The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) is a public research university in the twin cities of Urbana and Champaign. Founded in 1867, UIUC is ranked the fifteenth best public university in the United States. It enrolls over 51,000 students from all 50 states and more than 100 countries.
UIUC is known as a world-class leader in research, teaching, and public engagement. It is a major center for both research endeavors and the arts, and many faculty and alumni are Nobel Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winners. The university offers nearly 5,000 courses in more than 150 fields of study.
With its reputation for innovation, opportunity, and academic excellence, it’s no surprise that many students are drawn to UIUC.
In this guide, we’ll use data and information provided by UIUC to help you understand what it takes to earn a seat at this accomplished university.
We’ll discuss grades, test scores, extracurricular participation, essays, and other qualities that UIUC values in its prospective students.
By the end of this guide, we hope you’ll have a clear, strategic plan on how to organize your high school career and application to earn an acceptance letter from UIUC!
Is It Hard to Get Into UIUC?
Although UIUC is an excellent school, admission to the university is not as competitive as you might expect. The admissions rate is about 45%.
That means for every 100 students who apply, 45 are admitted, and 55 are rejected. In comparison to other schools, UIUC is moderately selective.
Interestingly, the average GPA and test scores for UIUC’s admitted students are somewhat competitive. This may suggest that while the university admits under half of its applicants, most students who apply to UIUC have strong academic backgrounds.
GPA and Test Scores for UIUC
UIUC does not officially report an average GPA for admitted students. However, it’s estimated that students admitted to UIUC have an average GPA of 3.83. You will need mostly A’s on your transcript to be strongly considered for admission.
Of course, grades are only one of many factors that colleges consider. If your GPA is lower than 3.83, and it’s too late in your college career to significantly improve it, you should aim for above-average scores on the SAT and ACT.
The average ACT score for students admitted to UIUC is 29. The 25th percentile score is 26, and the 75th percentile score is 32. Because UIUC is only moderately selective, having a solid GPA and test scores in the 75th percentile will almost guarantee you admission. If your GPA isn’t as high as you’d like, scoring in the 75th percentile or higher still gives you a very good chance of admission.
Now, let’s look at an SAT score breakdown for students admitted to UIUC.
|Section||Average||25th Percentile||75th Percentile|
For the best chance of acceptance to UIUC, you should have a:
- GPA of 83, preferably higher
- SAT score of 1480+ (with a 780 in Math and a 700 in Reading)
- OR an ACT score of 32+
However, the numbers make it clear that some students with lower scores still get accepted to UIUC. Ideally, you’ll have an above-average GPA and test scores that fall in the 75th percentile. But if you fall slightly short of these metrics, there are other factors UIUC considers important too.
What Other Qualities Does UIUC Look For?
According to UIUC’s website, the university aims to select a diverse range of students who have challenged themselves academically and shown commitment to activities and service expected of UIUC alumni. In addition to numbers, the university considers:
- How your goals, interests, backgrounds, and experiences fit the college/program you’re applying for
- Why you’re applying to a specific college/program
- Level of impact and accomplishment in your school, community, state, or nation
- Qualities such as leadership ability, creativity, perseverance, generosity, motivation, determination, concern, and intellectual curiosity
- Your background, including geographic location, veteran status, diversity, and first-generation status
The university’s website also explains, “Admissions and college professionals review [applications] using a holistic approach. Primary among these criteria are academic performance and rigor. The other sections of the application will be given equal, thoughtful, and careful attention. Applicants should understand that every word of the application is considered in making an admissions decision, being sure to present themselves and their stories accurately and completely.”
If you demonstrate the qualities UIUC values throughout your application, you’ll stand out to the UIUC admissions committee. Shining in these areas can help balance out slightly lower numbers. And if your numbers are already on point, excelling in these areas too makes you an extremely strong candidate for admission!
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What Should You Do in High School?
So, based on this information from the university, what should you do in high school to prepare for admission to UIUC?
Take Challenging Classes
UIUC emphasizes that both academic performance and rigor are especially important. This means you should take (and excel in) the most challenging classes at your school. If your school offers AP and/or IB classes, enroll in as many of these courses as you can reasonably manage. If you already know what you’d like to major in, or what specific college you plan to apply to, you should also focus on taking as many related courses as possible.
But what if your school doesn’t offer many AP/IB courses? UIUC’s website explains that they assess your performance within the context of your school, “recognizing that different high schools provide different levels of opportunity.” If you take the most challenging classes available to you, UIUC will recognize your efforts.
