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  • Writer's pictureMichele Coleman

Understanding UC Admissions Part 2: #How Decisions Are Made

Updated: Jul 3




Knowing what the UCs look for in applications is one thing, but it’s almost important to know how the actual admissions decisions are made. 





The UCs as a whole generally do the following:

  • Use Multiple Readers: UC applications receive multiple independent reviews thus ensuring a balanced and thorough evaluation of each application.

  • Contextual Review: Each application is considered in the context of a student’s high school and the opportunities available to students, such as the number and type of AP courses, IB Programs, and Dual Enrollment opportunities.

  • No Single Formula: The UCs do not use a formula.  They use the 13 factors to evaluate all applications.


Here are some general guidelines to follow when applying to the UCs, and for that matter, all colleges.


  • Aim for High Grades: Strong academic performance is the foundation of a competitive application.

  • Seek out Challenges: Enroll in challenging courses whenever possible.

  • Expand Your Interests: Focus on activities that you truly enjoy, where you can make a meaningful impact, and that help you learn and explore the many facets of you. If you are interested in a certain major, get involved in some activities or pursuits that will support this choice.

  • Craft Thoughtful Essays: Write about experiences that reveal who you are and what drives you.

  • Tell Your Story: Don't be afraid to address challenges you've overcome and successes you have had.

  • Support Your Community: Whatever you consider your community, get involved with it.  Volunteer, get a job, or become a leader.


Remember, the UCs are looking for candidates who will contribute positively to their campuses, and who can critically think, problem, and think outside of the box.


Let’s explore those 13 Factors in greater detail.

  1. Grade Point Average (GPA): The UCs look at your overall GPA in the required A-G subject courses (English, math, history, science, etc.) from 10th and 11th grade. They use a formula to compute GPA that awards extra points for UC-certified honors, AP, or IB classes. This page on the UC site will help you determine your UC GPA.

  2. Courses Beyond 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, Dual Enrollment courses, and Community College courses.

  3. UC-Approved Honors Courses: The UCs specifically recognize achievement in courses that have been vetted and approved by their system. Completing and performing well in these courses demonstrates your ability to handle advanced academic work.

  4. Eligibility in the Local Context (ELC) for California Students only: If your high school participates in the ELC program and your academic record places you among the top 9% of your graduating class, you're considered ELC-eligible.

  5. Quality of Senior-Year Program: The UCs take a peek at the courses you're planning to take or are currently taking in your senior year. This shows them your continued academic commitment and your interest in preparing for college-level work.

  6. Academic Opportunities at Your High School: The UCs recognize that not all high schools offer the same level of academic resources. They consider the variety and difficulty of courses available at your school to contextualize your academic performance.

  7. Performance in Specific Subject Areas: Do you have a passion for science, a knack for languages, or a writing talent? If you consistently excel in a particular subject area, highlight it! This showcases your academic depth and potential for future studies.

  8. Achievements in Special Projects: 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. Academic Performance Improvement: Sometimes students hit their stride later in high school. If your grades show a significant upward trend, the UCs will take notice. This demonstrates your ability to learn from challenges and improve over time.

  10. Special Talents, Achievements, and Awards: This includes recognition in visual or performing arts, athletic achievements, and leadership awards.

  11. Participation in Educational Preparation Programs: Have you participated in programs like the College Board's Advanced Placement (AP) or the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI)?

  12. Academic Accomplishments in Light of Life Experiences: The UCs understand that students come from diverse backgrounds and may face challenges. If you've excelled academically despite social, economic, educational disadvantages, or difficult personal circumstances, share your story. The UCs value resilience and perseverance.

  13. Location of Secondary School and Residence: While not a major factor, the UCs may consider geographic location to ensure they enroll students from diverse areas and backgrounds. They might give some weight to applicants from under-represented regions or areas with limited educational resources.


Next time, I’ll cover how a student can take the initiative to create an impact on each of the 13 Factors.


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