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Ultimate Guide to the University of California Schools

Posted by Justin Berkman | Jun 1, 2018 9:00:00 AM

College Info

 

 

The University of California schools are widely regarded as some of the best public universities in the nation. Because I have provided college counseling to hundreds of students in California and chaperoned college visits to UC campuses, I’m very familiar with these colleges and know people who have attended each of the nine UC schools that offer undergraduate education.

In this article, I will describe the UC system, profile each of the University of California colleges, and explain how to choose which UC school to attend.

 

About the UC System

There are nine UC schools that offer both undergraduate and graduate education. UC San Francisco is only a graduate and professional school. The nine UC colleges are UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, UC San Diego, UC IrvineUC DavisUC Santa Cruz, UC Riverside, and UC Merced.

The UC schools are large public research universities, and they are generally considered to be some of the best public universities in the country. The UC system has more than 238,000 students and more than 190,000 faculty and staff.

Most of the UC schools are big and have over 20,000 undergraduate students. UC Merced, which opened in 2005, is the newest of the UC campuses and has the smallest enrollment. It has around 7,000 undergraduates. UCLA, which has the largest undergraduate enrollment, has over 30,000.

The UCs are governed by The Regents of the University of California, a 26-member board established under the California Constitution. While each school is unique and has its own personality, the University of California schools offer many of the same benefits and possible disadvantages. As parts of the UC system, they’re all well-regarded, selective, research-oriented colleges. They're generally strong in STEM, the humanities, and the social sciences. Also, UC students tend to be diverse and accepting of diversity, although African-Americans and Latinos are underrepresented at most of the UC campuses.

Many of the complaints about the University of California colleges are typical of complaints about large public universities. Class sizes can be very large, and some students have difficulty navigating the bureaucracy. Students can have trouble registering, getting into the classes they need, and dealing with financial aid. While the in-state tuition for California residents is significantly lower than tuition at private colleges, many students claim that there is not a lot of financial aid available for middle-class students, and tuition costs continue to rise.

 

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Comparing the UC Schools by the Numbers

I created a table comparing the undergraduate enrollments, average standardized test scores, and acceptance rates for each of the UC campuses. Take a look at the table to get an idea of the size and selectivity of each UC institution

School Number of Undergraduates Middle 50% SAT Score  Middle 50% ACT Score Acceptance Rate
UC Berkeley 30,574 1340-1530 29-35 15.1%
UCLA 31,002 1240-1490 27-33 16.1%
UC San Diego 28,587 1250-1470 29-34 36%
UC Santa Barbara 22,186 1240-1470 26-32 32%
UC Davis 30,145 1120-1360 25-31 43.5%
UC Irvine 29,307 1170-1410 24-30 36.5%
UC Santa Cruz 17,577 1160-1370 24-30 51.4%
UC Riverside 20,069 1090-1300 23-29 57.2%
UC Merced 7,375 1020-1230 18-23 69.1%

 

Ranking the UC Schools

While rankings are somewhat subjective, based on reputation and objective statistics, I’ve sorted the UC schools into four tiers. 

The first tier is UC Berkeley and UCLAThey’re the most selective and generally the most well-regarded of the UC schools. Non-UC colleges that would be in this tier include University of Notre Dame, Georgetown University, USC, and the University of Virginia.

The second tier is UCSB, UCSD, UC Davis, and UC IrvineTheir US News and Forbes rankings, average GPAs, average standardized test scores, and admission rates are all very similar. It would be difficult to definitively rank one ahead of the others. Non-UC colleges that would be in this tier include Boston University, Tulane University, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The third tier is UC Santa Cruz and UC RiversideUC Santa Cruz probably has a better reputation and is ranked higher by various publications, but these two school's acceptance rates and average standardized test scores are similar. Non-UC colleges in this tier would be University of Colorado-Boulder, University of San Diego, Florida State University, and University of San Francisco.

The fourth tier is UC Merced. UC Merced is not necessarily trying to directly compete with the other UC campuses. It’s the newest of the UC campuses and has a significantly smaller enrollment than all the others. It also has the highest percentage of underrepresented minorities and low-income students of all of the UCs. It’s heavily invested in providing access to education to students in the San Joaquin Valley of California and offering a UC education to more California residents.

