UC Freshman Admissions 101

Here’s a crash course on how the UCs review freshman applications (what the UCs say they want to see and what the process is like). The information is not presented in any particular order. Anything marked with * requires you to do something on the UC Application, so pay attention to those if you are applying this October/November.

All UCs are using holistic review EXCEPT Merced, Riverside (may be switching to holistic review soon), Santa Barbara (there were some indications the campus is changing its admission evaluation process, but I’m not sure to what), and Santa Cruz.

All applications are reviewed online (the applications are accessed via a secured connection and, depending on the campus, with university-provided equipment). If you think the UNSOLICITED materials you sent to the admissions office will impress (or even reach) the application readers, think again.

Each application is usually read by at least two people (students who are not UC-eligible are usually checked by one person to see if there were any application errors, additional reviews are required when application scores differ by more than a predefined value for the holistic review campuses; UCLA has stated in the past that twins always get an extra review – plus additional reviews if one is admitted and one is not).

Admission evaluation is contextual at ALL UC campuses, some refer to it as “individualized evaluation,” meaning you are evaluated in your own context (available opportunities, hardships, talents, family background, etc.). Every campus provides some form of contextual information to its application readers, usually including percentage of students receiving free lunch at your school (signifies socioeconomic status of your community), average GPA range of, number of AP/Honors/A-G courses completed by, percentage of passed AP exams by past applicants from your school (historical data/trends), number of A-G courses offered at your school (available opportunities), etc.

* You should explain any anomalies in your academic records, such as improving or declining grade trend, inconsistent academic performance, excellent grades but terrible AP exam scores or vice versa, one or more C or non-passing grades, etc.

* For academic enrichment programs (Educational Preparation Programs), you should explain 1) time/depth of involvement; 2) academic progress as a result of your participation; and 3) the intellectual rigor of the program.

* For the awards and honors you received, be sure to explain 1) how competitive the award is and 2) the selection process.

* Hardships you should mention/explain include 1) learning differences/disability/medical conditions; 2) disadvantaged socioeconomic status (such as low-income/first-generation); 3) difficult family situations (divorce, foster care, abuse, etc.). Provide adequate context and focus on how you responded to and/or overcame your circumstances.

* The UCs are interested in your capacity to contribute, so when applicable, you should discuss experiences and/or achievements that demonstrate promise of leadership and/or contribution toward the cultural/intellectual vitality of the campus community.

* In your PIQ answers, you should develop a well-defined purpose from your academic schedule and extracurricular participation that supports your academic interest (such as your college major or educational plan) and/or future aspiration (such as a life or career goal).

* It’s important for you to provide some contextual information about your geographical location IF you live in a rural area or a small town (basically if you are NOT living in a city or a suburb). Explain any restricted or lack of access to educational resources.

The application verification (occurs between December and January) does NOT delay the admission evaluation process. The applications selected for verification are read and evaluated along with everyone else but the decisions are held until the verification clears.

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Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

David Grahamreply
August 19, 2022 at 8:57 am

What is non-holistic review? Just consider grades and test scores? I’d have guessed none of the UCs limit themselves in that way, but maybe not.

Ms. Sunreply
August 19, 2022 at 1:08 pm
– In reply to: David Graham

For Merced and Riverside, see explanation here (pages 34-40). I don’t know what Santa Barbara is up to (explanation in the report referenced above appears to be for last year and the campus said something about changing the process since then). For Santa Cruz, see explanation here.

Questions or Comments?