Applying to and Attending the UCs

Parent Q&A

What’s happening with college admissions? Nov 16, 2020 (8 responses below)
Start UC online in the fall or wait? May 16, 2020 (3 responses below)
College choice: UC vs. CSU Jul 7, 2018 (12 responses below)
  • Hello,

    My son is a junior. His grades are currently all over the map— online learning is not ideal. He gets pretty decent grades but has skipped to Bs and Cs. He wants to get into a UC school but it’s not looking likely. Can anyone give a definitive answer as to what UC schools are asking for in terms of admissions during COVID? I’m not getting straight answers from admissions counselors as no one seems to know. The SAT is optional, grades are all over the place, clubs are difficult or not meeting, and extracurriculars are lacking. Kids are having a hard enough time with this pandemic—- so what do colleges want? 

    My understanding is that students need a minimum GPA of 3.0 to be admitted to a UC.

    I’m not an admissions officer, but I think multiple 11th grade C’s might be difficult to overcome for a UC acceptance straight out of high school, even with the pandemic (except for football recruits and such, who are not held to the same academic standards). He may want to look at some CSU options or consider the community college transfer path. By design, it is much easier to get into UC from community college. It’s not unusual for kids who didn’t get into Merced out of high school to get into UCLA and Berkeley from a community college, if they get good grades there.  It’s a cost-effective path, too.  I’m sure he’d get into many private colleges as well — just not the most selective ones, which tend to also have the most aid dollars to give out.  If money is not an object, I’d consider those as well.  Many of them are very good schools, and he might find the right fit at one. In my opinion, it’s all about fit. Not going to UC straight from high school is not a disaster, and he might find the path he follows instead was the right one for him all along.  

    The UC's look at grades, the answers to the personal insight questions, and extracurriculars.   He will more likely get into a UC's if he has a great answers to his personal insight questions and extracurriculars.  There are extracurriculars he can do even during COVID. He could do something related to childcare if both of you are ok with that during COVID.  If not, he could do virtual extracurriculars such as The summer ACLU high school program.  Many martial art studios and dance studios are giving virtual lessons.  He could create his own website and start a mini business.  He could help a small business with their social media. He could have a side business doing content creation. Here is a job that is a few volunteers hours a week through the United Nations  I would recommend that he try to get at least all B's but the schools do look at kids from all backgrounds. It all depends on motivation and how much he wants to make lemonade out of lemons.  Contact me for more information. 

  • Start UC online in the fall or wait?

    (3 replies)

    Many other families must be grappling with the question of whether offspring should go to college in the fall or defer admission / take leave of absence in light of college being all or mostly online. At our house, our youngest was going to start at a UC as a junior transfer from community college, he has been living at home and working very hard for this for the past year and a half after a bad start at a CSU, and was really looking forward to leaving home, living in a dorm with tons of other young people, and being at a large research university with a great department for his major. However, online learning has been very hard for him as he has ADHD (not diagnosed until college.) His doctor strongly recommends against his taking online classes, plus he is a biology major and online labs have been ridiculous. There's also the issue of paying UC tuition for online classes, for us it's going to be steep and it would be good if our kid stayed home an additional semester working and saving $. On the other hand, I know that they are greatly improving online teaching methods for this fall and it will be quite different than the current hastily improvised online classes that were switched over mid-semester, and that tons of students deferring will be even more economically disastrous for our public universities... What are others thinking?

    I think the answer for you is different since he is a junior transfer. 

    My train of thought for my teenagers goes to--this might be a great time to get accepted to a "reach" school that you have your heart set on because there will be less competition this year. For your son's set of unique circumstances, the answer is not as clear. If UC will let him defer, I'd strongly consider that. OR, it might not be a bad idea to just take a minimum number of classes/get rid of some core requirements (which he may already have done) just to get used to the idea/community. 

    As I always tell my kids--don't let the decision paralyze you. Make it, and then make sure it's the best decision for you--work hard to make it so!

    I’m curious about this too. My senior is planning to enroll this fall at a CSU even if it’s online. Here’s why:

    1. When campus does open, she can roll right in because she’ll already be enrolled.

    2. She doesn’t want to start at a community college and then have to reapply as a transfer student in two years because she’ll no longer be eligible as a freshman. 

