IvyWise Resources

Tips for Applying to the University of California System

By Kelly, IvyWise College Admissions Counselor

As a University of California alum and California native, I cannot imagine another institutional system that truly offers something for everyone: from STEM to humanities, research to innovative arts, extremely focused students to those still figuring out their next steps, highly selective campuses to those with a great foundation for exploring yourself. The UC system packs it all in one and offers limitless options to explore, develop, and shine!

On top of that, the diverse community encourages students to get out of their comfort zones, study alongside peers from all walks of life, and be part of something bigger. It also allows students to experience both the dynamic and expansive resources, archives, and research opportunities that a large public university offers, while also creating smaller, close-knit communities within individual programs.

Plus, in my experience, the sky’s the limit in creating opportunities for yourself at UC. Whatever my interests, I just asked if I could, and the answer was, “yes, you can – find out how.”

If you are a high school student interested in applying to one of the schools within the UC system, there are several aspects of your applicant profile that you should focus on in order to put your best foot forward during the application process.

How to Present Yourself as a Strong Applicant

Various aspects make one UC school more competitive than another. Oftentimes, individual majors or programs at each campus are impacted by their popularity, such as film at UCLA, animal science at UCD, international relations at UCSD, or computer science at UCB, to name a few. Additionally, California residents who meet the UC admissions index eligibility (placing in the top 9% of California high school graduating students) are automatically guaranteed a spot within the UC system. The population of local students applying will, of course, add to the selectivity of certain UC schools as well.

And then there are the endowments toward resources, facilities, research opportunities, honorariums, etc., that make certain UC schools stand out over others. Plus, proximity to career opportunities weighs in, too, with Silicon Valley, Hollywood, and the State Capital all within the UC system.

Being aware of these factors, as well as understanding what the UC system looks for in applicants, is a crucial first step in the application process.

Fulfilling Coursework Requirements

Whether you reside in California or are a non-resident, it’s important that you align your coursework with UC’s A-G subject requirements, which includes:

  • History: 2 years
  • English: 4 years
  • Mathematics: 3 years
  • Laboratory Science: 2 years
  • Language other than English: 2 years
  • Visual and Performing Arts: 1 year
  • College-Preparatory Elective: 1 year

Though most students will aim to exceed the minimum requirements, some majors, especially in the STEM fields, will require additional coursework. So, make sure to research your major(s) of interest in order to ensure you have a solid plan of action.

You will also want to max out the courses in the areas you intend to major in. So, plan to take the most rigorous courses available at your school (and, even better, self-study for AP exams in your strongest areas of interest, if possible.)

Maintaining a Strong Transcript and GPA

Your grades and GPA are considered the most important elements of the UC application review process. For all UCs, a minimum GPA of 3.0 is required in the A-G courses for California applicants and a 3.4 minimum for non-residents.

UC does not accept grades below a “C” in any A-G coursework. Beyond the A-G courses, you are not required to complete other coursework or requirements, but you still want to aim for the strongest transcript possible—balancing a high GPA with a rigorous course load.

You should also consider the middle 50% weighted GPA of each UC school to understand your chances of being admitted by checking the UC admit data.

Understand UC’s SAT and ACT Requirements

The UC system is currently operating under a test-blind policy, so SAT or ACT scores will not be considered with your application. Without SAT or ACT scores to gauge a student’s ability to perform well in college-level coursework, as well as the fact that UC does not consider letters of recommendation, UC applicants are now expected to bring an even stronger academic record as well as showcase how they’ve gone above and beyond the classroom.

Now more than ever, components such as research experience, summer programs, college-level coursework, internships in your intended major area, or starting your own initiative to showcase your understanding in an area of interest will have an impact on your application.

Choosing the Best-Fit Extracurriculars

UC looks highly on talents, achievements, and leadership experiences that showcase your potential to contribute to the intellectual vitality and community of the school. So, make sure to highlight unique abilities, passion for a field or cause, and the ways that you have made your community a better place.

For example, if you are interested in fintech, consider building an app or founding a company that teaches business and technology principles to kids. Maybe take it a step further and partner with a nonprofit group to support a cause that’s meaningful to you. Demonstrate your passion for expanding your interests for the greater good and making a positive impact in your community.

Some areas that stand out to UC schools include talent in communications, the arts or sports, deep exploration of other cultures, impactful community service, and significant involvement in the student’s high school (particularly in student government).

Although the UC application allows you to list up to 20 activities and honors, it’s important that you highlight relevant and impactful activities that showcase your strengths, interests, and goals. Remember, quality over quantity!

How to Answer Personal Insight Questions

In place of the personal statement or school-specific supplemental essays are UC’s Personal Insight Questions. Through these 250-350 word essays, you will be evaluated based on how you showcase who you are, why you want to attend a UC school, and what is meaningful to you.

It is essential to put considerable thought into the Personal Insight Questions. Since UC does not accept recommendation letters, the essays are the best way for applicants to reflect on and highlight who they have become during their journey of self-discovery, what they value, why attending UC is a good fit, and how attending the institution will shape their future.

Keep in mind the community that the UC campuses aim to foster, how such a community relates to your goals for college and how you will contribute. Consider innovation, diversity, and accessibility when approaching the questions in order to highlight an understanding of what makes the UCs unique. Highlight a commitment to your passions, intellectual curiosity, leadership, and something unique to your personal story to help admissions officers get to know you beyond your activities and accomplishments.

Unlike the Common App essay that is intended to tell your personal story with self-reflection, lessons learned, etc., the UC essays are meant to be more straightforward, sharing just the facts with thorough, concrete specifics.

UC Options for Transfer Students

UC offers a unique opportunity for community college students to transfer under various major options, and even for students who are not sure yet what their major will be, through the UC Transfer Pathway. The program also helps students stand out and show a more competitive application.

Prospective transfer students should find out which community college courses are needed for their intended major and/or UC campus and start preparing as soon as possible.

Financial Aid in UC Sytem

The UC system is known to have one of the strongest programs for financial aid in the US, with more than 2/3 of undergraduates receiving an average aid package of $15,000. The majority of attending students pay under the full tuition, and over half of UC students pay no tuition. So, it is best to submit your FAFSA form, even if you think your family’s income does not qualify you for aid.

The UC Application

Make sure to give yourself sufficient time to complete the application and start your application early! It’s important that you understand all of the application requirements and create your UC account well in advance of the November 30 deadline (the application opens August 1).

In addition to the application, your transcript is required along with any school or major-specific requirements. One major benefit of applying to the UC system is that you can apply to multiple UC schools by submitting just one application, though each school requires a $70 application fee. With UC applications hitting a record-high for fall 2022 admission, it is best to consider applying to multiple UC schools to have a balanced school list to include some reach, target, and likely schools.

The UC school system offers something for every type of student, regardless of background or interests! At IvyWise, we help students apply to a variety of colleges and universities in the US and abroad, including to every University of California school. If you are interested in applying to the UC system, but need more guidance on next steps, contact us today to set up an Initial Consultation.

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