UC Acceptance Rates & University of California Admissions Insights

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The University of California is a top-tier public research university system. It boasts 10 campuses, 5 medical centers, 3 national labs, and much more.

If you are interested in applying to the University of California, an understanding of the application process is key.

In this guide, we’ll give important information about the University of California system, in addition to details about the admissions process.

Whether you want to know about deadlines, financial aid, essay topics, or admission statistics, we’ve got you covered!

About the University of California

The University of California was founded in 1869, starting with only 10 faculty members and 38 students. Today, the school’s ten-campus system contains over 238,000 students and 190,000 faculty and staff.

These schools are regarded as some of the best public universities in the nation.

  • UC’s faculty have made pioneering innovations in computer science, architecture, biotechnology, and more, and they bring this knowledge to their classrooms.
  • The school’s website states that “Thousands of California jobs, billions of dollars in revenues, and countless everyday household items…can be traced back to UC discoveries.”

The university features dozens of concert halls, art galleries, botanical gardens, museums, marine centers, and observatories that serve as both academic resources and gathering places.

Tuition and Financial Aid for UC Admissions

UC has ten different campuses, so the cost of attendance varies slightly according to personal expenses and the campus you attend.

  • For California residents, the average cost of attendance (including tuition and fees, books, room and board, and transportation) is $34,700 if you live on campus. If you live off campus, the total is $31,600.
  • For non-residents, you can expect to pay about $61,444 if you live on campus and $58,344 if you live on campus.

Keep in mind, however, that you may qualify for financial aid to offset these costs. Over 2/3 of UC undergraduate students receive some sort of aid, with an average award of over $16,000.

UC also has the Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan, which “ensures that, at a minimum, tuition and fees are covered for eligible students with parent total incomes of $80,000 or less.”

Location: The UC Schools

The University of California’s ten campuses are:

  • UC Berkeley
  • UC Los Angeles (UCLA)
  • UC Santa Barbara
  • UC San Diego
  • UC Davis
  • UC Irvine
  • UC Santa Cruz
  • UC Riverside
  • UC Merced
  • UC San Francisco

These schools have many similar qualities: They’re research-oriented and especially strong in STEM, the social sciences, and the humanities. Most of them are large universities with at least 20,000 undergraduates. They tend to have diverse student bodies.

Below, we’ll provide a brief overview of each campus to give you an idea of where you might want to attend.

UC Berkeley

Probably the most respected of UC schools, Berkeley is located about 15 miles across the bay from San Francisco.

It’s the oldest among UC’s schools and has been ranked the #1 public university in the nation by U.S. News for 19 consecutive years. The school is known for its superstar faculty, gifted students, history of political activism, and eclectic student body.

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UCLA is located in an area of West Lost Angeles known as Westwood. Westwood creates a college-town feel with its assortment of restaurants and entertainment.

UCLA has the largest enrollment of the UC schools, with over 30,000 undergraduates. It’s also very spirited, with 96% of students living on campus and sports teams (the Bruins) with a large fan base and a winning history.

Notably, the faculty at UCLA boasts 13 Nobel Prize winners.

UC Santa Barbara

UC Santa Barbara has an undergraduate enrollment of about 20,000 students. UCSB’s location in the beach town of Isla Vista, just steps from the Pacific Ocean, gives it a more relaxed, “party” vibe.

Of course, not every student participates in the school’s alleged party culture.

Despite this reputation, UCSB also maintains excellent academics, ranking high for its impact in the sciences and its state-of-the-art autism treatment center.

UC San Diego

UC San Diego is located in northern San Diego, in a community known as La Jolla. Undergraduate enrollment totals 26,590, but the school has six residential colleges that manage to give it a smaller feel.

It’s a top-ranked school in earth and environmental research, and it holds the highest number of patents and inventions among UC schools.

The campus-culture is less involved than some other UC schools, but students still have a variety of options when it comes to extracurricular activities and student life.

