Applying to UC? We have all the tips just for you

The University of California is comprised of ten campuses, nine of which are undergraduate. When we really break it down, what exactly is an admission officer looking at when they review your application? How do you maximize your chance of admission with a stronger application? Just what are the differences between the campuses? We’ve put together some tips to get you started and building a momentum to crushing the UC application.

What UC is looking for?

Beyond grades and test scores, the UC’s are looking holistically at their applicants through their comprehensive review. Layman terms? They have more qualified applicants then they can admit and they are looking for the right fit of students for their campus. Each UC campus has its own programs, its own needs and wants, which means that they are looking to admit a class of students that are not only capable of the work, but add to the campus and academic community in a greater way.

It can be hard to predict what a UC campus might want each year, but YOU can find the right UC campus for you by diving deep into each individual campus website and look deeply at the classes, opportunities within the department your considering, clubs you might join, any extra specialized programs or student groups. Don’t assume all UC campuses are the same!

To get a better understanding of how a UC application is reviewed, take a look at the 14 factors a UC system will weight. And note, no one single factor will determine an admission decision. Each is an added piece of information putting together a larger story for the admission counselor.

  • GPA (the grades you have earned over the coursework of your high school career)
  • Test Scores (one piece to the academic profile providing additional information to help them understand you can handle the work)
  • Performance in and number of courses beyond minimum A-G coursework (not only are you meeting the minimum classes required, but exceeding in areas of strength and interest and advancing further into a subject)
  • UC-approved honors courses and advanced courses (rigor of curriculum, are you adding challenging classes when you can?)
  • Eligibility in the Local Context (ELC) – CA residents only (are your academics within the top percentage of your high school and the state?)
  • Quality of senior-year program of study (they may not have your grades, but they will consider if you have maintained a rigorous curriculum your senior year)
  • Academic opportunities in California high schools (what have you had access to that you took advantage to show your academic strengths and rigor?)
  • Outstanding performance in one or more academic subject areas
  • Achievements in special projects
  • Improvement in academic performance (maybe you didn’t do so hot Freshman year, but you’ve built over time study habits and academic strength that help them know you can handle it now)
  • Special talents, achievements and awards (how you spend your time outside of the classroom! Your interests, strengths, how you dive into something, how you’ve built leadership, depth within your activities, etc.)
  • Participation in educational preparation programs
  • Academic accomplishment in light of life experiences (if you have had challenges, where are you today? How have you thrived? Did this affect your grades? Providing context to your world is key. They won’t knock you for life happening, but they do want to know how you can cope, handle and build resiliency)
  • Geographic location (where are you coming form?! In-state, out-of-state, international?)

The UC application is a space for you not only to provide your academic history, but context to your learning environment, your interests, your growth academically and extra-curricularly, what makes you excited, how you’ve overcome challenges, etc. The more context you can provide and the more you can speak to yourself the better.

Students can apply to any of the UC campuses on one website,, the application is open August 1st and due anytime from November 1 through November 30. Do NOT wait until the wee hours of the evening to submit you application. Not only will you stress out, but your computer as well! And if it crashes last minute, well, that will just be the worst. So take the time to break it up into manageable pieces and get cranking.

Unpacking the campuses and majors

Take the time to get to know the specific campuses. They can vary in size, location and specialized offerings within each campus. Get a sense of what you want in a college in terms of location, campus vibe, student body, student organizations and learning styles. Explore campuses HERE.

Personal Insight Questions and Additional Information

The UC insight questions are short. You choose 4 out of 8 prompts to respond to at a max of 350 words. You’re looking to get your point across in a clear manner that allows them to better understand you outside of the grades. Questions to help get you brainstorming:

  • What do I need an admission officer to know about me?
  • What part of my story do I need to share?
  • What are my character strengths?
  • If I know what I want to study, what attributes do I have that will help me in that career?

Resources College Essay Guy, UC Personal Insight Questions page

Don’t force an essay because you feel it may sound impressive. Be you. If you have additional information to share about your academic or personal world that is something they should know to better understand you, do find spaces to share.

General Tips

  • Apply broadly within the UC campuses
  • Give yourself time for multiple drafts of your Personal Insight Questions
  • Do not send a letter or recommendation when it is not required
  • Do remember to officially request your SAT/ACT scores to be sent to ONE UC campus and it will be shared with all you applied
  • Do research the campuses individually
  • Know the academic profiles of each campus and download the Freshman Application Guide
  • Consider looking outside of the UC system as well! There are thousands of colleges and a ton in California that have non-impacted programs, different curriculum offerings, financial aid, etc. Don’t discount private and out-of-state colleges. Balance your college list and know that the UC system is a competitive system, so ensure you take the time to apply to a number of colleges that fit your wants, needs and strengths AND you can get into them!

The UC application will have you choose your major (and oftentimes an alternate major) for each UC campus you apply to. DO take the time to research the majors and know exactly which one is the best for you. Not only will you get a better understanding of what each campus offers, but you’ll also get a clear idea of what it would actually look like, what classes you would actually take, for example if you were a biomedical engineering major or a film studies major. Take the time. You can access the major course sheet to get you started HERE.

Final words of advice, encouragement, whatever you’d like to call it that gets you through applying to college

Give yourself the time to research colleges that are the right fit for you. At the end of the day you will be the one dropped off in a dorm and attending classes. If you’re not happy with where you are, it doesn’t matter what the name of the college is. Take the time to get to know yourself and what colleges will enhance, embrace and encourage you on your next steps towards a successful future.

And as always, ensure that you use a few reputable resources to cross-reference data. We love this blog, but the UC system’s website will have the most up-to-date admission rates and guides specific to them.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: