UCLA Freshman Admission Update

This is a repost of my last public UCLA freshman admission update (from Fall 2016). I was inexplicably kicked off the alumni volunteer list as of May 2016 and banned from participating in future alumni volunteer training (I guess maybe I was inadvertently exposing their secrets? It was a whole hoopla, there were attorneys present on both sides on the conference call; definitely way more excitement than I can handle … I prefer rock climbing if I need an adventure).

Current updates are only available to my newsletter subscribers to avoid further wrath from UCLA (you may purchase a back issue of my September 2019 newsletter, which covers the freshman admission updates from the UC Counselor Conference and includes UCLA, here for $25; click “Pay with Debit or Credit Card” if you don’t have a PayPal account).

Most of the information below accumulated over several years and is, for the most part, still valid.

General Information

  • UCLA is more academic achievement oriented, meaning that having extraordinary extracurriculars and/or horrible hardships doesn’t really trump bad grades and/or terrible test scores. Fantastic grades and stellar test scores are essential to be competitive and whatever else you can pile on is just gravy. In the last couple years, I have heard a few cases of low GPA/low test score admits. While I don’t know the circumstances of those admits, I want to remind you that they are the exception, not the rule. To be competitive for admission to UCLA, you should follow the rule and not aim to be the exception.
  • UCLA does not screen for UC eligibility during application evaluation; all applicants, regardless of UC eligibility, will receive two full review for admission consideration.
  • Remember you can see the UCLA Admission Stats for Freshman here.
  • If you missed any of the UCLA brochures at your high school college fair, the entire collection is available online here.
  • Be sure to review the Freshman Selection Overview PDF here.

How UCLA Evaluate Applicants

Everything is considered when your application is evaluated and there is no assigned weight to each factor, so it’s ok if you are strong in some areas and weak in others – they do balance out.

UCLA does not require nor accept recommendation letters (except for programs that require supplemental applications that specifically ask for recommendation letters). Any recommendation letters the campus receives will end up in a file cabinet somewhere. Just to remind you, the readers will review the applications online via a secure connection, so paper recommendation letters will not be accessible to them (the same goes for other UCs that utilize external readers and pretty much all of them do, to some extent).

UCLA is moving away from emphasizing minimum eligibility requirements and evaluation criteria, and focusing more on “strong academic preparation” in its message to the public ONLY. There is no change in how the applicants are evaluated for admission. The criteria below are used by the readers when reviewing applications:

  • Academic GPA (calculated using A-G courses taken from the summer after 9th grade to the summer after 11th grade with AP/IB/UC-approved Honors/community college courses carrying an extra grade point; for the purpose of admission evaluation, UCLA looks at unweighted and fully weighted GPA – no GPA cap).
  • Quality (sustained academic performance), quantity (number of a-g you complete beyond the requirement/recommendation), and level (high number of AP/IB/Honors/CC courses) of coursework completed beyond the minimum required; so stop asking “is X years of (insert academic subject here) enough to get me into UCLA?”
  • Strength of the program taken within the context of the high school you attend (number of A-G and AP/IB/UC-approved Honors courses you took compared to the number of A-G and AP/IB/UC-approved Honors courses available at your high school).
  • Eligibility in the Local Context – top 9% at participating schools (I hear conflicting information about this every year .. supposedly UCLA is required to consider local context as part of comprehensive review, but in reality local context seems to play a very minor role in swaying the application readers).
  • Performance on standardized tests: the ACT plus Writing or the SAT.

Some additional “academic elements” UCLA considers include:

  • A progressively challenging academic program (no slacking off in senior year or any other year), including the number of and performance in college preparatory, honors, Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB) and transferable college courses; passing scores on AP or IB exams; mastery of academic subjects as demonstrated by high grades and exam results (I assume that means SAT Subject Tests); and presence of Summer session/inter-session courses that enhance academic progress.
  • Sustained participation in activities that develop academic and intellectual abilities and honors and/or awards in recognition of academic, intellectual or creative achievement (academic-oriented summer programs like COSMOS, academic competitions like AIME or Quiz Bowl, I don’t know what would count as “creative achievement”).

Additional Factors Considered

Again, there is no assigned weight to each factor. You should aim for at least one if not more of these. UCLA emphasizes the level of commitment (long term) and quality of performance when evaluating these factors:

  • Distinctive honors/awards or recognition (academic or non-academic, the fewer the recipient/more competitive the better; city/county/regional/state/national are more favorable).
  • Extracurricular activities (consistency, length and leadership positions are of the utmost importance), personal/intellectual development (your guess is as good as mine).
  • Volunteer and community service.
  • Special program participation (most likely referring to educational preparation programs).
  • Employment (not required, the space is provided so those who have to work can enter their work hours).
  • Leadership and initiative.
  • Academic accomplishments in light of life experiences and special circumstances (for example, disadvantaged background, disability, refugee, or veteran status).

Other Important Things to Know

  • For the College of Letters and Science, major is not considered at all. The entire college is evaluated as a pool so it doesn’t really matter if you are applying as a biology major, history major, or philosophy major, you are competing against everyone else applying to that college.
  • For the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, the admission evaluation is focused on your coursework and test scores in math and sciences (although the SAT Subject Tests are no longer required for admission, engineering applicants are strongly recommended to take Math Level 2 and a science most closely related to the intended major). Extracurricular activities are not quite as important in the evaluation process; although strong extracurriculars in the math, science, and/or engineering fields, especially in selective research programs (such as COSMOS), can be extremely helpful. UCLA may consider you for an alternate engineering major if you are not accepted to your first choice engineering major.
  • The School of Nursing is very competitive and there is a supplemental application process. There is a ranked waiting list for the nursing applicants who are not initially accepted. Alternate major is NOT considered.
  • For the School of Arts and Architecture and the School of Theater, Film and Television, the admission evaluation is focused on talent; supplemental application is required and portfolio and/or audition may be required depending on the major. Keep in mind that failure to submit the supplemental application will render you ineligible for admission consideration.
  • External readers (approximately 200 or so) are used for evaluating freshman applications and making the admission decisions for the College of Letters and Science (the decisions are spot checked by the admissions office). External readers are also used to read and score applications for engineering; the applications and scores are then forwarded to the school where the final admission decisions are made by a faculty committee.
  • UCLA now reserves the right to cancel admission offers to students whose academic performance drops significantly in senior year, EVEN if they meet the minimum academic standard (3.0 unweighted GPA, no D/F grades).
  • UCLA guarantees housing for 3 years.

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