The University of California (UC) institution, renowned for its world-class education and cutting-edge research, offers an array of opportunities for students to pursue their academic dreams. Because of the prestigious reputation of UC schools, students from across the world are vying for one of its limited spaces reserved for out-of-state residents. During the last application cycle, the UC system received 245,768 applications across its nine campuses, and UCLA—the most competitive of its nine campuses—had an acceptance rate of 8.8%. With heightened legislative pressure to admit more in-state students, the competition for admission is fiercer than ever before.
Parents and students should note that the UC system does not accept the Common Application and instead requires students to apply through their own application portal, which differs from the Common Application in critical ways. Each UC campus operates independently, but they share a unified application portal through which students can select the UC school(s) that they are interested in applying to. Understanding the differences between these application systems and their significance is critical to achieving success in the admissions process.
If your student dreams of reading in Morrison Library at Berkeley or spending sunny afternoons at the many gardens on UCLA’s campus, here is what you need to know to set them up for success in the process:
1. The UC schools do not consider standardized test scores or letters of recommendation.
First and foremost, it is important to note what is not considered as a part of the UC application—namely, standardized test scores and letters of recommendation (though some schools or programs may request them as a supplemental portion of their application, depending on the major they intend to pursue). This means that admissions committees at UC schools place particular emphasis on a student’s grade point average (GPA). Additionally, since standardized test scores are not considered, students should focus on telling a cohesive story through their extracurriculars and compellingly presenting their unique voice through their Personal Insight Question (PIQ) responses to stand out amongst applicants.
2. UC schools ask Personal Insight Questions (PIQs) rather than traditional essay prompts.
For the written portion of their UC application, students are asked to answer Personal Insight Questions, which are aimed at gaining a more personal understanding of the student’s background, values, and perspectives. According to the UC website, students should approach these questions in the following way: “If we met face-to-face, what would you want us to know about you? These personal insight questions allow you to tell us. You could write about your creative side. Your thoughts on leadership. A challenge you’ve faced. Whatever questions you answer, make sure you show us your personality—just as you would in real life.” Students may choose four out of eight potential questions to answer, each with 350-word answers. Creativity and authenticity are the most important elements of strong PIQs—give the admissions committee information that only you can share!
3. Requirements for in-state and out-of-state applicants are slightly different.
For out-of-state applicants, the UC schools require a minimum GPA of 3.4 or higher in the 15 college-preparatory courses (A-G courses) with no grade lower than a C. This requirement is higher than the 3.0 required for in-state students. Consequently, applicants outside of California should independently research the A-G courses and requirements and be sure that they are maintaining top grades in those courses. The UC system also weights AP and IB courses in a student’s GPA, so it is advantageous for applicants to take those courses if their school offers them. While honors classes offered through an applicant’s school are not weighted, they do reflect positively on a student’s academic capabilities and are considered as a part of the holistic review of the student’s application.
4.There are exceptions to the admissions requirements.
Whether in-state or out-of-state, if your student fears they will not be able to meet the GPA requirements for UC admissions, their dreams of attending are not dashed! Each year, UC schools can admit a select number of students with extenuating circumstances who fall beneath the minimum requirements. This may include students who have been homeschooled or non-traditionally educated and those who have faced hardships that have impacted their academic performance. If a student believes that they fall into these categories, they should articulate their unique circumstances to the admissions committee in their PIQ responses.
5. The activities list allows students to provide 20 activities.
While the Common App Activities List allows students to list 10 activities and 5 awards or honors, the UC Activities List provides students the opportunity to list 20 activities, awards, and honors in one section. As students fill out the application, they should take advantage of the additional space to add the breadth of experiences they have had throughout their high school career. On the application, activities are broken into the following sections: Award or honor; Education preparation programs; Extracurricular activity; Other coursework; Work experience; and Volunteering/community service. This allows students to convey a variety of different types of involvements. After compiling the activities they want to include, students should be strategic about how they order their activities on their application—start with the most prestigious and those they are most proud of and work down from there.
Students applying to UC schools should embrace the UC application’s differences as an opportunity to strategically showcase their creativity, genuine interest, and commitment to their communities. Starting early and thinking creatively about how to build a profile that will impress admissions officers is the first step to admission at UCLA!
For more information about how to craft a compelling UC application, check out Command Education’s comprehensive guide to the UC Activities List!
Originally published on Forbes.