The University of California, Davis (UC Davis) is a public research university in Davis, California, about 15 miles from Sacramento. U.S. News and World Report ranks it the No. 10 public university in the nation and the No. 38 university overall. UC Davis currently enrolls 38,347 students.
The university is known for elite academics, a thriving campus life and college town atmosphere, supportive programs, and flexible majors. In fact, it’s such an appealing place to live and learn that over 100,000 students apply each year. In 2022, UC Davis received a record 110,189 applicants.
That number may seem intimidating, but don’t worry—we’re here to give you all the information, data, and advice you need to get into UC Davis. Keep reading to learn how to put your best foot forward and increase the competitiveness of your college application.
About UC Davis
Founded in 1908, UC Davis has grown into one of the world’s top research universities. Beyond world-class research, it boasts top-notch facilities and faculty. It offers 107 academic majors, more than 800 student clubs and organizations, 71 Greek organizations, and study abroad opportunities in all seven continents. Princeton Review ranks UC Davis No. 6 among “Best Schools for Making an Impact,” No. 12 for “Best Value,” and No. 15 for “Best Career Placement.”
Students describe UC Davis as rigorous and fast-paced, but they also rave about the support they receive. The university provides tutoring and advising resources, abundant access to internship and job opportunities, and “counselors who can answer every question.” They even bring puppies and other foster dogs to campus every finals week to help students de-stress. Similarly, the student body itself is described as friendly, welcoming, creative, and willing to help one another.
The campus is 5,300 acres featuring a vineyard, arboretum with a creek, student farm and gardens, cows and horses, and tree-lined trails that students enjoy biking. In addition to beautiful green spaces, UC Davis is home to several museums, a 150,000-square foot fitness center, 21 campus eateries, a craft center, an equestrian center, and even its own airport where students can learn to fly.
In the town of Davis, students enjoy good food, art galleries, live music, and a weekly farmer’s market. The local downtown scene is “low-key,” but Davis is “in the middle of everywhere,” so it’s a great location for day trips or weekend trips to San Francisco, Tahoe, and Napa.
Is It Hard to Get Into UC Davis?
UC Davis has an acceptance rate of 37.5%. For every 100 students who apply, about 38 are admitted. The other 62 receive a rejection.
In comparison to other schools, UC Davis’s acceptance rate makes it moderately selective. It’s more flexible with admissions than many other schools at the same level of excellence.
So, if you want to go to a top public university that isn’t extremely competitive, UC Davis is a great place to apply.
GPA and Test Scores
Students admitted to UC Davis have an average GPA of 4.03. To compete with other applicants, you’ll need to earn nearly straight A’s and be close to the top of your class.
If you live in California and rank in the top nine percent of California students, you are eligible for the Statewide Guarantee. You may also qualify for a local guarantee if you attend a participating California high school and are in the school’s top nine percent.
However, UC Davis does have a minimum GPA requirement. California residents must have a GPA of 3.0 or higher, and non-residents must have a GPA of at least 3.40.
UC Davis is test free for all freshman applicants through Fall 2024. That means they won’t consider SAT or ACT scores when making admission decisions or awarding scholarships. You won’t need test scores to apply to UC Davis, but you should still take the SAT/ACT for applications to other schools.
Ultimately, you shouldn’t feel discouraged from applying to UC Davis if your GPA isn’t quite a 4.03. There are many other factors UC Davis will consider when they evaluate your application.
What Other Qualities Does UC Davis Look For?
As the UC Davis website states, “You are more than your GPA.” They consider 13 holistic factors to review your achievements and personal characteristics, all in the context of the opportunities available to you and your “demonstrated capacity to contribute to the intellectual life at UC Davis.”
Many of these factors are related to academic performance, but others touch on your extracurricular and life experiences.
The 13 holistic factors UC Davis considers are:
- GPA in all completed A-G courses
- Performance in courses beyond required A-G courses
- Number of, and performance in honors, AP, IB, and transferable college courses
- Identification by UC as being ranked in the top nine percent of your high school class by the end of junior year
- Quality of your senior-year program
- Quality of your academic performance relative to the educational opportunities available in your high school
- Outstanding performance in one or more specific subject areas
- Outstanding performance in one or more special projects in any academic field of study
- Recent, marked improvement in academic performance
- Special talents, achievements, and awards in a particular field; special skills; special interests; experiences that demonstrate unusual promise for leadership; significant participation in community service or student government; or other significant experiences or achievements that demonstrate the student’s promise for contributing to the intellectual vitality of a campus
- Completion of special projects related to your high school curriculum or special school events, projects, or programs
- Academic accomplishments in light of your life experiences and special circumstances (e.g., low family income, veteran status, disabilities, first generation to attend college, difficult family situations, etc.)
- Location of your secondary school and residence
This means that even if your GPA is below UC Davis’s average, having exceptional grades or achievements in a specific area can help you stand out. If your grades were lower in your freshman and sophomore year, but you’ve shown improvement, UC Davis will take that into account too. The same is true of any hardships or special circumstances that may have kept you from reaching your full academic potential.
Additionally, this list demonstrates the importance of taking rigorous classes, getting involved in your community, demonstrating leadership, and participating in extracurricular activities. UC Davis wants to know that you’ll bring intelligence, enthusiasm, persistence, and your unique talents and interests to campus. Your GPA is important, but UC Davis will look beyond the numbers to find out who you really are.
What Should You Do in High School?
Now that we’ve shared lots of data and information, let’s take a deep dive into strategy: What can you do in high school to improve your chances of getting into UC Davis?
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Excel in Challenging Classes
To demonstrate that you can succeed at UC Davis, you must excel in the most challenging classes available at your high school.
That means taking AP and IB courses and showing that you can handle the coursework. Remember that the average GPA for students admitted to UC Davis is 4.03, so you’ll need to earn straight A’s in almost all your classes.
To keep your grades up, take notes in all your classes and review them weekly. Stay on top of your assignments and tests, and study thoroughly for your exams. Cramming is not recommended. If you’re struggling to understand the material or starting to fall behind, be proactive. Don’t wait for your grades to slip — ask for help from a teacher, tutor, or classmate who’s excelling in the class.
UC Davis also expects applicants to have:
- Two years of history
- Four years of English
- Three years of math
- Two years of science
- Two years of the same foreign language
- Two semesters or one full year of dance, music, theater, visual arts, or interdisciplinary arts
- Two semesters or one full year of a college preparatory elective
These requirements may also be satisfied by completing college courses or earning certain scores on approved AP or IB exams.
Pursue Your Passions
In addition to great performance in challenging courses, UC Davis values your unique talents, skills, interests, and achievements. Instead of putting together a class of similarly “well-rounded” students, UC Davis aims to build a diverse class of students who bring a variety of passions and abilities to campus.
So, what does that mean for your extracurricular participation?
Commit to a few activities that you genuinely love, then strive to make significant contributions, take on leadership roles, and earn related awards and recognition.
You don’t have to be great at everything. You simply need to find an area or areas that you enjoy and excel in. UC Davis wants to gain insight into who you are and how you will contribute to the campus community. Whatever you’re most passionate about, lean into it. Expand your involvement and ability in your favorite activities over time.
And along the way, keep a record of your extracurricular participation. Record when you started participating in an activity, contributions you made, leadership roles you held, and any related accomplishments. This will make it easier to thoroughly, accurately report your involvement on your UC Davis application.
On its list of holistic factors, UC Davis specifically mentions “experiences that demonstrate unusual promise for leadership” and “significant participation in student government.” So, it’s clear that UC Davis values promising leaders.
Leadership can mean formal roles, like class president or captain of the soccer team, or informal contributions, such as introducing new ideas for an organization at your school or spearheading a fundraising campaign. It can also involve leading initiatives in your community or mentoring young people.
As with your extracurricular activities, you don’t have to lead everything. Find one or two areas where you can manage more responsibility and offer helpful advice and guidance to others.
“Significant participation in community service” is also specifically mentioned on UC Davis’s list of important factors for application review. Additionally, serving your community shows leadership, initiative, and the likelihood that you’ll contribute to the campus community.
