Students find UC admission offers can be harder and harder to snag – San Bernardino Sun

It fell upon me like a ferocious pile of bricks that COVID-soaked spring of 2021: Holy (insert expletive here), my daughter has to apply to college this fall!

I did my graduate work at UCLA, my husband did his at UC Irvine, and my graduating daughter’s very first piece of clothing was an adorable pink-and-white UCLA sweatshirt. “UC GO!” were among her very first words.

Brag alert: My daughter was in an International Baccalaureate program with 12 years of Mandarin immersion and had a weighted GPA of 4.62. I knew UCLA and Berkeley would still be a challenge, but I felt certain she’d have the rest of the campuses throwing themselves at her little princess feet. We piled into the car over spring break 2021, hit all the UC campuses from San Diego to Berkeley, and I assured her she’d have many choices.

In the end, she applied to six campuses. To my genuine surprise, she was offered admission at just three (UCI, UC San Diego and UC Davis), waitlisted at two (UCLA and UC Santa Barbara) and gently turned down by Berkeley. Several of her friends — also stellar IB students with 12 years of Mandarin immersion — didn’t get into any UC schools.

Which is a long way of saying that many California parents may find little comfort in the new UC admission offers figures released Wednesday, Aug. 10. While the UC system as a whole admitted a record 85,268 California first-years for this fall — a 1.2 percent increase over the year before — there were way, way more applicants than ever before, making a seat at one of its esteemed campuses harder to snag.

Growing competition

It all translates to plunging admission rates at many campuses.

In 2020 — granted, a strange year because of the pandemic and online learning and so many unknowns — UCI accepted 29.9% of applicants. This year, it accepted just 21%.

UCLA marching band and cheer squad are on hand Monday, November 19, 2018 during the announcement the Rolling Stones are going to play the Rose Bowl Stadium next year during their No Filter tour. It will be the band's first time back since 1994. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)
UCLA marching band and cheer squad in 2018. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

At UCLA, the number of applicants offered admission plunged from 14.4% to 8.6%.

Systemwide, UC’s admission rate fell from 64.9% in 2021 to 59.5% this year.

UC Riverside, however, bucked the trend, welcoming more students. UCR granted admission to more than 68% of applicants this year, compared to 66.4% in 2020.

The number of admission offers made changes from year to year based on complex calculations about how many students schools expect will accept them, said Dale Leaman, UCI’s executive director for undergraduate admissions.

“For us, as our campus has gotten more popular and well-known and our reputation is growing, more students accept our offer relative to the past,” he said.

Parents — and lawmakers — have been complaining for years that a shortage of seats for well-qualified California students was aggravated by UC’s eagerness to accept out-of-state and foreign students, who pay much higher tuition.

“The state has made it clear to the UC system as a whole to reduce the number of out-of-state enrollees,” UCI’s Leaman said. “We have admitted far fewer non-residents this year than last year.”

From 2020 to 2022, in-state student admission offers dropped 6% at UCI and 8.5%  at UCLA, while climbing 8.6% at UCR. Over that same time period:

• Out-of-state student admission offers dropped 4.9% at UCI and 36.1% at UCLA, while climbing 88.3% at UCR;

• International student admission offers dropped 43.9% at UCI and 18.9% at UCLA, while growing 33.5% at UC Riverside.

Systemwide, offers to out-of-state students were down 19 percent  from last year, and down 12.2 percent for international students, UC officials said.

UCR is an exception.

Matthew Kusto poses for a photo on Friday, June 10, 2022, before UC Riverside's School of Business graduation ceremony. (Photo by Milka Soko, Contributing Photographer)
Matthew Kusto poses for a photo in June before UC Riverside’s School of Business graduation ceremony. (Photo by Milka Soko, Contributing Photographer)

“UCR is in a unique position having the ability to significantly grow both our California resident and nonresident enrollments,” Emily Engelschall, UCR’s associate vice chancellor of enrollment services, said by email.

“Given our increase in nonresident applicants this year, we were in a position to admit more of them, while still being in a position to admit the highest number of CA resident first-year students in the system.”

Engelschall is proud of the diversity of UCR’s admitted class, with its campus admitting the largest number of first-generation and low-income first-year applicants from California in the system, and similar trends with underrepresented admits.

At UCR, 42% of California freshman admits were from underrepresented groups, she said.

Systemwide, 44% of admitted California freshmen would be the first in their family to earn a bachelor’s degree (down 1% from last year) and 47% reported low family income (up from 45% last year).

Keep in mind that admission offers do not equal enrollments. The number of students who accept admission offers is always lower than the number offered admission. Data on how many students actually enroll at each campus, and their racial, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, will come clear this fall.

Leah Manjarrez dances across the stage as she celebrates during UCIÕs commencement ceremonies for the Schools of Social Ecology and Humanities at the Bren Events Center in Irvine on Friday, June 15, 2018. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Leah Manjarrez dances across the stage as she celebrates during UCI’s commencement ceremonies in 2018. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan, Orange County Register/SCNG)

How to get into a UC school

Simply excelling in AP and IB classes isn’t the answer, UCI’s Leaman said.

“The thing for students to do is to pursue what is important to them. We’re looking for students taking the time to be involved in related activities, challenging themselves academically, engaging in the community and prepared to make a difference. That’s important to us.”

As for us, well, my daughter accepted the wait-list spots and started visiting campuses. She liked that UCSD is at the beach. She liked that UCI has such an orderly campus. But they’re so close to home and, despite all the coding classes and science camps I pushed on her, my daughter is an artist.

She can paint and draw and dance and sew. She has a killer eye, and has designed and redesigned her room and made her own clothes. She’s interested in architecture and interior design, fashion and graphic design — and for all that, it turns out there’s just one place to go.

Davis has the UC system’s only comprehensive design major. Students must study all these areas rather than pursue just one. So that’s where she’s headed this fall. We’re grateful she had choices — and relieved we won’t be running into her at Trader Joe’s. My fellow-journalist husband and I also are relieved that she doesn’t want to study journalism.

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