Do you want to know how to get into UCSD? You’re in the right place.
At Transizion, we’re devoted to guiding students through the college application process. We research a wide range of schools and give you the highlights so that you can devote more time and energy to acing your classes and crafting an extraordinary application.
This post will tell you everything you need to know before you apply to the University of California. We’ll cover academics, essay prompts, and what UCSD is looking for. Let’s dive in.
About UC San Diego
The University of California is a public university system with ten campuses; nine of these ten campuses are open to undergraduates. Although San Diego is one of the younger campuses – it was founded in 1960, just five years before the youngest UC campuses of Santa Cruz and Irvine – it’s the third largest in terms of enrollment. There are about 8,500 students in each incoming class.
This top-ranking university offers over 140 undergraduate majors and over 500 student organizations. One third of undergraduate students study abroad in countries all over the world. UCSD’s most renowned programs include Earth and Environmental Research, Neuroscience, Bioengineering, Oceanography, Atmospheric Sciences, and Meteorology.
UC San Diego has eight distinct colleges, each with its own general education curriculum, restaurant, and residential neighborhood. These colleges will not restrict your choice of major; they exist primarily to create a sense of community within a university that has over thirty thousand undergraduates. You can visit the UCSD website for more information about the individual colleges.
Is it Hard to Get into UCSD?
Over eighty thousand students apply to UC San Diego each year. In Fall of 2022, UCSD had an admittance rate of 23.7%. If you want to attend UCSC, you’ll need to be one of the top students at your high school and excel at pursuits outside of school as well.
Even though there is one standardized application for the University of California, each UC campus handles admissions separately. Students can apply to as many campuses as they want to, provided that they pay a separate fee for each one. Campuses do not look at how many other schools you’ve applied to or share their admission decisions with each other.
GPA Requirements and Averages
The University of California has a GPA requirement of 3.0 for California residents and 3.4 for nonresidents. If you want to go to UCSD, though, you should aim for a GPA of 4.2 or higher.
Students admitted to UCSD in the Fall of 2022 had a middle 50 percentile range of 4.12 – 4.30.
Standardized Tests: SAT or ACT?
UCSD does not require or consider SAT or ACT scores.
In May 2020, the University of California announced that it would suspend standardized testing score requirements in admissions until 2024. One year later, the University of California announced that this change would be permanent: the University of California does not consider SAT or ACT scores in its admissions or scholarship decisions.
What Does UCSD Look For?
On the UCSD website they write, “We’re looking for students who represent strong academic achievement, exceptional personal talent and the broad diversity of abilities, personal experience and backgrounds characteristic of California.”
Here is the official list of things that the University of California considers:
- Academic grade point average in all completed A-G courses, including additional points for completed UC-certified honors courses.
- Number of, content of and performance in academic courses beyond the minimum A-G requirements.
- Number of and performance in UC-approved honors, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate Higher Level and transferable college courses.
- Identification by UC as being ranked in the top 9 percent of your high school class at the end of your junior year (Eligible in the Local Context, or ELC).
- Quality of your senior-year program as measured by the type and number of academic courses in progress or planned.
- 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 work in one or more special projects in any academic field of study.
- Recent, marked improvement in academic performance as demonstrated by academic GPA and the quality of coursework completed or in progress.
- Special talents, achievements and awards in a particular field, such as visual and performing arts, communication or athletic endeavors; special skills, such as demonstrated written and oral proficiency in other languages; special interests, such as intensive study and exploration of other cultures; experiences that demonstrate unusual promise for leadership, such as significant community service or significant participation in 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 undertaken in the context of your high school curriculum or in conjunction with special school events, projects or programs.
- Academic accomplishments in light of your life experiences and special circumstances, including but not limited to: disabilities, low family income, first generation to attend college, need to work, disadvantaged social or educational environment, difficult personal and family situations or circumstances, refugee status or veteran status.
- Location of your secondary school and residence.
Activities and Awards
The University of California is looking for students who demonstrate “academic achievement, personal talent and a drive for discovery and transformation.” In the Activities and Awards section of the University of California application, applicants are given the opportunity to list important experiences that they’ve had outside of the classroom.
Each item should fall into one of these six categories:
- Community Service
- Work Experience
- Educational Preparation Programs
- Other Coursework
- Extracurricular Activities
- Awards and Honors
You’ll have more room to expand on some of these in the university’s essay section.
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Personal Insight Questions
The University of California calls their supplemental essay prompts Personal Insight Questions. The university stresses that these questions are your chance to showcase “your personality, background, interests and achievements in your own unique voice.”