    3.  All her units will be from the same university, and since she plans to double minor it will be easier to figure out which classes count toward graduation.
    4. if everything is online, we are exploring options of going to school from anywhere if there is a way to do so safely. We’ve looked at living in both New Zealand and in Spain while taking her classes online.  We have done the research and will just need to plan the details if either of those countries are open. 

    We have had many conversations about the fact that she is beginning her journey in a new world. I’ve really encouraged her to keep an open mind and figure out what new opportunities she has that weren’t there before. Yes, this sucks. And yes, her college experience is not going to be what she thought it was. But I don’t want her to chase something that doesn’t exist anymore. She can still have an amazing college experience. It will just be different from what she was expecting.  The uncertainty is difficult and she is so ready to start her life as a young adult. 
    I can’t wait to hear what other parents have come up with. Good luck to everyone!

    I like how the last responder, Lula, is making lemonade out of lemons. Yes, why not combine college with living abroad if you easily can!

    But back to the OP's question, speaking as someone who graduated from college not *that* long ago, when I think back on it, every memorable experience there was an in-person interaction. In my case it was a private school (Mills) and what I thought made that school worth the tuition were the cultural opportunities and resources available on campus -- and I didn't even live on campus! There were amazing speakers, events, and exhibits seemingly every week. Not to mention I took many classes in book arts that definitely could not be virtual (unless maybe you owned your own giant letterpress). I remember being in a "History of the Book" class with 8 students where we looked at rare books and manuscripts from Mills's collection in every class. I realize that's not what your child is studying, however you said online biology labs have been terrible, and I feel like an online version of that class *also* would have been terrible. So I can relate somewhat.

    Now as a parent paying school bills I absolutely would not want to pay UC tuition for online classes. And your child's difficulty with that kind of learning make it an even more bitter pill to swallow. I would urge deferring if at all possible and trying to find something for your student to do during the pause that makes it feel like less of a letdown. A work opportunity that involves travel and could give him/her a sense of independence while saving some money would be ideal, I think.

    I really sympathize with your situation and hope it works out for the best.

  • College choice: UC vs. CSU

    (12 replies)

    Did you go to college far away or closer to home? Are your teenagers already in college or will be going to college in the next few years? Please share what would you choose in this situation. 

    My daughter is 15. She is the only child and we are very close. Her grades are good  but not stellar (GPA 3.6). She will be 17 when she graduates high school. She has a few health issues plus ADD, anxiety and depression that made last year in school very difficult which affected her grades. Had higher grades before. 

    There is a midrange state University 25 minutes from home. It has a major of her choice. She can live at home and drive to the campus or live freshman year in the dorms to get college experience and the rest of years at home. It still will be less expensive then any other school.  

    Common sense says to me that it is the way to go and there are benefits of going there including:

    1)living nearby so I can help easier if she needs help (given her health and emotional issues it is my main concern now), 

    2)saving a lot of money and graduating without loans. Her future job of choice is not one of the high paying jobs but she really wants to do it. We do not qualify for financial aid. 

    4)at that local school it is easier to get classes needed (less impacted), easy to change majors if she decides to and it is less competitive and less stressful environment

    4)she can visit often her dog and me which will make us much happier :)

    However downsides are:

    1)since the school is smaller and less well known there will be less opportunities for internships and the name of the school is important for getting a good job after. She wants to get to the best school possible to have a better chance for future job prospects. Her grades would allow her to get into a better schools but they all are farther away.

    2)kids become more mature and learn more lifeskills if they are away from home and this is what most of her classmates going to do-go away for college. Would she be in a huge disadvantage if she stays locally for undergrad and may be go away to a bigger school for Grad school? She told me yesterday that wants to experience other places. How important is to get this experience at 17 vs 23 to be successful as a young adult in the US?

    Plus, I am a single mom, so my own desire to be close to her, and my mentality of being raised in the country where children stay at hometown if they can, also contributes but I do not want to be selfish and want to choose what would truly be the best for her. 

    Would you encourage your child to go to a good local less expensive school that we have enough savings to pay for fully or to take loans and go away to a better known bigger much more expensive school? 

