Tips for Admission to the University of California System

The University of California system has mostly seen an increase in admissions, especially for California residents since 2017. Nevertheless, admissions are still highly competitive, and gaining admission requires a lot of research and time spent on the application. After attending the UC Counselor Conference a few weeks ago, Green Ivy wanted to provide some insight in terms of how these universities make their application decisions and offer a few helpful tips for students who are applying this fall:

  1. UC admissions is an additive process.

Everything that you send in your application, including test scores and GPAs, will be used in a holistic process called comprehensive review. It is through this process that you will make a case for yourself. If you’ve taken multiple standardized tests, the UCs encourage you to submit any and all tests you’ve taken (even low test scores), as nothing will hurt your evaluation and will only be additive in your evaluation.

  1. Do research on the schools you’re applying to.

Each UC campus shared the latest data on their most recent application cycle. A common theme was that there was a general increase in the number of applicants at most UC schools since last year. Each campus uses comprehensive review as the standard set of admissions criteria, but each campus determines how each criterion weighs in the admissions process. For example, some schools take a close look at the major you select or the college you are applying to, so be clear in your understanding of what each school is looking for. There is typically an overflow of students with STEM interests who apply, and each campus is also looking for students to fit in other disciplines, so try to keep an open mind.

  1. Gather your materials to complete your application successfully.

Everything is self-reported in the UC admissions process. You should have the following information readily available when completing the application: household income and family information, academic records, descriptions of your role in extracurricular activities, explanation of community service or work experience with length of time spent, as well as a list of awards and honors with context. You will self-report standardized test scores on the application and then send have the official scores sent. However, you need to send your official score report to only one UC campus (even if applying to multiple campuses), and all campuses you apply to will receive it.

  1. Respond thoughtfully to the UC Personal Insight Questions.

Given that the UC system doesn’t accept letters of recommendation, the Personal Insight Questions (PIQs) are one of the few opportunities for you to self-advocate and set yourself apart from other applicants. You are given eight prompts and you are asked to write short answers to four of them. Your PIQ responses should directly address the prompt, providing context to and offering clarity on your application. There are no “good” or “bad” answers, and the criteria for evaluating PIQs fall into two categories: “missed opportunity” or “value added.” A “missed opportunity” response doesn’t provide much context about your experience, is focused more on structure than content, and centers on others’ narratives rather than your own. A “value added” response is focused on the impact on you and/or the impact you had on others, is centered around self, and provides specific examples. Important reminder: No decision is ever based on PIQs alone!


Here is an Undergraduate Admissions Application Guide provided by the University of California system for your reference.

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