Don’t forget to proofread! Write in a genuine tone that’s not stilted or overly formal, and then ensure that there are no errors. It’s always a good idea to get a second (third, forth) pair of eyes to make sure that you haven’t missed anything.
There are eight questions, and applicants must choose exactly four to respond to with short essays of 350 words or less. Consider carefully, and choose the questions that allow you to paint a picture of who you are without repeating yourself between questions. There’s also an additional comments field where you can explain any extenuating circumstances that may have affected your performance in high school.
- Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time.
Even if you’ve never been a team captain or student body president, there may be significant leadership roles in your life that you can draw on for this question. Have you ever organized an important event or community service project? Do you have younger siblings who look up to you? Have you mentored other students and helped them reach their goals?
There are many ways to be a leader, and the ability to listen to other people and work well in a group are some of the most important leadership skills a person can have. This is your chance to explain how taking initiative has helped you to learn and grow as a person and what that experience meant to you.
- 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.
This wide-open question is a great opportunity to showcase something really unique. If you can relate it to your choice of major, do that. Either way, make it memorable.
Even if you don’t think of yourself as an artist, there’s something in your life that you can hold up as an example of original and innovative thinking. Maybe it was a successful business idea or a creative solution to a problem in your community. Whatever you choose to write about, be sure to use plenty of vivid details and describe how this creativity has positively affected your life and the lives of those around you.
- What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?
Remember, there’s something more important than the talent you choose to describe, and that’s your ability to describe why it means something to you. What opportunities has your skillset created, and how have you taken advantage of them?
Did you have to work hard to develop this talent? If so,that’s worth a mention. But remember: universities are much more interested in the present and the recent past than they are in something that happened years ago.
- Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.
The University describes an educational opportunity as “anything that has added value to your educational experience and better prepared you for college.” If you listed educational preparation programs or other coursework up above, this is your chance to elaborate on one of those things and explain how it’s prepared you for your chosen field.
If you choose instead to write about any educational barriers you may have faced, write about how you overcame them – or how you’re still striving to overcome them by obtaining a college education. Focus on the skills and character traits that have helped you along the way.
- 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?
This is another opportunity to talk about obstacles you’ve faced and what those experiences have taught you. Focus on the lessons learned and how you’ve grown as a person. UCSD wants “students with maturity, determination and insight who have had to overcome challenging circumstances.”
Remember, there’s an additional section in which you can explain how any barriers have affected your application – so don’t waste space on that here. If you choose to write about a barrier, make sure that you end with a description of how these obstacles have helped to shape the person you are today.
- Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.
This is a great place to show that you’re a great fit for your chosen major. You can write about how you first discovered your passion for the subject and how you’ve explored it. Don’t forget to include experiences that you’ve had outside the classroom, like volunteer work or summer programs.
Infuse this section with personality by describing why this subject is so important to you. If you can, include why your passion and aptitude for this subject will help you to excel in college and on your chosen career path.
- What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?
Universities want to know what you’ll add to their communities, and this is your chance to tell them just what you have to offer. You can write about your high school, neighborhood, faith, volunteer organization – whichever community is the most meaningful to you. How have you solved problems and helped those around you?
Once you’ve described your community and what you’ve done to help, go deeper. What inspired you to take action? Did you take initiative on your own or work alongside your friends and neighbors? What did those experiences teach you, and how have you grown as a person?
- 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?
This final question gives you the opportunity to describe anything you want them to know about you that you haven’t had the chance to cover elsewhere in your application.
The University of California doesn’t accept letters of recommendation or other supplemental information, so this is your last chance to make a lasting impression. What sets you apart from the crowd? How can you communicate what a good fit you would be for UCSD?
UCSD Portfolio Review
In addition to the standard University of California application, UC San Diego solicits audition videos and/or portfolios from students applying to Music, Theatre & Dance, or Visual Arts. Applicants who choose one of these majors on the UC Application will be provided with a link to submit these videos online. They will be reviewed by faculty in the major of your choice.
Should You Apply Early to UCSD?
Application opens for applicants in August and all applications must be submitted by the end of November. There is no advantage to applying early – just make sure to give yourself plenty of time to perfect your responses to the personal insight questions and turn them in before the deadline.
Final Thoughts: How to Get into UCSD
Students in the top nine percent of California high school graduates are guaranteed a spot at the University of California, but not necessarily at their campus of choice. If you’re set on UCSD, you’ll want to earn a GPA of 4.2 or higher. You’ll also need to excel in pursuits outside of school – ideally activities that have a clear connection to your chosen field of study.
You’ll need to craft a truly exceptional application to earn admittance to UCSD. If you’re feeling a little lost on how to do that, please reach out. We’re here to help.