I created a table with my rankings of the UC schools. Also, I included their US News rankings for National Universities and their overall Forbes rankings. Basically, I just averaged the US News and Forbes rankings to determine my own.

School US News Ranking Forbes Ranking
1. UC Berkeley 22 14
2. UCLA 19 46
3. UCSB 30 85
4. UCSD 41 81
5. UC Davis 38 94
6. UC Irvine 33 96
7. UC Santa Cruz 70 185
8. UC Riverside 85 204
9. UC Merced 136 unranked



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UC Berkeley (Berkeley Lab/flickr)

 

Profiles of Each UC School

In many respects, there are more similarities between the UC schools than there are differences. They’re all selective, research-oriented schools that share the same governing board. They have diverse student bodies, emphasize sustainability and environmentalism, and they offer many on-campus opportunities for student involvement.

However, I think the primary differences between the schools are related to their locations and campus culturesI’ll give brief descriptions of each school’s location and some information about what makes each school unique compared to the other UCs. I’ve been to every UC campus except Merced, but I have been in the Merced area. Also, I have friends and former students who have attended each UC.

My assessments are based on my campus visits, information from the school websites, the opinions of friends and former students who attended these schools, and published student reviews

After my assessments, I used quotes from current and former students for each college from Nichea website that provides reviews, rankings, and statistics about neighborhoods and schools. I tried to include both pros and cons that revealed how students feel about their experience at the school and were representative of many of the comments that I read. 

 

UC Berkeley

The University of California, Berkeley is located in Berkeley, 15 miles across the bay from San Francisco. Berkeley is a vibrant, unique college town. It’s affectionately known as “Bezerkeley” because of the eclectic students and history of radical political activism in the city. 

I've always enjoyed my trips to Berkeley because there seems to be so much going on both on and off campusAt UC Berkeley, in one evening, you can attend a cultural event, join a political rally, go to a frat party, and top the night off with some good, cheap eats at Blondie’s or Top Dog.

UC Berkeley is the oldest of the UCs and is known for its academically gifted students and renowned faculty. Berkeley was ranked the #1 public national university by US News for 19 straight years (losing out to UCLA for 2019). Also, in 2012, Berkeley started a scholarship fund for undocumented students.

 

Student Reviews

Here's what students have to say about UC Berkeley:

Pros:

In general, students rave about the campus and the school’s location close to the Bay Area. It gives them lots of opportunities for social opportunities as well as internships and networking connections. One student says, “There is so much to do and see in the area - I'm constantly visiting SF or going on fun trips.”

Students also praise the quality of the classes they take (even if they’re challenging) and the intelligence and motivation of their fellow classmates. One student said, “Amazing faculty, the smartest students. Many classes push everyone to their limits even if the topic seems somewhat easy.” Another mentioned, “Berkeley was definitely the most challenging thing I've encountered in my life so far. But the hard work and stress made me stronger.”

 

Cons:

A major drawback that many students mentioned is the prevalence of crime in the area. “The biggest issue is the amount of crime.” Another says, “There are robberies and sexual harassments [sic] around or even on campus every day.”

Students also mention lack of diversity as an issue, although the school is working on improving the problem. One student stated, “As a student of color, it is hard to go from Los Angeles to Berkeley especially when there is no one to relate to there.”

As a large public university, Berkeley also doesn’t have the ability to routinely check keep tabs on all students, and a common refrain was that students at Berkeley need to know how to do things on their own. “I felt like students were on their own. No one really held your hand through anything. You had to make all by yourself.” 

 

UCLA

UCLA is located in Westwood, a very nice area of West Los Angeles. Also, UCLA is the only UC in a big city. However, Westwood has a number of restaurants, bars, and off-campus apartments for students that give it a college town feel within a city.

At UCLA, 96% of freshmen live on campus, which contributes to a lively on-campus culture. UCLA is a very spirited school. Even though many of the UCs excel in different sports, UC Berkeley and UCLA have the biggest fan bases and are the only UCs with FBS football programs. I’ve been to many basketball and football games at UCLA. The student body and alumni love their Bruins, and UCLA has more NCAA championships than any other college in the country.

Furthermore, there are 13 Nobel Prize winners among the faculty, and this year UCLA was ranked #1 in Top Public Schools by US News.