You should also make sure you meet UIUC course requirements, including:
- 4 years of English
- 3 or 3.5 years of Math (4 recommended)
- 2 years of Social Sciences (4 recommended)
- 2 years of Lab Sciences (4 recommended)
- 2 years of Foreign Language (4 recommended)
- 2 years of additional academic units (4 recommended)
And of course, it’s important to do well in all your classes. Turn in your assignments on time, take notes and review them weekly, and study thoroughly. If you struggle with any concepts or begin to fall behind, seek help from the teacher, students who excel in the class, or a tutor. Be proactive in addressing any difficulties in your classes before they damage your GPA.
Prep for the SAT/ACT
UIUC accepts both the SAT and ACT, with no preference given to either test. If you take the ACT, unlike the SAT, you can choose to send only your highest score.
If you take the SAT, UIUC will superscore your exam. That means if you take the SAT more than once, UIUC will combine your highest scores in each section to form a superscore.
Currently, UIUC is test-optional for all first-year applicants. If you choose not to submit test scores, it won’t put you at a disadvantage. However, UIUC states, “We encourage you to report your scores if you feel they accurately represent your ability.” If you choose to report your scores, you will self-report them on your application. You can also have official scores sent directly.
Based on UIUC’s website, it’s a good idea to take the SAT and/or ACT, see how you perform, and decide whether you want to submit them. If you have a lower GPA, good test scores can help improve your chances of admission. Even if your GPA is high, a strong performance on the SAT/ACT can further boost your competitiveness.
Give yourself plenty of time to prepare for the exam you decide to take. Start by taking a practice test to get a baseline and identify your areas of strength and weakness. As the test date gets closer, begin drilling down on your areas of weakness. Continue taking practice tests so you can adjust your study plan as needed. If possible, purchase a test prep book and/or take a test prep course. And if you don’t get a solid score the first time, take the SAT/ACT multiple times and try to improve.
Participate in Extracurricular Activities
UIUC will also look at your extracurricular participation, including school-related experiences, community service, and summer activities. Remember that UIUC wants to see qualities like “leadership ability, creativity, perseverance, generosity, motivation, determination, concern, and intellectual curiosity” demonstrated through your extracurricular activities.
Their website also says, “If you know what major you want to pursue, seek out experiences and opportunities related to it now. Doing so will not only show your passion and motivation, but it will also help you get a feel for your potential field. If you don’t know what you want to do yet, this is your chance to explore any areas of interest you might have.”
Instead of aiming for a long list of extracurriculars or seeking out activities you assume will look “impressive,” simply pursue your passions. Find activities that allow you to explore, learn, and grow in these areas. UIUC also values “long-term commitment,” so find what you love and commit to it. At the same time, try to take on leadership roles and make a positive impact through your involvement.
Keep an ongoing record of your extracurricular involvement, including when your participation starts and ends, what role you held, and any contributions you made. This way, it’ll be much easier to provide a complete, detailed list of your extracurricular activities when you apply to UIUC.
Serve Your Community
As a land-grant university, UIUC’s mission is to serve the citizens of Illinois. They are looking for students with a heart for community service. Community service is also a valuable way to grow as an individual, so it’s important to find meaningful ways to contribute to your school and/or community.
Look for areas of need in your school and community. Are there social issues you care about? Problems in your community that you can help address? Necessary improvements to your school that you can advocate for? Whatever it is, demonstrate that you’re driven to make a difference and that you care about the people around you.
Like your extracurricular involvement, keep a record of your community service involvement and the results you helped achieve. By making an impact now, you’ll show the UIUC admissions committee that you’re a valuable student to have on campus.
UIUC Application Process and Checklist
You have three options for applying to UIUC. You can apply through the university application myIllini, or through the Common App or Coalition App. The university has no preference for which application you choose, so pick the format that makes the most sense to you.
When you apply, you will select your first-choice major and—if you choose to—your second-choice major. Keep in mind that your application will be evaluated in comparison to students applying to the same major(s), not in comparison to all UIUC applicants.
Relevant interests, experiences, and talents will strengthen your application to your chosen major(s). You will only be admitted to your second choice if you aren’t considered a competitive applicant for your first choice.
You’ll need a copy of your high school transcript, any test scores you choose to report, and a credit card to pay your application fee. On the application, you’ll self-report your grades and test scores. You don’t have to send official transcripts or score reports unless you decide to enroll at UIUC.
