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 November.

All UCs are using holistic review EXCEPT Merced, Riverside, and Santa Barbara. At one point, the admissions director from Santa Barbara said that she mentally checks off 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.

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 (additional reviews are required when application scores differ by more than a predefined value 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 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.). 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 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).

* 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 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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