There are three major factors affecting UC admissions trends:
New Admissions Policies
New policies have been put in place that will make it increasingly difficult for applicants from immigrant families, especially Asian families, to gain admission.
The Budget Crisis
The California state budget crisis has had a profound impact on enrollment at the UCs.
Tuition hikes have begun to close the gap between UC and private college costs of attendance.
Trend #1: New Admissions Policies
California is one of the most diverse regions of the world, claiming the largest minority population among American states.¹ However, comparing state demographic data with the demographics of the California public college student population shows a significant disparity.
Example: Asian Enrollment
UC San Diego
- Asians make up 42.4% of the 2017 freshman students at UC Berkeley;†
- 31.6% at UCLA;††
- 46% at UC San Diego;‡
- 35% at UC Irvine;α
- and 33% at UC Davis.β
This growing imbalance has led the state government to implement new policies intended to balance the demographic breakdown at the UCs. After all, the UCs are public institutions; it makes sense that the state of California would want its schools to better reflect the population of the state as a whole.
There are two key developments that students should be aware of:
The SAT Subject Test requirement was dropped in 2009.
Let’s see what these mean for applicants.
SAT Subject Test Requirement Has Been Dropped
Critics of the SAT Subject Test requirement argued that it left many strong high school seniors – students with high GPAs and SAT scores – ineligible for the UCs. Moreover, too many high school students weren’t even aware that the SAT Subject Test was a UC requirement until too late in the game.
The UC’s own analysis predicted that dropping the SAT Subject Test requirement would mostly benefit the Caucasian student population, followed by Underrepresented Minorities, or URMs, like African American and Latino populations.δ
Asian American students, however, have long seen the SAT Subject Tests as a way to highlight their academic achievements and differentiate themselves from other candidates in the admissions process. However, eliminating this requirement has essentially removed one of the competitive advantages that Asian American students long enjoyed.
Eligibility in the Local Context (ELC) Program Has Been Significantly Expanded
Introduced in 1999, the Eligibility in the Local Context (ELC) program guarantees a spot at one of the UC campuses to every student ranking in the top 4% of every (participating) California high school class. (Students must also maintain a GPA of 3.0 or higher and complete a specific sequence of UC-mandated coursework.)
Starting in 2012, eligibility for the ELC program was extended to the top 9% of seniors, and designed to create college opportunities for students from historically underrepresented communities.
It ensures that a certain percentage of students from every participating California high school can find a place at a UC: whether a student falls in the top 9% at the notoriously competitive and high-achieving Troy High School in Fullerton or at the comparatively easy Santa Ana High School, he or she will be guaranteed a spot at one of the UC campuses.
This program clearly helps out students attending weaker high schools. But critics complain that it is not fair to the student who works hard at more competitive schools and does very well, but fails to crack the top 9%.
Moreover, UC campuses, while required to offer admission to ELC students, now are frequently unable to accommodate applicants to a specific campus, especially the more competitive campuses like Berkeley, UCLA, and UCSD. Often the only campus offering ELC students a spot is the less competitive, and newest UC campus of UC Merced.ε
Instituting these two changes to the UC admissions policy has made Asian-American enrollment more competitive.
As the UC Senate notes,
“Asian-Americans are [currently] heavily represented at UC. Opening the door more widely [by changing admissions policies] may reduce their numbers.”ζ
These policies continue to be hotly debated. Students should take note and, if necessary, start looking beyond the UC system.
Trend #2: The Budget Crisis
California’s economy has been dealing with some serious budget woes in the last decade. Because the UC is a public institution supported by the state, the state’s problem is also the UC’s problem. As a result, the UCs have faced a tumult of budget cuts, student protests, tuition freezes, and tuition increases.
Simultaneously, residents are applying in record numbers, not only to the UCs but also to the California State Universities and to community colleges, and out of state and international students are increasingly applying to the UC system.
UC admission has become exponentially more competitive,
Recently, UC Berkeley and UCLA were given caps on their maximum enrollment that further limits the admission possibilities for in-state applicants. What are California residents, and especially Asian American residents, to do? This is a question that the state of California has yet to answer.
Trend #3: Tuition Increases
Although families in California have historically considered the UCs a more affordable option, this is no longer necessarily the case.
2010 Spike in UC Tuition.
Estimate annual costs ($) for CA residents for 2019
And the increases in tuition has not bought an increase in the quality of education.
On the contrary, class sizes are still expanding and the average time to graduation is still unsatisfactory. Many take up to six years because overcrowding at UCLA prevents students from being able to enroll in classes required for graduation.
Why Apply to a UC?
All of these developments – the tuition hikes, coupled with admissions policies resulting in a more difficult process for many immigrant families – beg the question: Why apply to a UC? The traditional reasons – lower cost and an easier admission process without sacrifice in quality – are being eroded.
I strongly urge immigrant families to seriously explore their private school options.
During this time of uncertainty, it is comforting to know that immigrant students from California are consistently gaining admission to private schools that are ranked higher than the UCs.
Students rejected by Berkeley, UCLA and UCSD are getting admitted to schools such as Columbia, Dartmouth, Brown, and Cornell.
Moreover, parents should know that private colleges, which have more money, are offering attractive financial aid packages to woo qualified students.
Families are advised to research their private options thoroughly and expand their horizons.
1. U.S. Census Bureau. “Table PEPSR5H: Annual Estimates of the Resident Population by Sex, Race Alone of in Combination, Hispanic Origin for the United States, States, and Counties, April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2017.” ” American Fact Finder. Washington, D.C.:, Web, 1 Oct 2018.
3. University of California. “Fall enrollment at a glance (2017 Undergraduate).” Web, 1 Oct 2018.
†. UC Berkeley Office of Planning and Analysis. “UC Berkeley Fall Enrollment Data: New Freshman Enrollment by Ethnicity, Fall 2015 through Fall 2017.” Web. 1 Oct 2018.
‡. UC San Diego. “Undergraduates by Ethnicity; Digest 2016.” Web. 1 Oct 2018.
α. UC Irvine. “UCI College Portrait.” 15 Dec 2017. Web. 1 Oct 2018.
β. UC Davis. “UC Davis Student Profile.” Web. 1 Oct 2018.
γ. Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools Systemwide Academic Senate University of California (BOARS). “Annual Report on Undergraduate Admissions Requirements and Comprehensive Review April 2018” Web. 4 Oct 2018.
ε. FLEX College Prep Blog. “UC Admission Still Getting Harder for Asians from California.” Web 16 May 2018.
ζ. University of California Academic Senate. “Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools: Minutes of Meeting, January 8, 2010.” 8 Jan 2010. Web. 16 Feb 2011.
η. FLEX College Prep Blog. “UC Admission Still Getting Harder for Asians from California.” Web 16 May 2018.
θ. Shores, Lauren Marnel. “A Brief History of UC Tuition.” UCSB: The Bottom Line. Web. 1 Oct 2018.
ι. University of California. “Admissions: Tuition and Cost of Attendance.” Web, 1 Oct 2018.
Danny is the CEO of FLEX College Prep. Danny’s core focus is on helping young people get the best advice, and be the best students they can be. His team of professionals are also personal coaches, and great people, driven by the same passion for helping people.