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 November.
All UCs are using holistic review EXCEPT Merced, Riverside (Riverside is considering a switch to holistic review, maybe soon), and Santa Barbara. At one point, the admissions director from Santa Barbara said that she does a mental checklist of the 14 Comprehensive Review criteria as she reads each application, so if you are interested in Santa Barbara, better get on top of covering the 14 criteria in your UC Application.
Speaking of the Comprehensive Review criteria, in case you are wondering, examples of “special projects” include founding a nonprofit organization, raising money for a cause, completing a self-initiated research project. Essentially anything you have independently undertaken.
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 the application readers, think again.
All applications are “cleaned” to get an accurate GPA (so no need to freak out if you accidentally included courses that are not a-g in the Academic History section).
Each application is usually read by at least two people (additional reviews are required when application score differs by more than a point for the holistic review campuses; UCLA has stated 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 readers, usually including percentage of students receiving free lunch at your school (signifies socioeconomic status of your community), grade/score averages of past applicants from your school (historical data/trends), percentage of students receiving passing AP scores at your school, a-g courses available at your school, etc.
* You should ALWAYS explain your grade trend (progressively better grades since freshman year, progressively worse grades since freshman year, inconsistent grades throughout high school, etc.; you probably don’t need to explain if your grades are consistent throughout high school).
* 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 indicate 1) whether the award is competitive; 2) how many people receive it (selectivity).
* Hardships you should mention/explain include 1) disability; 2) low-income; 3) family situation (divorce, foster care, etc.); 4) first generation. Focus on how you responded to and/or overcame your circumstances.
* The UCs are particularly 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 Personal Insight Questions response, 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).
* You should ALWAYS explain academic discrepancies such as excellent grades but terrible test scores, one or two bad grades, and/or any special situations.
* 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).
The UCs don’t care if you skip AP exams. HOWEVER, Berkeley has specifically said (repeatedly) that they would prefer to see students at least attempt the exams (* meaning you should report non-passing AP exam scores on the UC Application just to show Berkeley you tried).
The random application audit (occurs between December and January) does NOT delay the admission evaluation process. The applications selected for audit are read and evaluated along with everyone else but the decisions are held until the audit clears.
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