Applying to the university of california

June 1, 2021

by Leanne Soulard

Sunny days under the palm trees. Ocean sunsets. Tacos galore. The pull of California is strong, especially for New Englanders who seem to be convinced that the Golden State offers a sense of freedom not easily felt here in the northeast. (Okay, maybe I’m talking about myself.) And with a public university system that rivals even the best schools on the east coast, it’s no wonder that hundreds of thousands of students apply to the University of California year after year.

The UC application is accepted by all nine campuses and students are encouraged to apply to any and all of them. Applications are considered independently by each school and decisions are not influenced by where else students apply within the system. Students can start the application on August 1st and it must be submitted by November 30. Grades are self-reported and letters of recommendation are not accepted, but this doesn’t mean that applying to a UC school is a simple process. You’ll have to work pretty hard for those sunsets and tacos!

Applications are reviewed comprehensively, with special attention paid to leadership characteristics, academic excellence in a particular subject area, and special talents such as music, art, and athletics. Then there are the Personal Insight Questions, or PIQs, which are designed to help admissions counselors get a better sense of who you are as a person. Here are three things to know about the PIQs:

  • Students must respond to four of the eight options.
  • Responses are limited to 350 words each.
  • They aren’t a secret! You can access them right on the UC website.

Make no mistake, if you want to attend a UC school, these 1,400 words are some of the most important you’ll write during your high school career. Our advice? Make sure you understand the prompt, plan your strategy for answering each question, and start early!

Out-of-state applicants, listen up! The admissions criteria is different for non-California residents. Applicants must have a 3.4 GPA or better and you should know that your honors and AP classes are weighted differently to ensure consistency between in-state and out-of-state transcripts. Advanced Placement courses are weighted as Honors courses and Honors courses are weighted as college-prep (more on that here).

If you are a rising senior, there aren’t too many adjustments you can make to impact the GPA calculation but you do have plenty of time to make sure that the other parts of your application help you shine. In addition to your PIQ responses, a well-planned and thoughtfully completed activities section will help admissions counselors learn more about what you value and how you demonstrate commitment to the things that are important to you.

It’s exciting to think about going to college on the other side of the country but before you create your UC application account, take some time to read through the application guidelines on the website and plan accordingly so that you’re prepared to present the best version of yourself in the application process.

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