High School Academic Preparation for the UCs


UC A-G Subject Requirements

The a-g subject requirements are the absolute minimum academic requirements you need to meet in order to be eligible to apply to the UCs. If you are attending a California high school, you can find the a-g list for your school on the UC A-G Course List; simply enter your high school name to search for the list. If you are an out-of-state or international student, check your coursework against the a-g subject requirements and also consider the alternatives listed (SAT Subject tests, AP or IB tests, and/or college courses).

The number of a-g courses you will complete by the end of your senior year is one of the top criteria considered in the application evaluation process. Given how selective the top UCs have become, it is almost never enough to just complete the required a-g curriculum. I would recommend taking as many a-g courses as you can handle throughout the school year and over the summer while balancing your extracurricular activities.

Keep in mind that the rigor of your senior year schedule is an extremely important criterion in the application evaluation process. At the very least, you should take 5 yearlong a-g courses in your senior year including the appropriate number of AP courses common for a UC-bound senior at your high school.

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UC-Approved Online Schools

There are a couple of different ways to increase the number of a-g courses you have even if your high school is not up to par on offering a good selection. One way is by taking community college courses. Another is by taking courses from UC-approved online high schools. Online high school courses tend to be pricey, but they serve as an alternative if you need them. Keep in mind that NOT all courses offered through the online schools are UC-approved; you must verify the courses you plan to take are on the UC A-G Course List for the online school where you are enrolled (a link to the approved course list is included with each school below).

A special note about the Laboratory Science requirement: the UCs will NOT accept online high school courses for this subject (some online schools have approved Laboratory Science courses; but you are required to complete “teacher-supervised, hands-on lab component that accounts for at least 20 percent of class time” to receive credit for those courses). UCs will always accept online community college courses in Laboratory Science, provided that they are UC-transferable and 3+ semester or 4+ quarter units.

All the schools lists below offer both regular and AP courses. The schools are ordered by cost (based on year-long AP courses), from lowest to highest.

Accelerate Online Academy

Keystone National High School

Brigham Young University Independent Study High School

APEX Learning Virtual School

National University Virtual High School

Scout from University of California

FLVS Global School

K12 International Academy

International Connections Academy

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Math, Foreign Language, Laboratory Science, Visual and Performing Arts

Here are some details about the a-g requirements that are often overlooked:

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Course Validation

Students can validate lower math and foreign language courses by completing a higher level course with a grade of C or better. This works if you received a D or lower in previous courses or if you did not take any lower level courses.

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UC-Approved Honors, AP, IB, and/or Community College Courses

Aside from the number of a-g courses completed, the rigor of your high school course load is also extremely important in the application evaluation process. Make sure the honors courses you take are UC-approved (UC-approved Honors are denoted with an “H” under “Honors Type” on the UC A-G Course List). The UCs view UC-approved Honors, AP, IB, and/or community college courses as having the same weight. There is no such thing as “this Honors/AP/IB/community college course will look better on my transcript than that one.”

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AP and IB Exams

AP and IB exams are optional, meaning you are not penalized if you don’t take them. However, UCs prefer to see students who make an effort to take the AP/IB exams. Bad scores won’t hurt your chance and good scores are brownie points. If you are skipping the AP/IB exams for financial reasons (unable to pay, no fee waiver was granted, etc.), be sure to mention that in your UC application under the Additional Comments section.

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UC GPA Calculation

UCs calculate your GPA using the grades that you received in a-g courses between the end of your freshman year and the start of your senior year. UCs do look at courses you take in freshman and senior years; the grades and rigor of your coursework are considered in context of your overall curriculum. But freshman and senior year grades are NOT included in the GPA calculation. UC-approved Honors, AP, IB and community college courses are weighted. For out-of-state applicants, only AP, IB, and community college courses are considered advanced coursework, honors courses are not weighted (but be sure to label your honors courses so they can be taken into consideration when your application is evaluated).

Competitive UCs like Berkeley and UCLA look at both unweighted and fully weighted GPA. Keep in mind that only your semester grades (or whatever grades that show up on your high school transcript) are used in the GPA calculation so don’t worry too much about what’s on your progress report if you expect your semester grades to be good.

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C/D/F Grades and Repeated Courses

Receiving one or two Cs will not completely torpedo your chance of admission, just don’t make it a habit and you should be ok; same goes for Ws (withdrawals from community college courses). Repeating courses in which you received a C- or better will not improve your grade; the UCs will just ignore the repeated course when calculating your GPA. If you receive a non-passing grade (D or F), be sure to repeat the same course OR a more rigorous course (AP, Honors, or community college) to replace a non-passing grade in the GPA calculation. Keep in mind that repeating a less rigorous course (taking a regular course after receiving a non-passing grade in an AP, Honors, or community college course) will NOT replace the non-passing grade in the GPA calculation (both grades will be included in the GPA calculation). While you are still required to report the non-passing grade even if you repeated the course, the non-passing grade will be ignored in the admission evaluation process.

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Capped GPA

You may hear about the 8-semester capped GPA and wonder why you should bother taking more than 4 Honors/AP courses. 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. For application evaluation, the UC campuses look at the weighted and unweighted GPA.

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Unweighted GPA

Your unweighted GPA is simple to calculate: A is 4 points, B is 3 points and so on. Add up the grade points and divide by the number of semesters you have and you get your unweighted GPA.

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Weighted GPA

Weighted GPA is a bit more complicated to calculate. Competitive UCs like Berkeley and UCLA look at fully weighted GPA, meaning that you get an extra grade point for every UC-approved Honors, AP, IB, and community college course you take from the end of freshman year to the start of senior year. Other UCs may cap the weighted GPA at 8 semesters of UC-approved Honors, AP, IB, and community college course or a specific GPA (4.4 or 4.5).

Community college course grades are calculated into your GPA as one semester even though each semester course satisfies one-year of the a-g subject requirement. So a 3+ semester or 4+ quarter unit UC-transferable course is treated as an equivalent of one semester of high school AP course for the purpose of calculating your GPA.

What does this all mean? Well, you should stop stressing about your GPA! Trust in yourself and trust that the right UC will find you to be the kind of student it wants and admit you.

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School Disciplinary Records

UCs do not require applicants to disclose school disciplinary actions or criminal records. But keep in mind that most private colleges do request such information. You have the option to reveal any disciplinary actions or criminal records in your UC Application but remember that it could backfire if not handled delicately. Stay out of trouble for the sake of your own sanity and stay focused on your long term goal (college). But if you happen to get detention, suspension, or expelled, it’s not the end of the world.

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Other Ways to Improve Your Academic Preparation

Get your parents involved with your college planning. Ask them to meet with your school counselor and show concern for your college plans. Your counselor is more likely to pay attention to your schedule if s/he knows your parents will be showing up at school if anything goes awry.

Talk to your teachers before or after class and show interest in the subjects they teach. Ask them how you can improve your performance in the subject. The better your teachers know you, the more likely they are willing to help you.

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