19 AUG 2021
Acceptance into one of the prestigious and highly-ranked University of California (UC) schools is the dream of many students worldwide. Founded in 1869, this family of 10 universities educates some of the brightest minds in the world. The UC system is recognized for its excellence in education, research, and service and is widely considered the best public university system in the United States. Combined, the universities attract more than 200,000 college applications annually. Do you have what it takes to get into a UC school? Let’s find out.
The University of California was founded upon the inherent yet revolutionary principle that college should be available to everyone. Its founders wanted to create a state-run university that would “serve equally the children of immigrants and settlers, landowners and industrial barons.” In 1870, UC Regents degreed that the university should admit both women and men. Interestingly, many Ivy League colleges didn’t accept women for nearly 100 more years.
On March 23, 1868, California Governor Henty Haight signed the Organic Act, creating the University of California and designating 160 acres of land in Berkeley to build a campus. When the university opened its doors in 1869, it had ten faculty and 38 students.
Today, the UC system boasts more than 280,000 students and 227,000 faculty and staff. Two million UC graduates now live and work around the world.
The UC schools consist of nine undergraduate and graduate campuses across California. UC San Francisco wasn’t included in this list because it doesn’t have undergraduate programs.
Each UC campus features unique characteristics, demographics, admission requirements, specialties, strengths, and challenges. Students typically have a preference towards a specific UC school based on their desired major or career path. Some students prefer a particular campus because of its location, extracurricular activities, or sports teams.
The UC Schools do not have an internal ranking system, but they all rank in US News & World Report’s 2021 Best Colleges rankings. This highly reputable ranking system gathers data from each school, dividing it into 17 categories related to academics, student outcomes, university standing in the academic community, and overall student/faculty well-being. Each category is weighted (as a percentage) based on what matters most.
While each UC school possesses strengths and weaknesses, these rankings weigh several key factors before arriving at these numbers.
|UC Ranked||US News Public University Ranking||US News National Ranking||QS World Ranking|
|UC Santa Barbara||3||6||30||146|
|UC San Diego||4||8||35||48|
|UC Santa Cruz||8||40||97||347|
The rankings are based on an average of the US News Public University and National Ranking with the QS World ranking used as a tie breaker.
Do you want to study at a UC School but don’t know where to begin? Crimson helps students reach their ultimate university admissions goals. Our Strategist include former UCLA, UC Berkeley and UC Santa Barbara admissions officers and graduates who can help you put together a robust application that stands out from the crowd! Book a free consultation to learn more about our US Admissions Support program.
Founded in 1868, UC Berkeley was the first school in the University of California system. From its humble beginnings as a land-grant university, the school first inherited the land and facilities of the private College of California in Oakland. Through the Organic Act, the university could “provide instruction and thorough and complete education in all departments of science, literature, and art, industrial and professional pursuits, and general education, and also special courses of instruction in preparation for the professions.” In 1873, with nearly 200 students, the university moved to its new campus in Berkeley.
UC Berkeley is the number one public university in the United States. Its rigorous undergraduate academic standards make it one of the most challenging UC schools to gain admission. With more than 130 academic departments and 80 interdisciplinary research units, UC Berkeley is committed to excellence in education, research, and social responsibility.
US News & World Report 2021 ranked UC Berkeley #22 in National Universities.
The Free Speech Movement, the first mass act of civil disobedience on an American college campus, originated at UC Berkeley in 1964. Inspired by the civil rights struggle and opposition to the Vietnam War, this student protest lasted throughout the 1964-1965 academic year.
If you’re hoping to attend a prestigious university but don’t want to pay the high dollar figure at an Ivy League school, UC Berkeley might be for you. If you’re a California resident, it will be even cheaper. Greek life is an integral part of student life on campus. More than 30% of students are part of the Greek system.
Located in the San Francisco Bay Area, Berkeley is home to countless restaurants, bars, museums, art galleries, and parks. The city of Berkeley has the perfect mix of an urban and suburban vibe.
