applicants must earn at least a 3.0 GPA and nonresidents must earn a minimum 3.4 GPA in all A-G or college-preparatory courses to meet this requirement.

Does waitlist mean rejection? ›

Remember that if you have been waitlisted or deferred, it does not mean you have been rejected admission. It's as if you have been asked to stay in the waiting room a little longer, pending an ultimate decision.

Do colleges prefer AP or honors? ›

Many state colleges like to see applicants with honors classes, as it shows commitment and determination. The country's most prestigious schools, such as Ivy League institutions, usually prefer AP classes on transcripts. These standardized courses can help schools compare applicants more directly.

What is the highest UC GPA? ›

What Is The Highest GPA? Assuming that you take 5 to 6 A-G courses per semester throughout high school, the maximum weighted and capped GPA you can get by the end of your junior year is about 4.33 to 4.4. But again, UC GPA is not the end all be all — course rigor is important as well.

Do UCS send rejection letters? ›

Yes, they do. Once UC admissions decisions are released, you will get a status update on your applicant portal. Once you click “view status update,” it will either display an acceptance letter, a waitlist letter, or a rejection letter.

What is the hardest UC campus to get into? ›

The odds of getting into the UC system can drastically differ depending on which campuses a student applies to. UCLA and Berkeley are the most competitive campuses, with just 10% and 17% of California applicants, respectively, admitted to each in 2021.

Does UC GPA matter? ›

The capped GPA is used to determine UC eligibility only.

Part of the UC eligibility dictates that the minimum GPA you must have is 3.0 capped (up to 8 semesters of Honors/AP) for California residents and 3.4 for non-residents.

Do extracurriculars matter for UCs? ›

While academic achievement is the most important criterion the UCs consider, majority of the UCs also pay attention to applicant achievements outside of the classroom. Given how competitive the top UCs are, extracurricular activities are also a way for you to distinguish yourself from other highly qualified applicants.


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