Serving your school, community, and the world obviously benefits others, and it will benefit you in many ways too — including demonstrating that you’re an excellent fit for UC Davis.
Join an existing initiative or service organization in your school or community, or even launch one of your own. Whatever you do, make a positive impact on others in a way that is meaningful and inspiring to you. Think about the problems in your school or community that are most important to you, along with social justice issues that you’re passionate about. Then, consider what you can do to make a difference.
In addition to recording your extracurricular participation, keep a record of your community service involvement. Write down what you did and why, how it made an impact, and how many hours you devoted to it. The admissions committee will see you that you have a lot to offer to UC Davis, and to the wider world after graduation.
UC Davis Application Process and Checklist
To apply to UC Davis, you must complete the UC Application. If you’re interested in other UC schools (like UCLA, Berkley, or UC Santa Barbara), you can apply to all of them with one application.
The application includes:
- High school transcripts
- Selection of campuses and majors (you can choose “Undecided” or “Undeclared” if uncertain about your major)
- AP and IB test scores if applicable
- Activities and awards
- Personal insight questions
Interviews are not part of the university’s admission process. Additionally, UC Davis does not require (or read) letters of recommendation. They may request letters from some students as part of a supplemental review, so be sure to check your email after applying. About 6% of applicants may also receive a Supplemental Review Questionnaire seeking more information.
UC Personal Insight Questions
Applicants to UC Davis must respond to four short-answer prompts, choosing from eight options. Each response is limited to a maximum of 350 words.
UC Davis says your responses should “elaborate upon any insights you gained or how your outlook, activities, commitment, or goals have been influenced.”
The eight short-answer prompts are:
- Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time.
- Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.
- What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?
- Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.
- Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?
- Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.
- What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?
- Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California?
To decide which prompts you should respond to, pay attention to any questions that immediately sparked an idea or captured your interest.
If you’re not sure, list a few ideas for each prompt. Don’t overthink it; just give yourself a few minutes to jot down whatever springs to mind. Which ideas are you most interested in writing about? Which ideas capture something important about who you are, something you think the admissions committee should know?
Tips for Writing the Personal Insight Essays
UC Davis offers a few tips for writing successful responses to these questions:
- Provide specific examples of experiences, accomplishments, etc. that occurred during or after high school that weren’t captured in your application.
- Focus on conveying your strengths and positive qualities.
- Write a first draft, leave it for a day or two, and return to make revisions. Read it aloud to catch awkward wording or other mistakes.
- Review your responses as if you were the one making the application decision. Is this the application of a future leader?
- Have a teacher, counselor, or other advisor check your responses for clarity.
They also share a few pitfalls to avoid:
- Writing about events that are long past
- Repeating information listed elsewhere in the application
- Listing accomplishments without explanation or detail
- Rambling, unfocused thoughts
- Being overly humorous, self-deprecating, or glorifying
For in-depth advice on each of the eight prompts, check out our post How to Write the UC Personal Insight Questions.
Should You Apply Early to UC Davis?
UC Davis does not offer Early Decision or Early Action. Applicants can start working on the UC application as early as August 1 and must submit the application October 1-November 30.
In December, you’ll get an email confirming that your application was successfully filed. You’ll receive a decision from UC Davis in mid-March.
Final Thoughts: How to Get Into UC Davis
UC Davis is a moderately selective university that receives over 100,000 applicants each year. To get in, you’ll need nearly straight A’s in challenging classes, demonstrated leadership ability, involvement in community service and extracurricular activities that you’re passionate about, and other strong personal qualities.
Here’s how to get into UC Davis, or at least increase your questions:
- Take challenging classes and earn a GPA of at least 4.03.
- Commit to extracurricular activities you’re passionate about, striving to make significant contributions, take on leadership roles, and earn related accomplishments, awards, or recognition.
- Serve others in ways that are meaningful and inspiring to you.
- When you write your essays, write in your authentic voice, include specific details, and share information and insights that can’t be found elsewhere in your application. Share your values and reflect on why these topics are meaningful to you, and be sure to proofread carefully.
When you combine your academic brilliance with these helpful tips, you’ll increase your chances of becoming a future UC Davis Aggie.