If you're applying to one or more of the UC schools, you want to make sure you get the application right. This step-by-step guide will walk you through everything you need to know about the UC application, from the time you decide to apply to a UC school to when you submit the final piece of the application.
Keep reading to learn when the most important UC application deadline is, which documents you need to submit to complete your application, if you need a separate application for each UC school, and how you can make sure every part of your application sets you apart from the crowd.
University of California Changes Due to COVID-19
As a result of the coronavirus, the University of California system announced that nearly all of its classes would be virtual for the Fall 2020 semester. The only potential exceptions would be some classes for nursing students and students who needed to conduct lab work as part of their degree requirements.
Also in May 2020, the University of California Board of Regents voted unanimously to stop requiring the ACT and SAT as part of admissions applications. The decision was made in part due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the changes will remain permanent, even after the pandemic is over. The decision has been in the works for years, and it's being done to make the admissions process fairer to all students. Here's how the changes will be rolled out:
For all students applying to the University of California system of schools in Fall 2020 and Fall 2021, the SAT and ACT will be considered test optional. This means that standardized test scores aren't required. However, if you submit them, the admissions team will still look at them, and they'll be part of whether they decide to admit you or not. (This is especially true if you're submitting your test scores to meet the criteria for the California statewide admissions guarantee.) However, UC schools will no longer consider ACT or SAT essay scores as part of their admissions process.
- Additionally, SAT and ACT test scores won't be considered when awarding Regents or Chancellor's scholarships. As of now, it looks like this change will stay in place beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Fall 2022 and Fall 2023, UC will switch over to being a test blind school for California students. This means that, even if you submit ACT or SAT scores, they won't be looked at by the admissions team. However, test scores may still be requested for non-admissions reasons, such as determining scholarship eligibility and which classes a student should enroll in.
In Fall 2024 and beyond, the ACT and SAT will be eliminated for all California students. Students will instead take a UC-specific standardized test that's currently in development.
Note that, after Fall 2021, these exam changes only apply to California students; the University of California system hasn't yet decided if they'll be test blind for out-of-state and international students or require them to take their new standardized test.
However, the school system is expected to remain test-optional for international and out-of-state students until at least 2024, and any decisions after that will be made at a later date. You can learn more about the University of California testing changes here, and keep up to date on how the coronavirus is affecting SAT and ACT test dates.
Important Info About the University of California Application
It's key to know important information about the UC application early on so that you have enough time to gather and submit all the materials you need before the deadlines.
Where to Find the UC Application: You can find the UC application here. This is the application for all University of California schools, so regardless if you're looking for a UC Berkeley application, UC Davis application, etc., they all use this same application.
How to Submit the Application: When you've completed the application, you can submit it by hitting the "Submit" button at the end of the application. SAT and/or ACT scores (if you're sending them) must be sent directly to the UC school(s) you're applying to.
When to Submit Your Application: It's extremely important to know when the UC application deadlines are because missing one could mean your application won't be looked at. Below are the key University of California application dates.
|August 1||UC application opens|
|October 1||FAFSA and Cal Grant Verification Form open for applicants|
|November 1-30||Applications can be submitted for fall 2021 admission
|March 1||Admissions decisions begin to be sent out|
|March 2||Financial aid applications due|
|May 1||Reply date for all accepted first year students|
|July 1||Admitted students must have submitted their final high school transcript|
Looking at the above chart, it's clear that the most important date is November 30th. This is the last day you can submit your UC application. UC states right on the website that they almost never accept late applications, so don't miss this deadline!
However, as long as you have your application submitted by November 30th, you can still take the ACT/SAT in December (if you decide to submit test scores, which are no longer required). If so, you'll self-report your scores in December and then send your official scores once you get them in January or February. We don't recommend waiting until December to take the ACT or SAT because if you're unhappy with your score you won't have any other chances to retake it, but if you've taken the exam several times and want one more shot, a December test date is an option.
You'll learn if you've been accepted as early as March 1st, and you'll have until May 1st to decide which school to attend.
