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  • Writer's pictureMichele Coleman

UC’s Part 3: An In-Depth Look Into the 13 Factors of Holistic Comprehensive Review

In Parts 1 & 2 we took a brief look at the 13 Factors of Comprehensive Review.  Now let’s take a more in-depth look at some of these factors. It's important to note that not all campuses weigh these factors equally.

The 13 Factors Explained

1.    Academic grade point average in all completed A-G courses, including additional points for completed UC-certified honors courses. Completing A-G courses with a grade of "C" or better demonstrates that you have a strong foundation in the core academic areas needed to succeed at a UC campus.

Here's a breakdown of the A-G subject areas:

  • English (A): Four years of college-preparatory English courses are required. These courses focus on developing critical reading, writing, and communication skills.

  • Mathematics (B): Three years of college-preparatory math courses are required, including Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II (or equivalent courses). Four years are recommended to prepare for the quantitative demands of many majors.

  • History/Social Science (C): Two years of history/social science courses are required, three years are recommended.

  • Laboratory Science (D): Two years of laboratory science courses are required. These courses should focus on two of the following three areas: Biology, Chemistry, or Physics. Interdisciplinary or Earth and Space Sciences can also fulfill one year of the requirement. Three years of science is recommended, especially for students pursuing science or engineering majors.

  • Language Other Than English (E): Two years of coursework in the same language other than English is required. Three to four years are recommended.

  • Visual and Performing Arts (F): One year of a visual or performing arts course is required.

  • College Preparatory Electives (G): One year of college preparatory electives is required. This can be any elective course that is not included in the other A-G categories.

Here are some resources where students can find additional A-G courses outside their traditional high school setting:

  • Accredited Online High Schools: Many online high schools offer fully accredited A-G courses. One popular option includes: the University of California Scout -

  • Community Colleges

  • Dual Enrollment Programs: Many community colleges offer dual enrollment programs, where high school students can take college-level courses that may also count for A-G credit.

  • Self-Study with Exam Preparation

  • Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB): Students can self-study for AP or IB courses. The College Board (for AP) and International Baccalaureate (for IB) websites offer materials and guidance. Successfully passing the associated exams can often satisfy A-G requirements.

Things to Consider

  • Not all honors courses offered by your high school will be UC-approved. Visit the UC A-G Course List by High School to search for the classes at your high school.

  • Cost: Online courses, summer schools, and self-study resources can all have varying costs.

  • Accreditation and A-G Approval: It's vital to check whether the courses from these sources are A-G approved by the UCs.

  • Credits: Make sure to check with your high school counselor to confirm how any external course credits will transfer toward your high school graduation requirements.

2.    Number of, content of, and performance in all A-G subject areas beyond the minimum requirements. The UCs want to see that you've challenged yourself with more rigorous coursework. This could include upper-level electives, independent study projects, or courses outside of your core academic interests.


3.    Number of and performance in UC-approved honors, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate Higher Level, and transferable college courses.


4.    Identification by UC as being ranked in the top 9 percent of your high school class at the end of your junior year (Eligible in the Local Context, or ELC) guarantees admission to at least one UC campus for California high school students.

Eligibility Requirements:

  • You must be a resident of the state of California.

  • Your high school must be a participating institution in the ELC program (almost all California public high schools are included).

  • You must rank within the top 9% of your graduating class based on a UC-calculated GPA benchmark specific to your high school. It is recalculated each year to account for historical data.

How It Works:

The UC system calculates your GPA using grades from the A-G A-required courses you've completed by the beginning of your senior year. This GPA may differ from your school-calculated GPA.

Based on historical data, the UC system sets a benchmark GPA for each participating high school. This benchmark represents the minimum GPA required to be considered within the top 9% of your graduating class.

If your UC-calculated GPA meets or exceeds the benchmark for your high school, you'll be designated as ELC-eligible.

You'll be notified during the UC application process if you meet the ELC criteria.

Note: While ELC ensures admission to a UC campus, it doesn't guarantee entry to your top-choice school. Factors like major, space availability, and overall application strength still play a role in the admissions decision at specific campuses.

5.    Quality of your senior-year program as measured by the type and number of academic courses in any A-G subject area in progress or planned. This refers to the strength and rigor of the courses you plan to take or are currently taking in your senior year of high school.

The Importance of Senior Year Courses:

  • Continued Academic Commitment: The UC system wants to see that you're maintaining a strong academic focus throughout high school. Completing challenging coursework demonstrates your continued dedication to learning and preparation for college-level work.

  • Demonstrating Consistency: While past academic performance holds weight, your senior year coursework provides a final opportunity to solidify your academic strengths and potentially improve your overall application.

What the UCs Look for in a Senior-Year Program:

  • Rigorous Coursework: Balance is important, but the UCs value senior-year courses that challenge you academically. Consider enrolling in AP, IB, honors courses, or college-level courses.

  • Aligning with Your Goals: Your senior year course selection should reflect your academic aspirations. If you plan to major in engineering, taking advanced math and physics courses demonstrates a focused approach.

