apply to university of california

Part Two of a Three Part Series

Last week I shared six of the most common questions I receive about developing credentials for the University of California application process. Today, I continue this series with six more FAQs.

Understanding the Application

1. My grades and test scores are [higher/lower] than the published average for my favorite UC. Does this mean I [will/won’t] get in?

The UCs proudly practice holistic review, which means numbers – your GPA and test scores – are only a part of the process. Your academic record will allow you to be considered competitively for admission, but the final decision will be based on your perceived impact on the campus community, both in and out of the classroom.

Students with perfect numbers but little else to recommend themselves might not seem as appealing as students with a slightly lower GPA but dynamic engagement beyond academics. Similarly, even if you are the best cellist since Yo-Yo Ma and played at Chelsea Clinton’s wedding, you may not stand out if your grades and test scores don’t complement your extracurricular talents.

If your grades and scores align with the published averages, great – it means you are qualified to be seriously considered. But you’ll earn admission based on your many other qualities, so approach your application thoughtfully and with plenty of time to highlight what makes you special.

If your grades and scores are lower than the published averages, you can still be admitted. After all, about half the enrolling class is on the bottom half of that average figure. But realize that if your grades and test scores don’t distinguish you in the pool – what else will?

2. Admission to engineering at Berkeley is really competitive. Can I apply to L&S then transfer?

I would not advise this sort of “back door” strategy. There are certain programs on each campus that are known to be particularly selective, with engineering at Berkeley being just one example. Those programs will be filled with a particularly strong group of incoming freshmen. If you believe you won’t stand out in that group as a high school senior, what do you think will be different if you apply for an internal transfer as a sophomore or junior?

Even if space allows for some students to transfer internally, it is unwise to assume you will have that choice. Maybe you will – but more likely you won’t.

If your goal is the university itself – regardless of program – then it might be wise to consider a less competitive point of entry. But if your goal is to pursue a specific course of study, I would not gamble with your options by trying to find a back door; apply for the programs you really want, and make your final decision from among those programs where you are accepted.

3. Admission to my favorite UC is really competitive. Can I start at my local community college then transfer?

Yes! This is such a clear and common “back door” that it isn’t actually a back door at all. All the UCs hold a significant number of spots each year for upper-level transfer students from community colleges. In fact, the California Master Plan for Higher Education requires that community college students get first priority as transfers; competitive applicants from Foothill College or Los Angeles Trade-Tech College will be considered for admission before students from nearby Stanford or USC.

Transfers will be expected to complete not only their general breadth requirements but also begin work on their major-specific requirements during their time in community college. When applying for junior-level transfer, high school grades and standardized test scores will not be considered.

For advice on transferring colleges, check out our recent post about transferring from a two-year to four-year college.

4. Which scholarships should I apply for?

This is totally up to you! The UC application allows you to be considered for up to 16 scholarships. Your choice here has absolutely no impact on your admissions outcomes.

If you qualify for more than 16 scholarships, I suggest you select the most unique. There are probably more kids competing for the “girl” scholarship than for the “Capricorns named Chris who are left-handed” scholarship. (No those aren’t real scholarships… sorry Chris.)

5. Where and when do I send my transcript?

During the application process, the UCs don’t actually want to see your transcript. You’ll be asked to self-report all your grades in a very specific form. No +/- indications, entering the course exactly as it’s listed in your school’s course catalog, filing your summer courses in a separate place…but it’s all data entry on your part.

If you choose to enroll at a UC campus, that campus will ask for a copy of your final transcript after graduation. You’ve been admitted conditionally on the assumption that you’ll maintain similar grades. So your college wants to not only confirm your completion, but also make sure you haven’t completely slacked off senior year!

6. Will the less-selective UCs hold it against me that I also applied to UCLA and Berkeley?

No. This is one of the most common urban legends students ask about. But no – individual campuses are not trying to predict your likelihood of enrollment by seeing where else in the system you’ve applied.

Stay tuned for Part Three of our UC application advice!


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Written by Becky Leichtling
Becky Leichtling is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Becky is a graduate of the Stanford Graduate School of Education; prior to joining College Coach, Becky was a senior admissions officer at Tufts University and Carleton College.