    We are deciding between California State University vs UC (except UC Berkeley, UCLA or UCSD- scores are unfortunately not at the range for those). What would you do?

    Moderator Note: See also past advice "Which college?"

    RE: College choice: UC vs. CSU ()

    Tough choices. You know your daughter best. Make your decision from love, not fear. Yes, going away to college is an experience, but not every 18-year-old are mature enough to manage the roadblocks of being away from home i.e. parties.  

    Here are my personal thoughts: debt-free college, or at least minimum debt (less than $30k). Community college is also an option, keeping her close to home, giving her time to acclimate to college life. Berkeley Community College is a solid choice, as it's a feeder into the UC system. As far as CSU vs. UC, it depends on your daughter's interest/major. If it's not engineering, medicine, law, or business, CSU is adequate. I'm a former high school life skills teacher, and it's unfortunate that grades have become like an Olympic competition. But grades are not a predictor of a student's success. Life skills are. good luck.

    RE: College choice: UC vs. CSU ()

    Our daughter had some of the same challenges as yours, except that her grades in high school were MUCH worse; she nearly didn’t graduate. She went away to a junior college, and while the first year was almost a repeat of her HS years, somehow starting in her 2nd year she completely turned herself around. She finished her lower division transfer courses at the JC, getting help with her ADHD as well as guidance to ensure she completed the transfer requirements. She got into all of the schools you mention: UC Berkeley, UCLA, and UC San Diego. She is now very happy at UC Berkeley. (She applied as a regular junior admission, not using the guaranteed admission program that community colleges offer).

    Two things: I think the experience of “going away” to college is extremely important (she was in another city for JC).  I wouldn’t envision your daughter getting as much out of her experience if she lives with you, particularly during her upper division years. 

    And I believe the college she attends absolutely does matter. Kids at UCB, UCLA, etc., are going to have opportunities that a child at CSU East Bay (or other) simply won’t have. 

    I’d consider the community college route. The guaranteed admission to a UC campus (does not include Berkeley or UCLA) holds if she maintains a 3.0 there. Both the community colleges and UC campuses will have programs that provide accommodation for her ADHD, should she desire that.  

    Best of luck. 

    RE: College choice: UC vs. CSU ()

    Have you considered the community college transfer route? Your daughter could stay at home an additional two years, save a ton of money, then transfer to her pick of UCs (or CSU or private college) for the remaining two years. It is MUCH easier to get in to the highly selective UCs as a community college transfer than from high school. HS grades and test scores will not be considered, only her community college grades. OTOH CSU is a great option. Keep in mind your daughter is going to mature quite a bit from age 15 to 17 and have her own opinion. I have one CC kid and one CSU kid.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


UCSB or UCI for First Gen college bound Eng major student?

April 2014

Daughter was accepted into UCSB and UC Irvine as well as CAL Poly. She is still waiting on a few private school decisions from east coast colleges, and we will visit the strongest contenders this coming week with one UCI/UCSB visit, and then one east coast visit - same week. We'd like to try and figure out as much as possible before leaving, which will lessen our travel time, and ensure I am less ragged for planned surgery upon our return. We are now trying to choose between UCSB and UCI.

She is strongly considering UCSB, with UCI a close second. She has been accepted as an English major, wants to be a writer, and would consider a 2nd major as she fears not being employable with just an English degree. She plans to continue on and get a Ph.D.

So far, we know UCI is known for its writing program, but she feels she will not like the school as much as UCSB - (though she is far from the stereotypical 'California' girl and is concerned about the UCSB party girl image/lifestyle. (Parents are both from other countries. She would like NY first, but was wait-listed at a school there.)

Apparently, UC Irvine is comprised of a very diverse student body and is also as some suggest, a commuter school with many going home on weekends. It is also can be quiet with not much to do on weekends per reviews. Knowing my daughter and her love of glamor, cities, and busy places, I think she would not be happy at Irvine. Most importantly, neither does she - however, she is basing this on peer comments and her online research.