 

Student Reviews

Here's what students have to say about UCLA:

Pros:

Academics get high marks at UCLA. Most students are very happy with their professors and the quality of the classes they’re taking. “All my professors are super helpful and have extended office hours the week before midterms and finals. There are many research opportunities and internships open every quarter.”

Beyond the classroom, students also feel that UCLA provides numerous activities for students to get involved in, and its location in Los Angeles means there are many additional opportunities nearby. “Being in Los Angeles there is everything you need to get a head start on your career with volunteer, student organizations and internships in most fields.”

Students also praise the friendliness of their classmates and how easy it is to make friends at UCLA. “The social scene is great and you're bound to meet people who you can click with.” “There are plenty of clubs to allow students to develop their interests.”

As a bonus, many students particularly loved the food offerings at UCLA. “The food is the best in the nation, and I can honestly vouch for the quality of it. There is tons of variety and there are also many healthy options.”


Cons:

Although UCLA’s large size allows it to provide lots of opportunities for students, some feel that attending such a large school has drawbacks because there are a lot of people to compete with, and it can be difficult to find the resources you need. One student said, “A thing that I do not like about UCLA is the fact that class enrollment is a very stressful process as most of the time you will not be able to get popular classes as there are so many students who want the same time and same lecture class as you. With such a big school, it is kind of hard to make really close friends as schedules are vastly different.” Another mentioned, “The only issue is that due to the largeness of the student body population, some resources are hard to access like counselors for instance.”

The high cost of tuition and living expenses is also a drawback for some students. “I find UCLA to be a bit on the expensive side, particularly for those who live on-campus.”

 

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UCLA (Prayitno/flickr)

 

UCSB

UCSB is located in Isla Vista, a beach town about an hour and a half north of Los Angeles. The school is literally steps from the Pacific Ocean, and even though it’s an academically rigorous institution, the laid back beach vibe permeates the UCSB culture.

UCSB also has garnered a reputation as a party school, even though not all of the students participate in the party scene

However, UCSB still maintains an excellent academic reputation. In its 2013 rankings of the world’s top 500 universities, Leiden University ranked UCSB #2 in terms of impact in the sciences. Also, the Koegel Autism Center at UCSB’s Gevirtz Graduate School of Education has been recognized by the National Research Council as one of the top 10 state-of-the-art treatment centers for autism in the US.

 

Student Reviews 

Here's what students have to say about UCSB:

Pros:

Students love UCSB’s campus and its location in Santa Barbara. One student who praised the school ended by saying, “It also doesn't hurt that the campus is stunning and you can study right on the beach!”

Social butterflies mentioned that it’s easy to find parties here, but students who don’t like partying still enjoy themselves and the social atmosphere at UCSB. One student said, “The social scene is always full of excitement and things to do,” while another mentioned that, “Everyone thinks UCSB is a huge party school, but I actually haven't been to one party there and I don't feel pressured to go to any.”


Cons:

Many students praised the academics at UCSB, but others weren’t completely satisfied with their classes there, especially intro classes. “As a chemistry major, the average class size for my major-related classes are easily in the 100s. There are some professors that are able to teach us complex topics; however, the general consensus is self-study.” “Class sizes are larger, and certain classes are difficult to get into.”

Students also mention that the dorms are pretty small and somewhat dated. “Most of the dorms are triple occupancy and the only dorms that offer double occupancy is either too small or a mile away from campus. In addition, the cost of living on campus is on the expensive side.”

 


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                                                                           Ryosuke Yagi/Flickr

 

UCSD

UCSD is located in La Jolla, an affluent community in the northern part of San Diego. La Jolla is an extremely nice area and has an average daily temperature of 70.5 degrees.

UCSD is also very close to the Pacific Ocean. It's home to the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, one of the first centers dedicated to ocean, earth, and atmospheric science research and education.

The school is organized into six residential colleges that help give it a smaller college feel within a large university.

The journal Nature ranked UCSD first in the US in earth and environmental research. It’s also top among all UCs in terms of total active inventions and total US patents.

UCSD is known for having a less energetic and involved on-campus culture compared to other UCs like UCSB, UCLA, or Berkeley. However, I have friends who were part of Greek life and actively involved in extracurricular activities at UCSD, and they thoroughly enjoyed their UCSD experience.