No matter which application format you choose, your UIUC application will include:
- Self-reported courses and grades
- Self-reported test scores (currently optional)
- Selection of first choice and second-choice major (the second choice is optional but recommended)
- Two to three short-answer prompts, depending on which major(s) you select
- List of activities, honors, and distinctions
UIUC does not require letters of recommendation or interviews. However, if you apply to a talent-based major like art, music, dance, or theatre, you will have to complete an audition or submit a portfolio.
UIUC Short Answer Questions
The short answer questions you will respond to depend on whether you’re applying to a major or an undeclared program, and whether you’ve opted to select a second choice. Each short-answer response should be no more than 150 words.
If You’re Applying to a Major:
- In the past 3 to 4 years, what experience(s) have you had (inside or outside of the classroom) related to your selected first-choice major or academic interest?
- How does your selected first-choice major relate to your future career goals?
If You’re Applying to UIUC’s Undeclared Program in the Division of General Studies:
- What are your academic interests and strengths? You may also include any majors you are considering.
- What are your future academic or career goals?
If You Selected a Second Choice Major:
- Please explain your interest in your second-choice major or your overall academic or career goals.
As part of your UIUC application, you will also answer one longer-form essay. The essay topics and length will depend on which application format you use. Essays may be anywhere from 250 to 650 words.
If you apply through the Coalition App or Common App, you will choose one of their provided essay topics. If you apply through myIllini, you will respond to one of the five following topics:
- Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
- Describe a time when you made a meaningful contribution to others in which the greater good was your focus. Discuss the challenges and rewards of making your contribution.
- Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
- Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
- Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.
UIUC’s advice for writing both your short responses and your essay includes:
- Stick to the topic. Show that you understand what you’re being asked, and tell the admissions committee exactly what they want to know.
- Directly reference your own experiences. Include personal details, explaining both what the experience was and how it impacted you.
- Be concise. Too many words can confuse the reader and detract from the point of your essay, so cut unnecessary words and anything irrelevant or repetitive.
- Be yourself. Letting your voice shine through really does make a difference. For most of the application, you’ve ticked all the same boxes and answered all the same questions as every other applicant. The written portion is your chance to show who you really are. Thousands of kids will write the same “cookie-cutter fluff,” but you’re the only person who can tell your story.
- Edit, edit, edit! Check spelling, grammar, concision, and clarity. Make sure your voice can be “heard” when someone reads your essay. It’s a good idea to have a parent, friend, or teacher review your work to catch any errors you missed and let you know if you’ve lost your voice.
Should You Apply Early to UIUC?
UIUC offers both priority admission and regular admission. The priority admission deadline is typically November 1, while the regular admission deadline falls around January 5.
Regardless of when you apply, you’ll receive your decision on February 25. In the past, priority admission applicants have received an earlier decision. This policy changed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and UIUC may return to this policy in the future.
UIUC’s priority admission is not binding, which means you aren’t required to accept an offer of admission. However, applying early can give you the best chance of being admitted to UIUC’s most selective programs. It can also give you special consideration for merit awards and admission to honors programs.
It’s worth applying early to UIUC if:
- It’s one of your top choices
- You’re concerned about your chances of acceptance
- You haven’t applied to any binding Early Decision programs
Applying early can give you an edge, especially for highly competitive majors, and increase your chances of earning admission to UIUC.
Final Thoughts: How to Get Into UIUC
UIUC is a moderately selective school, but it’s still important to take your high school career and the application process seriously if you want to ensure that you receive an acceptance letter.
Take challenging classes and earn a high GPA. Aim for at least a 3.83. Strive for a 1480 on the SAT or a 32 on the ACT. Pursue your passions through extracurricular activities, taking on leadership roles and making positive contributions. If you know what major you want to apply to, it’s also important to find relevant activities and experiences to show your commitment to your field of study.
Serve your school, community, or the nation in ways that you find meaningful. When you write your essays, address the topic, include your personal experiences and their impact on you, let your genuine voice shine through, and remember to revise and polish your work.
If you’re serious about getting into UIUC, applying early is a great way to increase your chances. It’s non-binding, so you aren’t required to accept an offer of admission.
In short, UIUC is looking for a diverse student body committed to community service, leadership, and creativity. They want students who challenge themselves academically and excel. If that sounds like you, let these qualities shine through in your application, and you’ll have a great chance of joining the next class of UIUC!