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How to Apply to the UC Schools
There are five main steps to applying to UC schools. The earlier you begin your application (as early as August 1st) the more time you'll have to complete all the steps and the less pressure you'll be under to meet the deadline. The steps are the same regardless of which UC school(s) you're applying to since all UC schools use the same application (and you only need to submit one application, even if you apply to multiple UC schools).
Step 1: Create an Account
Your step to applying to UC schools is to create an applicant account. This step will only take about a few minutes since you just need to fill out basic information like your email, name, which semester you want to start school, and if you're applying as a freshman or as a transfer student.
Step 2: Complete the UC Application
After creating your account, you'll be immediately sent to the beginning of the application. The University of California application contains eight sections:
You'll answer background and demographic questions, such as your birth date and contact information, which language(s) you grew up speaking, what your family's income is, if you qualify as a resident of California.
Campuses & Majors
You choose which school(s) you want to apply to. There are nine UC schools, listed below, and you can choose to apply to as many as you want, including all nine. Be aware though that each UC school you apply to requires its own $70 application fee ($80 for international students). If you have a fee waiver, you can apply to up to four UC schools for free.
Here are the UC schools:
- UC Berkeley
- UC Davis
- UC Irvine
- UC Los Angeles
- UC Merced
- UC Riverside
- UC Santa Barbara
- UC Santa Cruz
- UC San Diego
You'll next select your major. If you're applying to multiple UC schools, you'll need to do this separately for each school since they all have slightly different majors. Some schools also offer the option of selecting an "alternate major" which is your second choice of major if you can't be placed in that campus in your top major.
This is a lengthy section where you'll need to enter in information about the high school(s) you attended, all the classes you took in high school, if they were honors or AP, and the grade you got. It's basically like entering all the information on your transcript. (You don't need to submit your official transcript until the summer, after you've been accepted and have decided to attend a UC school.)
Here is where you'll enter information about the standardized test(s) you've taken. Again, test scores are now optional for University of California schools, although they'll still be reviewed if you submit them. If you do enter in test scores, report only your highest overall score from a single test date (i.e. don't mix scores from different dates to create a superscore). NOTE: if you choose to self-report your scores in your application, you still need to submit official exam scores to each UC school you're applying for them to be reviewed.
Only the SAT and ACT fall under the University of California schools' test optional policy. You'll be asked about AP exams, IB exams, TOEFL exams, IELTS exams, on other international tests on separate pages in the test score section of your application. According to the UC system's application website, "You’ll need to report your scores if you’ve already taken an exam or indicate if you’re planning on taking an exam in the future."
Also keep in mind that some programs at specific US campuses may still recommend that you to take SAT Subject Tests. These usually aren't required, but they do provide admissions counselors another piece of information as they consider whether to admit you or not. Again, this isn't a recommendation for all programs across all campuses, so be sure to check with your specific department to see if SAT Subject Tests are recommended for you. If you don't know much about SAT Subject Tests—or if you're not sure whether you should take them—this article can help!
Activities & Awards
In this section, you'll discuss all the activities you participated in outside of the classroom. There are six categories:
- Award or honor
- Educational preparation programs
- Extracurricular activities
- Other coursework (classes outside UC's "a-g" core subject areas)
- Volunteering/community service
- Work experience
The application explains which activities fall into which category, and there's no need to feel like you need to have activities to put in all the categories, or even most of them. For each category, you can add up to five separate classes/activities/jobs/awards/etc.
Scholarships & Programs
In this section you'll select your eligibility for different scholarship categories, such as ethnicity, career plans, and work experience. There are ten categories, each with multiple characteristics you can select. You'll only select these characteristics once, regardless of how many UC schools you're applying to. This is also the section where you can apply for the Educational Opportunity Program, which is explained in the application.
This is the section where you'll answer the personal statement questions. There are eight personal statement questions, and you'll need to answer four of them. Each response should be 250-350 words. We recommend that you write your essays in a word document first to make it easier to review them, then paste each essay into the application once you're done editing it.
Below are the eight essay prompts.
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 admissions to the University of California?
If you want tips on writing your personal statements, we have a guide on how to write a perfect UC essay for every prompt.
Step 3: Pay Admission Fees and Submit Your Application
Once you've finished each section your application, you can submit it, as long as it's between November 1-30. When you submit your application, first you'll enter in some final demographic information as well as your state of legal residence. Then you'll review all the information you entered to make sure it's correct.
