7 Things You Must Do in High School to be Competitive for UC Admission

Getting excited or anxious about how well you are preparing for the UCs? Here is a list of must-dos to help you gain a competitive edge!

Things You Must Do

  1. Make sure the honors courses you are taking are UC-approved or they won’t be weighted (you can check by looking at your high school’s UC A-G Course List). Sometimes you may need to take honors courses that are not UC-approved in order to qualify for AP courses; check with your counselor to make sure!
  2. Balance your extracurricular activities with your honors/AP courses during the school year so you maintain excellent grades and devote adequate time to your extracurricular activities to gain meaningful experiences and develop important skills (such as leadership and collaboration).
  3. Ask your family and friends to put the word out that you are looking for opportunities, such as job shadowing, internship, or research. UCs like to see active exploration of or involvement in the discipline you intend to declare as your major (or exploration of different disciplines if you are unsure/undeclared) and heavily favor students with research experience.
  4. Take community college courses (any UC-transferable courses that are at least 3 semester or 4 quarter units will work) during the summer after freshman year, the summer after sophomore year, and the summer after junior year; the course grades are weighted and calculated into the GPA used for admission evaluation.
  5. If you receive a D or F grade, be sure to repeat the course BEFORE senior year to replace the bad grade in the GPA calculation and to meet the subject requirement (although you MUST report both the non-passing grade AND the repeated grade on the UC Application when you apply). You may replace the non-passing grade by taking the same course or a more advanced course (i.e., a passing grade from an honors/AP or community college course can/will replace a non-passing grade in a regular course).
  6. Get your parents involved with your college planning. Ask them to contact your counselor and teachers and show concern for your college plans. Your counselor and teachers are more likely to pay attention to your schedule and grades if they know your parents will get in touch if anything goes awry.
  7. Be a teacher’s pet. Communicate with your teachers outside of class and show some interest in them and the subjects they teach. Ask them how you can improve your performance in the subject and get better grades. The better your teachers know you, the more likely they are willing to help you.

Things You Should NOT Worry About

  1. UCs do look at courses you take in freshman year and the rigor/grades in context of your overall schedule/grade trend (so you should provide an explanation if there are anomalies in your schedule or grades); but freshman grades are NOT included in the GPA calculation used for admission evaluation.
  2. UCs do look at courses you take in senior year and take the rigor into consideration when evaluating you for admission; but as long as you maintain satisfactory grades (typically an unweighted B average, with no non-passing grades, is sufficient), your performance in your senior year courses will not affect your admission.
  3. Only the grades recorded on your high school transcript will count so don’t stress out about the grades on your progress report.
  4. Despite what your teachers/counselor/principal may say, the stuff on your “permanent record” is not submitted to nor reviewed by the UCs; stay out of trouble for the sake of your own sanity, but if you happen to get detention, suspended, or even expelled, it’s not the end of the world.

BONUS! Additional UC Admission Resources

Check out the Quick Reference Guide to UC Admissions, a comprehensive resource guide put together by the UCs that explains EVERYTHING there is to know about freshman and transfer admissions (if you need something in writing as proof, this is where you’ll find it).

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Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

February 14, 2023 at 9:53 pm

My daughter got a D in honors language arts and ap world history 1st semester sophomore year. She is planning on retaking these courses over the summer. Does she need to retake the exact same class? Can she retake the classes through an on-line school over the summer? thank you!

Ms. Sunreply
February 15, 2023 at 10:34 am
– In reply to: Brittani

Here are the rules (source, page 17):

UC freshman course repeat policy

February 21, 2023 at 12:11 am

Hi – my son is a senior and has a 4.12 GPA with honors and AP courses. Per my advice, he took AP Physics this year and is currently getting an F. The teacher is in her first year and has not been very helpful. My son is trying and we have a tutor. Not sure what else we can do. What will UCs do with an F his senior year? He has satisfied all requirements, AP Physics in an elective for him. I wish i did not encourage him to take it 🙁

Ms. Sunreply
February 21, 2023 at 9:53 am
– In reply to: Angela

I recommend dropping the course and take it somewhere else (see my list of online high schools that offer UC-approved courses here). If he has already received an F in the first semester, then he should retake that as well as finishing the second semester (at the online high school). If he hasn’t received the F yet, then just do both semesters at the online high school. He will need to report the schedule change to the UCs that offered him admission.

February 27, 2023 at 12:56 pm

My son, a sophomore plans to take a community college course this summer, but we have a concern. According to the published method of UC GPA calculation, the more courses the students take the lower GPA they will have, because they only award maximum 8 points for honor, AP or college courses. I know that UCB and UCLA use fully weighted GPA, but other UCs do not. He actually has already taken quite a few extra courses including college courses and online high school UC-approved honor course in addition to his school coursework. Is it a valid concern?

Ms. Sunreply
February 27, 2023 at 1:09 pm
– In reply to: Angie

Almost all of the UCs use fully weighted GPA and unweighted GPA for admission evaluation. I believe the only UCs that are still using capped GPA are Merced and Riverside. Total number of AP/H/CC courses completed is one of the several quantitative factors considered for admission evaluation (in addition to weighted and unweighted GPA and total number of A-G courses completed). Because there are several factors, in addition to the overall pattern/trend of coursework and grades across the high school timeframe, the process is more holistic rather than compartmentalized (your concern is built on looking at one specific factor, whereas the actual process is looking at several factors together to arrive at an overall impression of the student’s achievement).