 

Student Reviews

Here's what students have to say about UCSD:

Pros:

Students had many positive things to say about the academics at UCSD. “The professors really know their stuff, and the ones I have had are so full of information! They want you to learn material from their class, and their lectures are so passionate and interesting!” Another student stated that “The academics at the school were excellent because there are very interesting classes and the students here are serious and you can tell they very much value their education.”

Students particularly praised STEM classes and research being done at the school. “I love how engaged this institution is with research; they conduct amazing studies for the department of psychology and cognitive science. Really allows students to get involved and think critically of how behavior and attitude are tied in with our mind.”


Cons:

The major drawback to UCSD that most students mentioned is the lack of a party scene. “It is very socially dead unless you have the friends and the people that aren't dead.” However, other students find that there are plenty of social opportunities, especially if you look beyond parties. “Just because UCSD holds the reputation of no parties does not make the school socially dead, there are other ways people can socialize! There are campus events for everyone in any college and there are events that are specific to each individual college.”

Another drawback is the large and sprawling campus. “Biggest downside is that the campus is HUGE, getting to back to back classes is difficult. This means you often have to do a lot of walking, and it can make the school feel like less of a community because everything is so spread out."


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UCSD (SD Dirk/Flickr) 

 

UC Davis

UC Davis is located in Davis, a rural town in Northern California. Davis is 11 miles from Sacramento and 70 miles from San Francisco. The town of Davis is known for its friendly community and small town feel. Many of the UC Davis students seem to appreciate that the campus is surrounded by nature.

According to the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2016, UC Davis is ranked first in veterinary medicine in the world

Because the campus is somewhat secluded, the on-campus culture at UC Davis is pretty active. It’s not known for being as wild as UCSB or Berkeley, but students seem to be more involved and social on campus than students at UCSD, UC Irvine, or UC Riverside.

 

Student Reviews

Here's what students have to say about UC Davis:

Pros:

UC Davis’s small and peaceful campus, surrounded by nature, is a draw for many students. “The campus is extremely beautiful, there is so much agriculture and life surrounding it that I never feel as though I'm not at home.”

The school is also known for high-quality research, particularly in the sciences, which students can get involved in. “The school offers many research opportunities for students in the field of biological sciences.”

Additionally, many students also feel that the campus has a very tight-knit community where everyone is friendly and welcoming. “It is the perfect college town and everyone is very friendly.” “The people here are super nice! I can talk to virtually everyone about anything.”


Cons:

Students who aren’t used to or don’t enjoy rural life often have difficulties with UC Davis’ small town setting. “Many say that the smell of cows is overwhelming.”

UC Davis is also primarily a bike campus which can be difficult if you’re used to driving and having your car nearby. "You absolutely need to have a bike here, and there are many paths specifically for bike use."

 

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UC Davis (Ivan Kozik/Flickr)

 

UC Irvine

UC Irvine is located in Irvine, an affluent city in Orange County, California. Irvine is consistently ranked as one of the safest cities in the US and has some of the best public schools.

According to US News, among specific undergraduate programs, The Henry Samueli School of Engineering ranked 43rd among engineering schools whose highest degree is a doctorate. Furthermore, in US News's most recent rankings of graduate programs and specialties, UCI's literary criticism and theory, criminology, and organic chemistry each ranked in the top 10 in the country.

The city of Irvine is not known for being the most exciting place, and the UC Irvine campus is also on the quiet side. The people I know who had the most fun at UCI were outgoing and involved with on-campus activities.

 

Student Reviews

Here's what students had to say about UC Irvine:

Pros:

Students at UC Irvine frequently mention how supportive the school community is, particularly professors who go out of their way to help students succeed. “The students, faculty, and staff are very welcoming and very eager to discover who and what they want to be.” “Professors are really helpful and try to give as much help as they can.”

Many students also feel that UC Irvine gives them lots of opportunities to get hands-on experience outside of the classroom. “The school offers a lot of research opportunities and a chance to gain experience.” Another student mentioned that “There are a lot of chances to get an internship because there are many companies near school.”


Cons:

Some students struggle with how quiet the UC Irvine social scene is. “There is a very limited party scene that is dominated by Greek life.” “I would like to see the school stop being a commuter school as on the weekends it is very boring.” However, others mentioned that there are lots of clubs to join and the school is working on providing more.

