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  • Writer's pictureAlison Merzel

5 tips about the University of California application process

If you are interested in applying to any of the nine schools within the University of California system, you will use one application, the UC application. Here are 5 helpful things to know:

1) The University of California had already announced that they would be "test-optional" for Fall 2021, but some of the campuses (UC Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara, UC Irvine) had already announced that they would be "test-blind." A preliminary injunction recently banned any of the UC schools from using tests in the admissions process, arguing that students with disabilities would be disadvantaged in their test-optional admissions process. For now, each UC campus is indicating their testing policy on their website, so check to see if they are indeed test-blind and if that will be the case for financial aid consideration as well as admission.

2) The UC system uses what is called an additive admissions process - what this means is that their readers are trained to look for elements of the application that will help the applicant while ignoring components that may be weak or less helpful. They are looking for reasons to admit, not reasons to deny.

3) UC doesn't use a personal statement or supplemental essays - they use what are called PIQs - Personal Insight Questions. Students are given 8 prompts from which they will choose 4 to answer. Since UC doesn't offer the opportunity to interview, the responses to these PIQs essentially act as an interview for the student. These PIQs are not designed to provide a sample of your writing - the admissions office really want answers and information about you - facts, not a beautifully written, descriptive, and flowing essay that uses up word count without adding substantial value.

4) UC conducts what is called comprehensive review, looking to see how an applicant fulfills 14 different factors - some of these are beyond your control, like Eligibility in the Local Context, which is only relevant for California high school students. Applications are evaluated "based on the totality of factors present." Among the factors that students can control? Grade point average, performance in and number of classes beyond the minimum requirements, quality of senior-year program of study, special talents or achievements, and outstanding performance in one or more academic subject areas.

5) If you do not live in California, you must have a 3.4 minimum GPA in the core, college prep courses to be eligible to apply to a UC school. The minimum GPA for California residents is 3.0.

While it is difficult to gain admission into the UC system, you are more likely to have success if you apply to more than one campus - each has different pros and cons, but 6 of top 11 public nationally ranked universities according to U.S. News and World Report (if that is important to you) are University of California campuses and all nine are in the nation's top 40.

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