UC Davis

UC Davis is located in a rural setting in Northern California. Davis is a small, friendly town surrounded by nature. Total undergraduate enrollment is 29,557.

The on-campus culture is active and spirited due to the small-town environment, and the school is ranked first in the world for veterinary medicine.

UC Irvine

Located in the affluent and safe city of Irvine, UCI has an undergraduate enrollment of 27,331. It’s a quieter, typically less-involved campus that uses a quarter system.

Strong programs at UCI include engineering, healthcare management, creative writing, and literary criticism and theory.

UC Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is a coastal city known for its redwood forests and coastline. The campus has a forest-setting, and students are known for being liberal. Undergraduate enrollment totals 15,742.

The smaller student population gives UC Santa Cruz a friendly feel. Students say that despite being a public university, UCSC feels like a liberal arts school with a progressive environment.

UC Riverside

Riverside is about 60 miles east of Los Angeles, and students have commented that the area around campus isn’t particularly nice. About 70% of the 19,799 undergraduate students are commuters.

Although UC Riverside doesn’t yet have the campus culture and prestige of the other UCs, it’s steadily improving. They’re continuously adding facilities, students, and highly regarded faculty members.

The student population is diverse, and the school provides a variety of helpful student resources.

UC Merced

The newest UC school, University of Californua Merced opened in 2005. It has the smallest enrollment, with 7,000 undergraduate students. The campus feels more like a close, tight-knit community.

The city of Merced is more rural, and some students feel that the campus is boring and offers few activities. At the same time, many students appreciate the opportunity to be part of creating the campus culture at UC Merced.

UC San Francisco

UC San Francisco is the only UC school that is exclusively a graduate and professional school.

Applying to University of California

Here’s everything you need to know about applying to the University of California.

Average Admitted Student

Statistics about a school’s average admitted students give you an idea of your chances of acceptance. Of course, UC has nine different undergraduate campuses, each with their own unique statistics.

  • The least selective UC school is also the newest: UC Merced. UC Merced accepts 73.7% of applicants. The most selective UC school is UC Berkeley, closely followed by UCLA. They accept 17.5% and 18% of applicants, respectively.

The remaining UC schools range from a 35.9% acceptance rate (UC San Diego) to a 66.2% acceptance rate (UC Riverside).

This means that average GPAs and SAT scores vary by campus. To give you an idea, here are a few statistics:

  • At the most selective school, UC Berkeley, the average high school GPA is 3.87. Average SAT scores range from 1250-1540. At UCLA, the average high school GPA is 4.33, while the SAT scores range from 1150-1480.
  • UC Santa Barbara, one of the more mid-range UCs, accepts students with an average GPA of 4.02 and SAT scores ranging from 1140-1440. The slightly less selective UC Davis has an average high school GPA of 3.99 and SAT scores with a range of 1050-1400.

At the least selective school, UC Merced, the average GPA is 3.5 and SAT scores range from 860-1100.

These numbers should give you an idea of which UC schools might be the best fit for you.


UC deadlines are the same for all nine campuses.

  • The application for fall 2018 will open on August 1st. All applications must be submitted by November 30th, and applicants will receive a decision by March 31st.

By May 1st, accepted students must submit their Statement of Intent to Register (SIR). Admitted students must send final transcripts by July 1st.

This means that if you are admitted, you can’t relax and let up on your studies. You will need to send final transcripts to UC, and if your grades slip, the offer can be revoked.

How to Apply: A Summary of UC Admissions

You can fill out just one application to apply to all nine UC schools. However, you should only select schools that you would actually want to attend.

The application fee for each school you indicate on the application is $70. If this represents a financial hardship, you can apply for a fee waiver online. However, this fee waiver can only be applied to up to four UC schools.

UC does not use the Common Application, the Coalition Application, or any other application system. Instead, the UC admissions system uses its own application.