 

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UC Irvine (UCI UC Irvine/Flickr)

 

UC Santa Cruz

UC Santa Cruz is located in Santa Cruz, a coastal city about 32 miles south of San Jose and 75 miles south of San Francisco. Santa Cruz is known for its coastline, redwood forests, and being socially liberal. The biggest tourist attraction in the area is probably the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

The campus of UC Santa Cruz is in the forest, and the students have a reputation for being a tad on the hippie sidePETA2, the young adult division of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, rated UC Santa Cruz as the #1 most vegan-friendly college in 2011. Approximately 25 percent of produce served in dining halls is organic, with much of it coming from local providers, such as the Farm and Garden run by UCSC’s Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems.

In 2014, Bestcolleges.com ranked UCSC #1 in the nation among top 50 colleges for Hispanic students. My friends who attended UC Santa Cruz speak highly of their undergraduate experience. Because it’s smaller than most of the other UCs, it seems to have more of a community feel, and it offers a social, progressive environment.

 

Student Reviews

Here's what students have to say about UC Santa Cruz:

Pros:

The academics at UC Santa Cruz get a lot of positive feedback, especially the supportive professors and small class sizes. “From my experience, the majority of the classes are very small and very individually oriented comparative to other universities, and you will never be hard pressed to find help if you need it.”

Students love UC Santa Cruz’s campus, and they feel like being surrounded by nature makes going to class and studying more enjoyable. “The campus is most literally placed in the middle of a forest. It has a great college town with the boardwalk/beach, great food, and a great little town.” “Honestly, this campus is probably the most beautiful campus I've ever seen.”


Cons:

Students looking for a stereotypical campus full of parties may be disappointed by UC Santa Cruz, which mostly has a smaller, quieter social scene. “The social scene isn't as big as other college campuses which is a bummer but everyone joins the clubs and activities they are interested in so it's not too bad.”

Other students mentioned they think the school would be improved if the dining hall stepped up the quality of its food and if the school provided more on-campus housing for students. “Improvement of housing and dining services would help.” “Many students have been protesting the lack of available off-campus housing to the University Board of Executives.”

Some students also mentioned the difficulty of getting into certain classes as another drawback to the school and possible consequence of having small classes. “I would love if UC Santa Cruz expanded the number of courses offered per quarter because enrollment for classes is one of this school's biggest inconvenience for students. Many students, including myself, have not been able to enroll in a class they need for their major thus interfering with their graduation dates.”

 

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UC Santa Cruz (Benjamin Pender/Flickr)

 

UC Riverside

UC Riverside is located in Riverside, about 60 miles east of Los Angeles. Riverside is the largest city in what is known as the Inland Empire of Southern California. The area around the campus is probably not the nicest, and students have commented on the crime and not feeling safe walking alone at night.

Originally, UC Riverside was a small liberal arts college when it opened in 1954, but it became a general university in 1959. Over the years, the student body has expanded rapidly, and the school and student body are still growingThe UC Riverside School of Medicine enrolled its first class in 2013.

Also, according to its website, UCR enrolls a higher percentage of Pell Grant recipients than any other top research university in the country. There seems to be a significant push by UCR to make sure that it’s on the same level as the other UCs. It's adding students, new facilities, and plans to add 330 ladder-ranked faculty members.

UC Riverside doesn't have the most active on-campus culture. About 70 percent of students are commuters, and freshmen don’t have to live on campus.

 

Student Reviews

Here's what students have to say about UC Riverside:

Pros:

One of the most commonly mentioned strengths of UC Riverside is its supportive environment. Students feel that everyone, from professors to staff to other students, are ready to help and want students to do well. “There is so much help offered to students here. From academic, to personal, and financial help, they've pretty much got it all here.” “There are so many people that can help advise you when it comes to picking classes. Don't worry about being lost because there is a lot of help around!”

UC Riverside is also known for being a very diverse school that welcomes all students. “From an African American standpoint, UC Riverside really feels like a home away from home for me as I am able to meet and connect with people that look like me.”


