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

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 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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Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

Michael Wazreply
August 30, 2021 at 7:46 pm

Where did you get the info that UCSB, Merced, and UCR were changing

Ms. Sunreply
August 30, 2021 at 7:57 pm
– In reply to: Michael Waz

Not Merced. For Riverside, it was described in the Annual Report on Undergraduate Admissions Requirements and Comprehensive Review, May 2021 (page 28), “The committee feels more motivated to move to a holistic review process in light of the recently adopted campus testfree admission policies, in which standardized test scores that previously were a significant component of the AIS score are no longer used.” Same source for Santa Barbara (page 35), “implemented changes for 2021, including the removal of SAT and ACT scores from our review” (“including” means, to me, “not limited to” and I don’t think the campus can be any more vague than “implemented changes”). If you want to read the entire 25-page section, I’d love to compare notes.

November 26, 2021 at 12:37 pm

After AB104, my class ranking was dropped couple places because of GPA boost by other students with AB104. I didn’t use AB104 to boost my GPA since I have two 2 lower B’s. Should I mention this anomaly in the “Additional comments” under “Academic history” or should I just leave it out? I know UC doesn’t look at the class ranking but if UC AO reviews all students from my school, I’m now rank lower by GPA.

Ms. Sunreply
November 26, 2021 at 2:58 pm
– In reply to: Lee

UCs do not look at school ranking. Generally each UC campus will only look at an applicant in context of other applicants who applied to that UC campus (not the other UCs), so the “all students from [your] school” is different for every UC campus. UCs are also aware of the GPA variation from P/NP and CR/NC grading.

Remember the UC Application is your opportunity to advocate for your achievements, not talking about what other people are doing (or stepping on them). The focus should be on you, don’t compare yourself to others because what you “see” at school is often different from what the UCs will “see” when they are looking at applications (there is usually way more contextual information), and you don’t want to come across as petty or having a superiority complex.

Questions or Comments?