She feels that while she is not into the UCSB drinking/Isla Vista partying that she has read about, she prefers the location of UCSB, the beaches, weather, and community. We would just visit UCSB on Spring break if we could figure this out, and not waste time going to UCI. (UCSB we could drive to - UCI we would probably fly to.) The best of both worlds would be UCI's creative writing program and UCSB's location.

Can anyone speak to these two schools? (She has ruled out CAL Poly due to 'isolated' location.) We have not been to any of the schools yet. We thought we would visit only UCSB if we figured that's the one if she's staying in CA, (we think she will staying for various reasons). I feel guilty not visiting UCI - but she just does not think the location and community sound like a fit for her, and I do not want to waste time.

While I understand it makes more sense to pursue writing at UCI, I also understand she is only 17 and will live there for 4 years, so she needs to like the place she lives in.

Wondering if anyone has looked closely and made comparisons or had a kid who has been on this same path? We are also looking for other advantages of UCSB over UCI such as ability to do a double major, or major/minor, the Eng Lit major, CCS, study abroad, housing, gym, pools, food, accessibility to professors, student support services, etc. Anxious first gen parent

Hi there,

I went to UCI. Yes, it was 20 years ago, but I can tell you my experience. Yes, there is a large commuter component to the student body. I wouldn't say, at the time, that the student body was all that diverse. It was heavily Asian/Caucasian, and divided between the 'hard sciences' types who studied all the time and really didn't socialize, and us liberal arts types (who also studied, but not like the bio or computer sci. folks).

I was in a sorority, so got my social life through the Greek system. Pros: living near the beach (most of us lived the first year in the dorms and the rest in apartments/beach houses). Safe, quiet community, yet lots of students in the most popular housing areas. Plenty of parties on the weekend in Newport. If we needed more 'excitement' we went up to Hollywood or down to Tijuana.

The friends I know from high school who went to UCSB all flamed out from partying too much and transferred, but I know that's not true of all UCSB students. Less chance of that at UCI, though, I'd think. WC Mom

Our daughter is a senior at UCSB in English. Despite the craziness of Isla Vista, we would recommend the school.

Our daughter went to an academically competitive private high school where the quality of the teaching was superb, but she did not make many friends. UCSB has been the antidote for this; our daughter is surrounded with her fellow/sister students plus people she has met in the surrounding community in her volunteer activities.

Academically, it is still the University of California and the standards are high. Our daughter has been inspired by her professors and is motivated to work hard and get good grades.

The most amazing part of the social scene, to me as a parent looking on, is that the ethnic diversity represented. In our daughter's living groups, there have been whites, Latinos, Asian Americans, Armenians, Middle Easterners, and African Americans. The young people study and party together with little or no attention paid to race or socioeconomic status.

The natural beauty of the beaches and mountains are breathtaking. It is an even more lovely natural setting than the increasingly overbuilt UC Berkeley.

If a student tends to be an addictive personality or could be thrown off track by exposure to drinking and drugs, I would say ''beware''. There is a lot of substance use in I.V. and that cannot be denied. Our daughter has done her share of this, but she seems to have established proper limits for herself.

Another downside to the UCSB area is that there are few jobs. If your student qualifies for a work study job on campus, that would be great. Except that our daughter was initially told that she could get work study, and then the university reneged on the offer. Most of the jobs involve food service or bars, and we advised her not to work in the latter. There are plenty of drunks in I.V. already.

There have also been some issues with campus assaults. You might want to look into it. But whenever we have been there, the student population density is so high that it is hard to imagine how it could be unsafe; there are crowds of students coming and going at any time of the day or night.

Our daughter and her parents agree that if she had to make the college choice again, she would certainly choose UCSB. Gaucho Mom

Hi: A bit about me: I am a graduate of UCSB. I have taught college (music production) and worked as an academic advisor to college students. My experience with college students is that the most important factor for success is that they are happy. There is no such thing as a ''better'' school, only one that is a better fit. And often it is all of the non-college aspects of the experience that determine how much a student thrives. If she feels like she would enjoy and be more comfortable at UCSB, that would be my recommendation. It is a top-notch university if you keep focused.

Having gone there, the party scene is indeed real (as it is everywhere), but she sounds like she can navigate it well by steering clear of it (that's what I did). I would recommend considering living in SB proper (not Isla Vista).