  • Completion Matters: Remember, the UCs will likely see your planned and your actual senior year courses. Make sure you're realistic about the courses you can complete while maintaining good grades.

There's no "one-size-fits-all" perfect senior year program. The key is to choose a course load that demonstrates your continued academic focus, aligns with your college goals, and showcases your ability to handle challenging coursework while maintaining a strong GPA.

6.    Quality of your academic performance relative to the educational opportunities available in your high school.

What it Means:

  • Contextualization: This refers to the UC's attempt to understand your academic performance by considering the educational environment you come from. Not all high schools offer the same level or variety of advanced courses.

  • Focus on Equity: The UCs recognize that students from disadvantaged backgrounds may have access to fewer rigorous courses. Looking at your school's academic offerings ensures a fair evaluation of your achievements.

What the UCs Consider:

  • Course Variety: Does your high school offer a wide range of college preparatory courses, including AP, IB, honors options, and electives in various subject areas?

  • Course Availability: Do all students have equal access to these advanced courses, or are there limitations based on prior academic performance or prerequisites?

  • Rigor of Curriculum: Does your school offer courses that challenge students academically and prepare them for college-level work?

How This Impacts You:

  • Strong Performance in Limited Options: If you excelled in the limited advanced courses available at your school, it demonstrates your potential to succeed in a more rigorous academic environment at a UC campus.

  • Highlighting Initiative: Did you take advantage of independent study options or seek external resources to supplement your curriculum? This showcases your initiative and academic curiosity.

What You Can Do: If your school offers limited advanced options, consider taking advantage of online resources, summer programs, or dual enrollment programs at community colleges to expand your academic horizons.

7.    Outstanding performance in one or more specific subject areas. The factor of "Performance in Specific Subject Areas" highlights a student's particular strengths and passions within their academic journey.

What the UCs Look For:

  • Standout Subjects: Do you have one or two subjects where you consistently excel? This could be math, science, languages, history, or even a specific subfield like biology or creative writing.

  • Depth of Knowledge: It's not just about the A's you earn. The UCs look for evidence of genuine interest and advanced understanding within that subject area.

  • Dedication and Growth: Consistent performance over time demonstrates commitment and potential for further success in that field.

How to Showcase Your Strengths in Specific Subjects:

  • Challenging Coursework: Seek out honors, AP, IB courses, or other advanced options within your area of interest.

  • Independent Projects and Research: Go beyond classroom assignments with additional research, projects, or participation in science fairs or competitions.

  • Awards and Recognition: Any honors, awards, or special recognition in a specific subject highlights your achievements and strengthens your application.

  • Leadership in Clubs and Activities: Leading a STEM club, tutoring peers, or organizing events related to your passion subject showcases your interest and initiative outside the classroom.

Examples of Strong Performance in Specific Subject Areas:

  • Aspiring Historian: Consistent A's in AP History courses, participation in a history-themed student club, independent research project on a local historical topic, and award in a History Day competition.

  • Future Engineer: High grades in Physics, Calculus, and advanced STEM electives, leadership in a robotics club, participation in an engineering summer program.

  • Passionate Artist: Enrollment in advanced art classes (ceramics, photography), a strong portfolio of artwork, awards in art shows, and a leadership role in the school's art club.

  • Budding Linguist: Excellent grades in Spanish, French, and other language courses, participation in a language immersion program, tutoring other students in their second language.

Key Points:

  • Focus on Your Passions: Demonstrate genuine interest and enthusiasm for your chosen subject areas.

  • Go beyond the Classroom: Seek opportunities to explore your interests outside of traditional coursework to show commitment.

8.    Outstanding work in one or more special projects in any academic field of study. Have you undertaken a research project, participated in a science fair, or created a unique artistic piece? These extracurricular projects demonstrate your initiative, intellectual curiosity, and ability to work independently.


9.    Recent, marked improvement in academic performance as demonstrated by academic GPA and the quality of coursework completed or in progress. Sometimes, students hit their stride later in high school. If your grades show a significant upward trend, the UCs will notice. This demonstrates your ability to learn from challenges and improve over time.


10. Special talents, achievements, and awards in a particular field, such as visual and performing arts, communication, or athletic endeavors; special skills, such as demonstrated written and oral proficiency in other languages; special interests, such as intensive study and exploration of other cultures; experiences that demonstrate unusual promise for leadership, such as significant community service or significant participation in student government; or other significant experiences or achievements that demonstrate the student's promise for contributing to the intellectual vitality of a campus.

Going Beyond the Expected:

  • Standout Achievements in Academics: While strong grades are important, winning prestigious academic competitions like the National Math Olympiad, Intel Science Talent Search, or National Merit Scholarship signifies exceptional ability.

  • Artistic and Creative Pursuits: Accomplishments in visual arts, music, theater, dance, or creative writing competitions like regional or national awards showcase your artistic talents.

  • Athletic Excellence: State championships, regional or national rankings in a particular sport, or overcoming significant challenges to excel in athletics demonstrate dedication and perseverance.

  • Leadership and Community Service: Holding leadership positions in student government, clubs, or community organizations, or spearheading impactful service projects highlight your leadership skills and social responsibility.

