UC Admissions Guide: Top Application Tips

The University of California Application or UC Application is the common application for all 8 universities in the University of California system: Berkeley, Davis, Irvine, Los Angeles, Merced, Riverside, San Diego, Santa Barbara, and Santa Cruz. Whether you are applying to one UC university or all 8, you will complete a single UC application. All of the UC institutions have a November 30 deadline and all only offer Regular Decision as an admissions option (so you can’t apply Early Decision or Early Action to any of the UC universities).

University of California Application Requirements News

UC Board of Regents voted to adopt a 5-year plan to eliminate the SAT and ACT test requirement for admission.

  • For UC applicants beginning college in the fall of 2021 and 2022, submitting an SAT or ACT score will be optional. If submitted, test scores will be considered as usual. If not, an admissions decision will be made based on the rest of the student’s application.
  • For fall 2023 and fall 2024 applicants, the UC will be test blind: SAT and ACT scores will not be used at all in admissions decisions. But test scores will still be used for scholarships and course placement decisions. Students can also use a test score toward the UC statewide admission guarantee. 
  • Starting with fall 2025 applicants, UC hopes to require a new test. Beginning this summer, the UC will work to “identify or create a new test” that they would adopt as an admissions requirement. If UC is unable to find a suitable test, the plan recommends that UC continue to be test blind. 
  • In the event that the UC develops a new test, out of state and international applicants can submit scores from either the new, UC approved test, or the SAT or ACT.

If you are considering any of the UC schools, here are a few tips to keep in mind as you work your way through the application:

UC APPLICATION TIP 1: Use the Essay to tell a story

While the Common App asks students to write a single 650-word essay, the UC application asks students to respond to four essay prompts out of eight total options. However, these essays are shorter than the Common App essay and have a maximum word count of 350 words. Below are the UC essay prompts for 2019-2020:
  • 1) Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time.

  • 2) Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.

  • 3) What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?

  • 4) Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.

  • 5) Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?

  • 6) Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom. 

  • 7) What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?  

  • 8) Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you stand out as a strong candidate for admission to the University of California?

These essays give students many opportunities to tell their admissions stories. We recommend that students review all of the potential prompts and spend some time thinking about which prompts fit them best. The UC essays are great because they allow students to really align their strengths to the essays. 

Choosing four essay prompts out of eight potential options can certainly be a bit overwhelming. If you are having trouble picking a prompt, you can highlight outside of the classroom involvement through essay prompts 1, 2, 3, and 7. These essays will give you an opportunity to expand upon an extracurricular activity or involvement that has been particularly meaningful to you. You should be thinking about extracurricular involvement broadly. Clubs, sports, and arts are great, but admissions officers will also want to hear about your part-time job, the business you started, or the organization you volunteer with every week. However, you do not want to simply repeat what you have already discussed in the activities section. 

UC Application Tip 2: Be specific on your essays

The UC essay prompts are only 350 words, so you have to make the most of each word and sentence in your essay. One of the mistakes that students make in these essays is discussing too many topics or experiences. You are simply not going to be able to do that in a thorough way in the context of 350 words. Instead, try to focus on particular moments that highlight your specific contributions, learning, or growth. These specific instances in time will allow you to show the reader who you truly are. For example, maybe you are the captain of the cross country team and want to discuss this in the first UC essay about leadership. Instead of talking broadly about your responsibilities as captain, you can tell the story of a specific time when you helped a team member who was struggling to fit into the team. This will allow you to leverage your lived experience in a more authentic way.

UC Application Tip 3: Apply to multiple University of California schools

While the University of California at Berkeley and UCLA are the best-known University of California schools, there are some other fantastic institutions in the UC system. The UC application is great because you can apply to 8 universities with only one application. Take advantage of that and explore all of the options in the UC system. You will probably find yourself pleasantly surprised that there are a few other universities perfectly aligned to your needs and interests. When in doubt, talk to your school college counselor and get their opinion on other UC institutions that may be good fits for you.

UC Application Tip 4: Do not forget about scholarships

One of the great things about the UC application is that you can apply to University of California-specific scholarship directly through the application. In the Scholarships & Programs section, students can select all of the scholarship categories that apply to you (note that there is not a limit to the number of scholarships a student can select).

The Bottom Line on University of California Applications

Putting time and care into your college applications is essential. Admissions officers have an uncanny ability to detect whether a student is simply recycling an essay or has rushed through an application. This is why it is so important to treat each application as unique. You do not want to simply cram your Common App essay (and supplements) into the UC application. This may save you some time, but it will be quite obvious to the admissions officer. We hope that these tips will help you make the most of your UC application so that you can submit the most competitive application possible for admissions and scholarships!

© Story2 2020. All rights reserved.
Will is a veteran of the college admissions process who has read thousands of applications and successfully counseled hundreds of students through the admissions process. Story2 teaches students applying to college how to write powerful personal statements, supplemental essays, and scholarship essays. Previously, Will was the Associate Director of College Counseling at an independent school in Connecticut and a Senior Assistant Director of Admissions at Kenyon College. Will is a graduate of Wake Forest University and the University of Pennsylvania.