Let me know if you have any questions. Best, Peter

If it is at all possible, please visit each campus while students are there (i.e., not during Spring Break). If the campus life is important to your daughter, she has to see what it looks and feels like.

I have never been to UCI, but UCSB is a major party school, despite their attempts to claim otherwise. There IS absolutely a party and ''hook up'' culture there and while you can certainly opt out of it, the vast majority of other kids are opting in. The weather is amazing and the setting is beautiful, but it is also very isolated from the real world and other people. The campus is literally on the beach, as are many of the apartments, and Isla Vista is probably about 90% college kids (mostly white) age 18-24. UCSB is NOT in Santa Barbara, which is about 15-20 minutes away by car, and Santa Barbara itself is a fairly sleepy town.

When I took my daughter to visit colleges, we had completely different impressions of most of the schools. She loved it, I didn't, or vice versa. I went to UCSB many years ago without ever visiting it and knew the minute I set foot on campus that it was the wrong place for me. When I took my daughter to visit as a high school senior, she fell instantly in love with it and is very happy being there now. Please give your daughter the chance to see both campuses and decide for herself. Gaucho mama

Less than stellar grades - is UC an option?

March 2013

My son, a BHS student, and young for his class, is finally getting better grades now that he is in his junior year. I expect he may end up with a 3.2 or 3.3. A UC is most likely out of reach for him, so he is thinking about business at some of the following CSUs: Fullerton, Northridge & San Diego.

One of the things that has been consistent from childhood and beyond is that he is a good actor and has been involved in lots of local theatre and has done some film work and voice-overs as well. He would like to keep that up in college. He did like UC Irvine when we visited for a sibling, which does have theatre, but the question is, with his acting, would he have any hope of getting in? Would love any feedback on the above schools as well, and if you have a child attending that would be willing to chat with my son, we would be so grateful. Please mail me directly. Thanks very much!

Hi there! I was a little confused by your question. Your son is going to have a 3.2/3.3 GPA and you think he will probably end up at a CSU. That's likely, but he should try the UC application process just in case.

So are you wondering if his acting skills would help him get into a UC? I think you should be checking with the drama departments to see about that. For example, at UCLA, there is an audition process for their drama department. I don't know whether being accepted into the drama department means you can get accepted to the school, however. In other words, the drama department may love you, but I don't know if that means UCLA will automatically let you in the door for a degree. So: ask the departments yourself, to make sure you get the best information. You might also be able to find this out online on the colleges' and departments' websites.

And as an aside, my daughter is a drama major at SJSU and very happy there

.CSU's and UC's: really graduate in 4 years?

April 2011

My son has been accepted to a variety of schools and we are now wondering which schools of the ones he likes will be the most economical. Does anyone out there know if you can really get your classes and graduate at CalPoly and/or UC Santa Cruz in 4 years? He has been accepted to a few privates with aid but they run a bit over the UC tuition for us, so it wouldn't be worthwhile unless the others really don't let a student get the classes needed to graduate. CalPoly would be the cheapest and he likes it, and he could take some city college classes in the summer. I'm just wondering if it's hype or true or not, and if anyone has experience with these two schools in particular.

Our well-respected private college counselor told us to expect it to take five years if our son selected a UC or CSU school. I don't have any other experience, but wanted to share her opinion. We are taking it seriously. Remember that much of this worry is due to current and expected budget cuts, so the experience of kids just who graduated, for instance, may not be as relevant. They attended under a different budgetary situation. Best of luck with it. It sure doesn't make the decision any easier! Anne

YES. Your son can definitely graduate in 4 years from either UC Santa Cruz or Cal Poly SLO. This is a reasonable question given the horrible budget reductions looming at both UC and CSU. But Santa Cruz and Cal Poly are still great deals and the students lucky enough to be admitted will get excellent educations.