Unique Skills and Talents:

  • Entrepreneurial Ventures: Did you launch a successful business, even a small one like an online store or local service? This showcases initiative, business acumen, and problem-solving skills.

  • Technical Skills and Achievements: Are you a coding whiz who's built innovative apps or competed in hackathons? These accomplishments highlight your technical skills and potential in computer science fields.

  • Mastery of a Particular Skill: Perhaps you're a skilled musician with performance experience, a published poet, or a master chess player. Demonstrating exceptional ability outside of traditional academic areas adds a unique dimension to your application.

Overcoming Challenges and Perseverance:

  • Academic Achievement Despite Challenges: Have you excelled academically despite personal or socioeconomic hardships? This showcases resilience and your ability to overcome obstacles.

  • Serving as a Role Model: Do you mentor younger students, volunteer with a specific cause, or advocate for a social cause you're passionate about? These experiences demonstrate your leadership and social awareness.

  • Overcoming Personal Obstacles: Have you triumphed over a personal challenge or learning disability? Sharing this story demonstrates your strength, determination, and ability to adapt.

What Makes it Truly Notable:

  • Impact: Did your accomplishment create a positive change, solve a problem, or inspire others?

  • Rarity: Is your achievement something that many applicants won't have, setting you apart?

  • Dedication and Hard Work: Does your accomplishment reflect significant time, effort, and overcoming obstacles?

  • Alignment with Your Goals: Does the accomplishment highlight skills or passions relevant to your intended major or future aspirations?

11. Completion of special projects undertaken in the context of your high school curriculum or conjunction with special school events, projects, or programs.

These are programs or activities designed to supplement your high school curriculum and equip you with the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in college, particularly at a UC school.

The UCs value these programs because they demonstrate your:

  • Proactive Approach to Learning: You've taken the initiative to seek out additional academic challenges beyond your regular coursework.

  • Preparation for College-Level Work: These programs can introduce you to college-level expectations, research methodologies, and critical thinking skills vital for success at a UC.

  • Commitment to Your Education: Your participation signifies your dedication to academic achievement and your desire to excel in a demanding academic environment.

Examples of Educational Preparation Programs:

  • Academic Summer Programs: Programs offered by universities or independent institutions that allow high school students to take college-level courses in various subjects.

  • Subject-Specific Programs: Programs focused on specific academic areas like STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) workshops, writing seminars, or advanced language immersion programs.

  • College Readiness Programs: Workshops or programs offered by your school or community organizations that guide college applications, financial aid, study skills, and time management.

  • Mentorship Programs: Being mentored by a college student, professor, or professional in your field of interest allows you to gain valuable insights and guidance.

  • Early College High School Programs: These programs allow high school students to take college courses while still enrolled in high school, often earning college credit.

  • Educational Outreach Programs: Programs offered by universities or organizations that provide academic support and enrichment opportunities to underrepresented students.

12. Academic accomplishments in light of your life experiences and special circumstances, including but not limited to disabilities, low family income, the first generation to attend college, need to work, disadvantaged social or educational environment, difficult personal and family situations or circumstances, refugee status or veteran status.

Overcoming challenges and achieving academic success despite hardships showcase your strength, resourcefulness, and ability to adapt. The UCs want students who can thrive in a demanding environment.

Life Experiences that might be considered:

  • Coming from a low-income family, navigating limited access to resources, or facing food insecurity can present significant challenges in academics.

  • Did you have a learning disability, illness, or personal issue that impacted your grades?

  • Being a first-generation college student, navigating cultural differences in learning styles, or overcoming a language barrier can be hurdles to academic success.

  • Balancing academic work with caring for family members or working part-time demonstrates your time management skills and commitment to education.

  • Did you experience a personal loss, natural disaster, or other life-changing event that impacted your studies?

13. Location of your secondary school and residence.

Here's what this factor encompasses:

  • Where you live: The UCs consider your state, region, and neighborhood. Living in an under-resourced area or a rural region with limited educational opportunities might be viewed in context during your application review.

  • Where you go to school: The specific high school you attend, its location, and its overall academic reputation are also considered. Do you attend a large, well-known high school with diverse course offerings or a smaller school with fewer advanced options?

Why it matters:

  • Equity and Contextualization: The UCs strive to achieve a diverse student body representing students from various backgrounds, experiences, and geographic areas. Considering your location helps ensure fairness in evaluating applications.

  • Educational Resources: Students from different schools and regions may have varying access to advanced coursework, enrichment programs, or academic support. The UCs take this into account when evaluating your academic performance.

  • Resilience and Initiative: Students who excel despite limited resources or challenging circumstances in their schools or communities demonstrate exceptional determination.

What you can do:

  • Don't stress! There's nothing you can change about your location.

  • Focus on what you can control: Maximize the opportunities available at your school, seek out external resources if needed, and showcase your initiative.

Remember: The "Location of Secondary School and Residence" aims to create a fair and equitable admissions process. It's a factor considered alongside your academic record and other accomplishments to paint a complete picture of your potential.

Next in the series: Does each UC also consider additional criteria?  Check back with me and find out! Book an appointment to find out more!




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