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.

The schools are ordered by cost (based on year-long AP courses), from lowest to highest.

All the schools lists below offer both regular and AP courses:

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:

  • Requirements C, E, G: Math and Foreign Languages
    Math and Foreign Languages are the two subjects that you can satisfy prior to high school. The three years of required math starts with Algebra I; so if you took Algebra I in 7th grade and geometry in 8th grade, you would have started high school with 2 years of the math requirement already completed. If your high school recognizes the foreign language classes from your junior high as equivalent to its own, you can use the foreign language classes from 7th and 8th grades to satisfy the requirement. See Course Validation for additional information on how the courses are counted for satisfying a-g requirements.
  • Requirement D: Laboratory Science
    The third-year recommended Laboratory Science can be in any of the three specified fields: biology, chemistry, or physics. So if you took biology and chemistry, you don’t necessarily have to take physics as your third lab science course; you can take physiology (biology) or other approved lab science classes at your high school (or community college). But if you are interested in applying to engineering, it’s a good idea to cover all three areas of Laboratory Science.
  • Requirement F: Visual and Performing Arts
    Visual and Performing Arts has to be a yearlong course (sequential) in one of these disciplines: dance, drama/theater, music or visual art. You may take any community college course that is designated as Visual and Performing Arts on the UC A-G Course List to fulfill the requirement.

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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.

  • Math Course Validation
    For math, Algebra II validates Algebra I, and Precalculus validates Algebra I and II. So if you received a D in Algebra I, went onto Geometry and received a C, then completed Algebra II with a B, you would have completed 3 years of math because the D in Algebra I was validated by the B in Algebra II. Please note that a missing or omitted Geometry course CANNOT be validated; for more information, see Quick Reference for Counselors (pages 17 and 18 of the PDF file).
  • Foreign Language Course Validation
    For foreign language, say you self-studied German and passed AP German with a C or better without taking any of the lower German courses, you are considered to have completed the equivalent of 4 years of the foreign language requirement.

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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.”

  • UC-Approved Honors, AP, IB Courses
    The UCs always prefer students who challenge themselves, so try enrolling in the UC-approved Honors, AP, IB, and/or community college courses even if you are unsure of your ability to perform in them. Don’t overload your schedule or get too ambitious too fast; test yourself and gradually increase your workload over time. While UCs like students who challenge themselves and do well, they would still prefer those who challenge themselves with advanced courses over those who play it safe with regular courses.
  • Community College Courses
    I usually recommend that students take UC-transferable community college courses because 1) the courses are shorter (one semester of community college course will satisfy one-year of the a-g subject requirement); 2) community college courses tend to be less intense than many AP courses; 3) grades from community college courses are weighted and calculated into your UC GPA; 4) you get college credit without having to take the AP exam; 5) many community college courses are offered online; and 6) community college courses help show UCs you are motivated to take that extra step to achieve academically. You may find a list of community college courses that satisfy the a-g requirements by searching the community college name on the UC A-G Course List (the community college course list is old but should still be fairly accurate). Alternatively, you may consider taking AP courses from the UC-approved online schools.
  • Online Community College Courses
    Almost all community colleges offer online courses, which often have more flexible schedule. To search for online classes outside of your immediate area, try California Virtual Campus, a clearinghouse for online classes offered by California colleges. Use the “Narrow By” option to restrict your search to “Institution Segment – California Community Colleges.” You will still need to check the schedule at the individual community colleges for the actual course offering, but California Virtual Campus can provide the initial list of the colleges you should look into for the online classes you want to take. Keep in mind that, to earn weighted grades, you must take community college courses that are UC-transferable and are at least 3+ semester or 4+ quarter units. If you want to use the courses to fulfill the a-g requirement, search the community college name on the UC A-G Course List (the community college course list is old but should still be fairly accurate).

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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 torpedo your chance of admission, just don’t make it a habit and you will be fine; 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 D or F, be sure to repeat the course to replace the bad grade in the GPA calculation and to meet the subject requirement. While you are still required to report the D or F even if you repeated the course, the D or F grade will be ignored in the admission evaluation process.

In order to replace a non-passing grade in the GPA calculation, you have to retake a course that has the same curriculum as the one in which you received the D or F. Remember that a regular course does NOT have the same curriculum as a UC-approved Honors, AP, or IB course. If you receive a D or F in an AP course, you need to repeat the AP course or take a community college course to replace the bad grade.

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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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