March 6, 2023 at 12:01 pm

I’m a freshman with a 3.3 unweighted and a 3.5 weighted, I have two questions, Will I still be able to go to UC Davis out-of-state with these grades and does UC look at weighted gpa or unweighted? Thankyou.

Ms. Sunreply
March 7, 2023 at 3:44 pm
– In reply to: Rose

Freshman year grades are looked at in context of your overall high school career, but the freshman year grades are not included in the GPA calculated for admission evaluation. All UCs look at both weighted (mostly fully weighted, also known as uncapped) GPA and unweighted GPA.

The only way to be admitted to Davis is to apply. If you don’t get into Davis as a freshman, you may attend a California community college and get guaranteed transfer admission to Davis.

March 7, 2023 at 7:42 pm

When counting the number of honors/ap classes, do you count per year or by semester. For example, if you take honors chemistry for two semesters would that count as one or two honor classes. I assume it’s one.

Ms. Sunreply
March 8, 2023 at 9:21 am
– In reply to: Kian

The AP/H count (in anything the UCs publish) and for GPA calculation purposes, all courses (including college courses) are counted by semester (although each “quarter” college class counts as one, effectively making it a semester class). For example, AP Macroeconomics (typically taught in one semester) counts as one, Honors Anatomy and Physiology (typically taught in one year) counts as two, COM ST 9 (Introduction to Communication Studies) at Santa Monica College (3 UC-transferable semester units) counts as one, MUS 101 (Music Listening and Appreciation) at Lake Tahoe Community College (4 UC-transferable quarter units) counts as one.

March 10, 2023 at 4:04 am

If I do a research with a UC that offer 2 college credit for the research, I should get an extra point for that course, right?

Ms. Sunreply
March 10, 2023 at 4:58 pm
– In reply to: Al

Technically you only get the extra point if the college course is at least 3 semester or 4 quarter units.

May 5, 2023 at 7:04 am

Thank you! Also, does the honors course count only include uc approved honors? Would I count non uc approved honor courses such as honors biology?

Ms. Sunreply
May 5, 2023 at 7:41 am
– In reply to: Kian

UCs will only reward an extra grade point and count a course as “Honors” if it is UC-approved Honors.

May 19, 2023 at 3:11 pm

My son is just finishing 9th grade at George Washington University Online High School and this summer he is starting taking 2 Breadth course at Coastline College to try to transfer to UC Berkeley for the Bushiness Administration. These 2 classes will give him the final necessary credits to graduate high school a year early. For 9th grade he has 5 honors courses, out of which 2 have the UC-honors designation. In addition to increasing his GPA, do these UC-honors high school courses count toward the UC 7 Course Breadth requirements?
Also, since he is graduating high school a year early, which of his high school years will count for the UC-honors extra credits and towards meeting the 8 max points for them? I know that for a regular 4 year high school, they would look only between 10th and 11 grade, but I’m not sure about his case.

Ms. Sunreply
May 19, 2023 at 11:13 pm
– In reply to: Elena

If you are talking about satisfying breadth requirements for the Business Administration degree, only UC-transferable college courses can be used for that. Berkeley does not accept AP exam scores to satisfy breadth requirements and students cannot use high school (A-G) courses to satisfy college degree requirements.

The only UC campus that offers guidance about graduating early is Davis (source):

When filling out the online UC undergraduate application for admission and scholarships, list your courses for the first two years of high school in the 9th- and 10th-grade columns. Leave the 11th-grade column blank and indicate that you are an “early graduate.” Also indicate that you are an “early graduate” as an additional comment in the Educational History section, with further explanation in the Personal Insight additional comment space.

May 21, 2023 at 3:11 pm

My son is a freshman who completed a college course in Fundamentals of C++ , i realize that this will not count towards his GPA, but he intends to take the next level of data structures and algoritms as a sophomore , i am hoping that this will count as 1 extra point?, he also intends to take AP CS A- this is two semester course, will this give him two extra points?

Ms. Sunreply
May 22, 2023 at 2:42 pm
– In reply to: rupa

If the C++ course is UC-transferable, it will count toward the rigor (this is a separate factor from GPA). Grades earned from courses taken after 9th grade (including summer) will count toward GPA calculation and UC-transferable courses will earn an extra grade point. AP CS A will earn a grade for each semester and each semester grade will get an extra grade point.

May 28, 2023 at 7:49 am

In my son’s experience with UC admissions, the senior grades in the fall semester may matter – he got on the waitlist at UC Davis and as part of the waitlist opt-in process, they asked him to submit his fall semester senior year grades.

Ms. Sunreply
May 28, 2023 at 10:48 am
– In reply to: Gwen

The UCs are likely checking for non-passing grades and/or unsatisfactory GPA (below 3.0) in senior year. Both criteria are typically part of the Conditions of Admission/Provisional Admission Contract and screening out students who don’t meet them at the waitlist opt-in stage makes things easier for the campuses.

Questions or Comments?