UC has a very good record on graduation rate and time-to-degree. At UC overall, the majority of students graduate in 4 years or 4 year plus one quarter and 80% graduate in 5 years or less. For students who take longer than 4 years, the issue is generally not an inability to get classes but rather a desire to take more classes than the minimum needed--for example because a student is completing a double major, is taking additional courses to help prepare for graduate work, or was away from the campus for a term or more studying abroad or whatever. This is not to say that individual students don't have frustrating moments trying to get into a needed course. (I'm sure at least one UC parent will write in with a horror story.) But students who persevere (register for classes early, put themselves on waiting lists, appeal to professors, and try again if closed out the first time) and are flexible (willing to take an 8:00 a.m class!) can generally get what they need.

At CSU, the picture is a little different: courses can be tough to get into, graduation rates are much lower, and many people take longer. But Cal Poly is not a typical CSU--its stats look a lot like a UC campus. There are a number of factors at work here: the drive and preparation levels of students matters a lot and they tend to be high at UC and at specialized CSU campuses like Cal Poly; additionally the culture at private institutions and UC/Cal Poly has an expectation that students will graduate in 4 years (less true at many CSUs). And don't forget the price effect: data shows that the more expensive an institution is, the more motivated students (and their parents!) are to finish on time.

My guess is that unless you are getting great financial aid offers from the private institutions you're looking at, UC or (especially) Cal Poly will be less expensive. And the best way to ensure your son does well in school is to send him to the place he really wants to go. Congratulations on having these options--as budget reductions shrink the size of public education in California, they will be available to fewer and fewer students. Higher Ed expert

Our student is graduating within 4 years at UCSC. It means being on top of your requirements. If necessary taking summer classes or student abroad options for credit will help add up the necessary credits. But when you consider the difference in tuition at a UC over private ''splurging'' on a summer abroad course may be affordable as well as a great experience.

Will this get harder? Anyone's guess. But if you read catalogs carefully you will find it is also fairly common to take 5 years at a private school which may also have many requirements and not offer enough sections to cover the demand. At $35 to $50K per year - that is an even bigger ''ouch'' if money is a consideration. Depending on the private school and how rigid the degree you still need to stay on top of the requirements to graduate.

UCSC students can take classes at any UC in the summer ( unless this changes )- even Berkeley - and there are transfer options within the UC system if Santa Cruz is not his first choice. Though Santa Cruz is a stunning Campus and the Administrators and Staff provide a lot of service. Read over the website carefully for all the options and requirements. Good luck. Banana Slug MOM

Curious about rankings for the UCs

April 2010

Hello, I recently read a letter in the Teens Newsletter that referred to UC San Diego as a ''mid tier UC'' campus. This made me wonder (I've been out of college for *many* years!) - how does one find out about the ''rankings'' of the various UC campuses? Even State colleges? Which UC campuses are ''top tier'', if UCSD is ''mid tier''? What are the other ''mid tier'' UC's? And, mostly, where is this information derived from? Thanks much for the assistance. Curious about UC rankings

Rankings depend on what the campus is being ranked on. Berkeley and UCLA are usually the hardest to get in to, while Riverside and Merced are the easiest to get into, so UCSD etc are in the middle. That might be one ranking.

Another way might be some measure of faculty quality, student faculty ratio, social engagement, funding, etc. You can look at various things online for students thinking of applying.

I think it is best to match the student to the kinds of majors, the atmosphere, whether or not they have friends there, extracurricular opportunities, cost, etc, rather than by some sort of ranking. Also, students will have a very different experience in college and afterwards depending on the major they choose, and that is more important than one UC.

Here at Cal, the forestry major and other small majors provide more opportunity to interact with faculty and other students, while larger majors could be alienating for some students. Clubs and extracurricular activities can also provide a student with a home. In almost any major you are able, with planning, to fulfill the requirements for the graduate or professional career of your choice, including law and medicine. My undergrad major at UCSD was obscure and had 2 students in it. I am friends with faculty members there to this day, and now I am a professor in an unrelated topic at UCB. My doctor majored in French Literature. Pick the place your kid will like. been there

It really depends on the department. At some of the less prestigious UCs the departments are higher ranked than at the more prestigious ones. Also, just because a department is ranked top in the UCs doesn't mean it's number one for undergraduates. The faculty might get the most grants and have the most awards, but percentage wise, only a small number of undergraduates may go on to top ranked graduate schools. In fact, it may only be at the graduate level that the department lives up to its rank. Anon