Once everything is set, you'll pay the necessary fees. The application fee is $70 ($80 if you're an international student) for each UC school you apply to. Then you'll click submit, and your application will officially be sent to the UC schools you're applying to!
Step 4: (Optional) Submit Your Standardized Test Scores
If you decide to take the SAT/ACT and submit those scores, you'll self-submit your test scores when you fill out your University of California application, but you also need to send official score reports to each of the UC schools you're applying to. You aren't required to take AP exams or SAT Subject Tests, but you can submit those scores as well if you did take those tests.
Step 5: (Optional) Complete Additional Materials
Most students applying to UC schools won't need to submit additional materials, but some will. This will depend on both which schools you're applying to and what you plan on majoring in.
For example, some students planning to major in a fine arts discipline are requested to submit a portfolio. These additional materials are typically only recommended, not required, but doing these extra steps can help give your application a boost.
If you do need to complete additional materials, you will either get a notification in the application or receive an email outlining what you need to do, but it's also a good idea to research your intended major at each UC school you're applying to in order to make sure you're not missing any important recommendations.
University of California Application Checklist
To recap, below is everything you need to submit when you apply to a UC school. Your application won't be considered until the schools receive all the pieces below.
- UC Application
- Application Fee of $70 for each school you apply to
- (Optional) SAT/ACT scores
- (Optional) Supplemental Materials
5 Things UC Schools Look at in Applications and How to Impress Them
The UC schools are pretty open about what they look for in applicants and what an applicant needs to have to be accepted. They've listed 14 qualities they look for in every application, and we've organized those qualities into five categories. Below, we explain what you need to do to excel in each category to create a standout UC application.
#1: Classes You Took
When UC admissions officers look at the classes you took, they're looking at two things: the actual courses you took and how difficult they were.
For the first category, UC schools want to make sure you've taken the classes you need to succeed as a college student at one of their schools. Their minimum requirements are:
- History: 2 years
- English: 4 years
- Mathematics: 3 years
- Laboratory science: 2 years
- Language other than English: 2 years
- Visual and performing arts: 1 year
- College-preparatory elective: 1 year
(These courses are sometimes referred to as the "A-G subjects").
Note that this is the minimum UC schools require; most applicants will have gone well beyond these requirements. Some majors, especially those in math or science fields, require additional classes, so make sure to research the major you plan to take to make sure you're on track.
In general, it's best to take more classes in the fields you plan on majoring in. For example, if you want to major in biology, you should take four years of science and four years of math. If you want to be a history major, you should take four years of history. Doing this shows UC schools that you're committed to the subject and can handle higher-level classes on it.
UC also looks at the difficulty of the classes you took. They're specifically looking for honors, AP, or IB courses since these are more difficult than regular-level classes. If your school offers these classes, you should take as many as you can without overloading yourself and still maintaining a high GPA. Taking difficult classes shows UC schools that you're focused on your studies and can handle the challenge and workload of college classes.
Also, UC specifically mentions the "quality of your senior-year program" as one of the qualifications it looks at, so don't be tempted to slack off senior year with a bunch of easy classes!
It's not enough just to take the classes UC schools want; you also need to do well in them. Your grades and overall GPA are another critical component of your UC application. For all UC schools, you need to have at least a 3.0 GPA in your A-G classes if you're a California resident, or a 3.4 GPA if you're a non-resident. Additionally, you can't have gotten below a "C" in any of those classes.
There is no requirement for classes outside the A-G subjects, but you should still aim to do well in all your classes. UC states that "the strength of your high school record is the most important component in our review" so you want your transcript to be as strong as it can be with a high GPA and record of challenging classes.
Below is a table showing the middle 50% of weighted GPAs of accepted students for each of the UC schools in 2019:
|School||Middle 50% Weighted GPA|
|UC Davis||3.96 - 4.25|
|UC Irvine||3.97 - 4.25|
|UCLA||4.36 - 4.68|
|UC Merced||3.45 - 3.96|
|UC Riverside||3.69 - 4.11|
|UC Santa Barbara||4.04 - 4.28|
|UC Santa Cruz||3.76 - 4.16|
|UC San Diego||4.03 - 4.28|
To give yourself the best chance of getting in, you'll want to aim for the higher end of the GPA range for whichever school(s) you're applying to. For example, if you're applying to UC Davis, your goal should be to have a weighted GPA of 4.25. You can definitely still get in with a lower GPA (since that's the 75% marker, ¾ of students are getting in with a GPA lower than that), but if you reach that goal you'll have a great shot at being accepted.