To fill out this application, you will need:

  • Transcripts
  • Test scores (don’t forget about ACT/SAT prep!)
  • Information about activities, volunteer work, special honors, and awards, etc.
  • Annual income (if applying for a fee waiver or the Educational Opportunity Program)
  • Social Security number
  • California Statewide Student ID

During UC admissions, you will self-report your grade. There’s no need to send transcripts as part of the application process.

  • However, if you are admitted to UC, you will then be required to submit your final transcripts to the admissions office of your particular campus.
  • Of course, your offer may be revoked if these numbers are different than those reported on your application.

UC does not require nor read letters of recommendation. Later, as part of a supplemental review, a campus may request letters of recommendation.

  • For testing, UC requires the ACT with Writing or the SAT with the Reasoning Test. You must also report scores for any SAT Subject Tests, AP, IB, TOEFL, or IELTS exams that you have taken.
  • When you send SAT/ACT test scores to UC, they will go to all UC campuses.

UC states that it considers all aspects of the application thoroughly, including how well each student has made use of the resources and opportunities available within the context of his community and personal circumstances.

It’s very important that you fill out the application accurately, as any discrepancies can result in acceptance being revoked or a student being expelled from school (if they have already enrolled).

Personal Insight Questions

The “Personal Insight Questions” are part of the UC application. These questions are designed to help admissions officers better understand your “experiences, interests, ambitions, and inspirations.”

There are eight questions, and you must choose four of them to answer. All questions are counted equally, so there are no “right” or “wrong” selections.

  • UC’s website advises students to choose the questions that are most relevant to their experiences and best reflect their individual circumstances.
  • For each question, students have a maximum word limit of 350 words. You should view these questions as an admissions interview. It’s important for your own voice to shine through.

The university website states, “…it’s about you. It’s not an English essay. Use ‘I’ statements…It’s your one opportunity to ensure we get to know you.” They also advise you to be “reflective” and “open.”

For incoming freshmen, these questions include:

  • 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 stand out as a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California?

After Applying

Once you submit your application, it will be reviewed by each of the UC campuses to which you have applied.

It’s a good idea for you to apply to some of the more selective UC schools (Berkeley and UCLA), some of the mid-range schools, and — if you would like to attend these schools as well — some of the less selective options, such as UC Merced.

  • This increases your chances of admission to at least one of the UC schools.

Each campus will evaluate your application without knowing the application status at other campuses. This means decisions on accepting or rejecting your application are made on an independent basis, and are not related to decisions on other campuses.

Once you have submitted your application, UC advises that you print a copy of the application for your records.

  • Make sure you send your official SAT/ACT test scores. Remember that if you send your score reports to one campus, they’ll be available for all the campuses to which you’ve applied.

If you need to update your application, this can be accomplished easily by simply logging into the application and making the necessary changes. It’s also important for you to check your email regularly, as this is how UC communicates with students during the application process.

  • After the application is submitted, you must notify UC if you transfer schools, add or drop a course, or earn a grade lower than a “C” in any course.
  • This can be done by email or postal mail, and the letter must include your name and application ID, as well as a signature if the letter is mailed.

Once the offer of admission is accepted, you must send final, official transcripts and test scores to the campus you plan to attend. Transcripts must be postmarked by July 1st, and test scores must be received by July 5th.

Conclusion: UC Acceptance Rate & Admissions

The University of California has ten campuses, nine of which accept undergraduates.

While the campuses have different personalities and advantages, they’re all part of one of the most impressive public universities in the world.

To apply, you have to fill out only one application, which can be found on UC’s website. You may use this application to apply to as many UC schools as you would like, although you will have to pay a $70 application fee for each.

  • UC also requires your transcripts, SAT/ACT scores, and responses to four Personal Insight questions. Letters of recommendations are not required nor read.

The deadline to apply is November 30th. Keep in mind that the requirements and selectivity of UC schools vary by campus. To increase your chances of admission, apply to several UC schools that you find appealing.

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