Cons:

Student opinion of campus social life is mixed. Some mention that you can have a very active social life if you join Greek life or a lot of clubs, but others feel that the school’s high number of commuters makes it difficult to find many things to do on weekends. “During the weekends it gets boring, a lot of people go home so if you don't live close or don't have a car or anything then it gets kinda boring.” “I recommend staying on campus If, not then join an active club. If you don't follow my recommendations, then prepare to be lonely like I was. The party scene is near to non-existent.”

Some students also mention large class sizes as a drawback that can make it difficult to get one-on-one attention from professors. “The only downside is that there are way too many students per faculty so the individual problems are not attended right away.” “The classes were very overpopulated 300-500 students sometimes.”

 

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UC Riverside (Ken/Flickr)

 

UC Merced

UC Merced is located in Merced, a small city in the San Joaquin Valley of Northern CaliforniaMerced is less than two hours to Yosemite National Park to the east and Monterey Bay to the west. Merced is in more of a rural area. 

Also, UC Merced opened in 2005 and it has a substantially lower undergraduate enrollment than the rest of the UCs.

According to its website, UC Merced is the only American university with every building on campus environmentally certified. It pledges a Triple Zero Commitment, a plan to consume zero net energy, produce zero landfill waste, and zero net emissions on campus by 2020.

Some students wish that Merced was more of an exciting town while others appreciate the smaller tight-knit community on campus and the small town feel of Merced. Furthermore, many students seem to appreciate that they’re part of creating the on-campus culture at UC Merced because it’s only 10 years old. They get to start organizations and leave a lasting legacy for future students.

 

Student Reviews

Here's what students have to say about UC Merced:

Pros:

Many students find the fact that UC Merced is a small and growing school to be one of its biggest strengths. The small size fosters a sense of community among students, and since the school is so new, many of them feel they get to have an important role in shaping what the school will be like for future students. “The school consists of a very small tight-knit community. There is a lot of student involvement on campus.” “I enjoy attending University of California Merced since it is a new school it is currently growing and I am excited to be able to grow with it.”

In contrast to many other UC schools, many students are also happy with the amount of financial aid they’ve gotten and how easy it is to communicate with the financial aid department. “The school leads the UC system in financial aid given to students.”


Cons:

Although students love the tight-knit atmosphere at UC Merced, many mentioned that campus can feel boring and isolated when they’re looking for things to do. “UC Merced is a great university, but is in the middle of nowhere which tends to make weekends uneventful.” This can be especially difficult for freshman, since they aren’t allowed to have cars on campus. “The school is like its own private island. Therefore, when ordering an Uber it takes about 20 minutes to arrive and takes an even longer time to get anywhere into town.”

Also, as a fairly small and new school, UC Merced doesn’t have the diversity of majors and classes that many of the other UC schools offer. “I wish UC Merced have more specific majors instead of broad Biology with emphasis tracks.” However, this is expected to change as the school continues to grow.

 

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UC Merced (tanyaboza/Flickr)

 

How Do You Decide Which UC Schools to Apply To?

One benefit of applying to University of California colleges is that you can apply to all nine of the UC schools with just one application. However, I don't recommend applying to a school that you have no desire to attend. Also, unless you qualify for a fee waiver, you have to pay $70 for each campus that you apply to. Even if you qualify for a fee waiver, UC will only waive the application fee for up to four UC campuses. Fee waivers are based on your family's income; you can apply for a fee waiver within the online application, and you'll be notified immediately if you qualify.

Before selecting the UC colleges you'll apply to, look at your list of all the colleges you're applying to. Make sure you have enough safety schools. If not, consider applying to at least one of the less selective UCs, if your credentials would make you an extremely strong candidate for admission. Generally, you should have at least an 80% chance of getting in to consider a college a safety school.

To help determine your odds of admission for each UC, google the name of the school and "prepscholar admission requirements." On each school's profile, you'll find our admissions calculator that will help you roughly determine your chances of gaining admission to that college.

Start by eliminating the UCs you know you don't want to attend. Research each of the campuses. If possible, visit and take campus tours. Which schools don't have the majors you're considering? Which schools have a location or on-campus culture that doesn't appeal to you?

If you're applying to UCs, I recommend applying to two to six campuses, depending on how many other schools you're applying to and your specific needs.