#3: Standardized Test Scores
Again, SAT and ACT scores are optional now, but for the next few years they'll still be considered if you submit them. That means strong standardized test scores can still help your application. There is no minimum SAT or ACT score you need to get into UC schools, but again, you'll want to aim high to give yourself the best chance of getting accepted. Below is the middle 50% range for both the SAT and ACT.
|School||Middle 50% SAT Score||Middle 50% ACT Score|
|UC Santa Barbara||1280-1520||26-31|
|UC Santa Cruz||1200-1450||24-30|
|UC San Diego||1300-1520||26-31|
Your extracurriculars are another important part of your UC application. The key to strong extracurriculars is to emphasize your passion and leadership skills. You can do this by pursuing extracurriculars in a field related to your future major, sticking with them, and achieving leadership roles in them.
Some things UC states that are looking for in extracurriculars include:
- Special talents, awards, or achievements
- Leadership experience
- Significant experiences or achievements that demonstrate the student's promise for contributing to the intellectual vitality of a campus.
They list the following examples of "strong" extracurriculars:
- Special talent in visual and performing arts, communication or sports
- Intensive study and exploration of other cultures
- Significant community service
- Significant participation in student government
Don't feel like you need to have all or even any of these experiences; they're just given so you can get an idea of what UC schools are looking for. Basically, any extracurricular that you're passionate about, skilled in, and have shown some leadership potential for is a great extracurricular to include on your UC application.
#5: Personal Statements
Your UC essays should show three main things:
- Who you are
- Why you want to attend a UC school
- What's important to you
Maybe you're a lifelong nature lover who wants to attend UC San Diego to take advantage of all the different ecosystems nearby that biology students can study. Perhaps you've always been obsessed with space and want to attend UC Berkeley and major in aeronautical engineering.
Whatever your story is, this is the place for UC to hear it, and it's the best place in your application to show them who you really are as a person. For a more in-depth look, read our guide on how to write outstanding UC essays.
Automatic Admission for California Residents
If you're a California resident, who meets at least one of the following two requirements, you will have a guaranteed spot at a UC school.
- You rank in the top 9% of California high school students, according to the UC admissions index.
- You rank in the top 9% of your graduating class at a participating high school. This is known as "Eligible in the Local Context" (ELC).
Be aware that this doesn't mean you'll get into every UC school; it just means you'll get into at least one, as long as space is available (which there typically is). If you're a California resident who has met the above requirements and aren't admitted to any of the UC schools you applied to, you'll be offered a spot at another campus as long as space is available.
Summary: UC Schools Application
If you're applying to a UC school, you want to make sure you know every application step you need to complete. The most important UC application deadline to be aware of is November 30th. This is the last day you can submit your application.
In addition to completing the application, you also need to submit your transcript and any additional materials your specific school and major require. SAT and ACT scores are now optional, but for the next several years they'll still be considered if you decide to submit them. You only need to submit one application regardless of how many UC schools you're applying to, but you'll need to pay a $70 application fee for every school.
Regardless of whether you're working on a UC Davis application, UC San Diego application, UC Berkeley application, etc. all UC schools look for similar qualities in students. You'll need to complete the A-G courses, take difficult classes, have good grades, participate in extracurriculars, and have strong personal statements.
Work to make your application as strong as you can across each of these areas to give yourself the best shot of getting into your dream UC school.
Want to learn more about the University of California schools? We have an in-depth guide to the UC schools to make it easy for you to compare the schools and see which is best for you.
Working on your UC essays? Check out our guide on how to answer every UC essay prompt to get great writing ideas.
Want to know how to make your extracurriculars stand out even more? Check out this guide to four amazing extracurricular activities and learn why they're so impressive to colleges.
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:
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Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.