Also, if you're in the top 9% of California high school graduates and aren't admitted to any of the UC campuses you apply to, you'll be offered a spot at another campus if space is available. However, you shouldn't assume there will be available space; that's why you should apply to safety schools.

 


Want to build the best possible college application?

We can help. PrepScholar Admissions is the world's best admissions consulting service. We combine world-class admissions counselors with our data-driven, proprietary admissions strategies. We've overseen thousands of students get into their top choice schools, from state colleges to the Ivy League.

We know what kinds of students colleges want to admit. We want to get you admitted to your dream schools.

Learn more about PrepScholar Admissions to maximize your chance of getting in.

Get Into Your Top Choice School

 

How Do You Decide Which UC School To Attend?

If you’re in the position to choose which UC school to attend, then congratulations! You’ve done well enough in high school to have the opportunity to attend a great college, regardless of which one you choose.

Honestly, you should choose which UC to attend the same way you would go about choosing any collegeDetermine the factors that are most important to you in a college. Then, research the colleges you’re considering extensively.

There are many factors to consider to determine if a college is a good fit for you including location, selectivity, support services, and the majors offered. Look at the school’s website, and use guidebooks, college finders, search websites, and other ranking lists to help you in the college selection process. If possible, consult with teachers, counselors, parents, current students, and alumni.

Most students who are deciding between UCs seem to base their college decisions primarily on selectivity, location, and campus culture. Selectivity seems to be the biggest priority for most students who are deciding between UC schools. It’s rare to find a student who opts to go to UC Riverside over UCLA. Most students want to go to the most selective school that accepts them, especially if both colleges are in the same general area.

The next biggest priority for most students is location. Even though Berkeley may be ranked a little higher and might be slightly more selective, many students choose to attend UCLA over Berkeley. Some students prefer Southern California to Northern California, or they find the environment in Berkeley to be too overwhelming and prefer the more subdued confines of Westwood. Additionally, some students want to be close to home and some prefer to be a little further away.

If you want to be in a rural environment, UC Davis and UC Merced are good options. If you want to be by the beach, you may prefer UCSB, UC Santa Cruz, or UCSD. If you want to be in Northern California, you should consider UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz or UC Merced.

Furthermore, the campus culture is an important factor for many students. By campus culture, I’m primarily referring to the energy and activity on campus. You can find parties and numerous on-campus activities and organizations at all UCs, but some are known for offering a more enthusiastic on-campus environment and a more festive culture.

Some students prefer to embrace a more lively college experience while others like being in a more quiet environment to focus on their studies. UCSB, fairly or not, has probably earned the reputation for being the best party school. UCLA and UC Berkeley have lively campus cultures, big-time sports, and active Greek life. UC Irvine and UC Riverside have more commuter students and the on-campus environments are not quite as lively.

Also, while all the UCs are well-regarded academic schools, they do have different majors and programs. Because UC Davis is in a more rural area, it has more majors related to agriculture. For example, you can get a Bachelor’s in food science or international agriculture at UC Davis. Meanwhile, you can’t major in any agriculture-related field at UC Berkeley.

If you’re interested in a specific major or program, or if you want to compare the majors offered at the different UCs, I recommend using a college finder like Big Future to quickly and easily compare the different colleges and get a complete list of the available majors.

Finally, finances can be a major factor for some students when deciding which UC to attend. The cost of attendance is basically the same for each UC, but the financial aid you receive from each school can vary. Also, some students save money by living at home, so they choose the campus that is closest for financial reasons. 

Especially because most upperclassmen live off campus at UCs, the cost of living of the area of the school is a factor for students who are concerned about finances. It’s much cheaper to live in Davis, Merced, or Riverside than in Los Angeles, Irvine, or Berkeley.

 

What's Next?

Not sure if you want to attend a UC school? Read our guide on which colleges you should apply to.

Ready to start your UC application? Check out this post on how to apply for college

You may also want to read about how to write a perfect UC personal statement and learn how to come up with great college essay ideas

 

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

Get eBook: 5 Tips for 160+ Points

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Justin Berkman
About the Author

Justin has extensive experience teaching SAT prep and guiding high school students through the college admissions and selection process. He is firmly committed to improving equity in education and helping students to reach their educational goals. Justin received an athletic scholarship for gymnastics at Stanford University and graduated with a BA in American Studies.



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