A Day in the Life: UC Berkeley Student
Use our college admissions calculator to find out your chances of getting accepted into UC Berkeley.
In 1906, UC Regents purchased land near Davisville, constructing four buildings in 1907. The campus was initially known as University Farm. From 1930 to 1951, the campus grew from 1,000 acres to 3,000 acres. In 2007, UC Davis became the largest UC campus in acreage, expanding to 5,300 acres!
UC Davis graduated its first undergraduates in a four-year program in 1926. The School of Veterinary Medicine began in 1948. Davis became a general campus of the University of California in 1959, and in 1962, they established the College of Engineering. It opened the Law School in 1966 and the School of Medicine in 1968.
When most people think of UC Davis, they think about their world-class veterinary medicine and agriculture programs. But they’re known for much more! In 2018, UC Davis ranked “Number One in the US for Campus Sustainability.” In 2016, “Number One Most Important School for Women in STEM.”
US News & World Report 2021 ranked UC Davis #39 in National Universities.
UC Davis cares about your mental health. UC Davis partners with their local SPCA, bringing certified therapy dogs and rescue pets on campus to help students de-stress during finals week.
UC Davis is a large campus where nearly everyone bikes to and from classes. It’s considered a prestigious research university with professors who care about their research and helping students further their career paths. The university has a robust science-based education with a focus on agriculture and biological science.
The campus is a perfect mix of seriousness and fun. On sunny days, you’ll find the quad area filled with students resting or sleeping in hammocks. The city of Davis boasts hearty farmer’s markets and plenty of outdoor activities. It’s also close to Lake Tahoe, San Francisco, and Napa Valley.
Use our college admissions calculator to find out your chances of getting accepted into UC Davis.
To accommodate the growing number of students in the UC system, the Irvine Company sold 1,000 acres of land in Orange County to the University of California for one dollar! In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson dedicated the campus, and in 1965, the campus began with
1,589 students, 241 staff members, and 119 faculty. Today, UC Irvine has a $5 billion annual economic impact and is the second-largest employer in Orange County.
UC Irvine is a research institution specializing in cancer and neuroscience studies through the UC Irvine Medical Center. The Paul Merage School of Business and the Henry Samueli School of Engineering are highly regarded graduate schools.
US News & World Report 2021 ranked UC Irvine #35 in National Universities.
The movies Ocean’s Eleven and Planet of the Apes were both filmed on the UC Irvine campus.
In suburban Orange County, UC Irvine’s 1,475-acre campus is home to more than 500 student organizations, including nearly 50 fraternities and sororities. While the school is a commuter school and first-year students are not required to live on campus, more than three-fourths do. The campus is only five miles from the Pacific Ocean. Conservationists will love the university’s eco-friendly measures and how student groups like the Anteaters for Recycling and Conservation promote green initiatives.
Use our college admissions calculator to find out your chances of getting accepted into UC Irvine.
The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), originally called State Normal School of Los Angeles, began in 1882 with the primary purpose of training teachers. In 1919, the California legislature passed a law that designed the school as the Southern Branch of the University of California. This law officially made it the second institution in the UC system. In 1926, UCLA formally adopted the “Bruins” nickname when their athletic teams joined the Pacific Coast Conference. Construction began on their current home in Westwood in 1927.
With six divisions encompassing 109 departments and more than 125 majors, undergraduates can study practically anything at UCLA. Future actors, lawyers, dentists, and nurses choose UCLA because of its top-notch nursing, dental, theater, and law schools. UCLA’s nationally-ranked athletic teams are part of the NCAA Division 1 Pacific 12 Conference.
US News & World Report 2021 ranked UCLA #20 in National Universities.
In 1969, the Internet started at UCLA when the first Internet transmission traveled from UCLA to Stanford University. Shortly after the message, the computer sending it broke down.
If you love big cities, an active outdoor lifestyle, and nearly perfect weather year-round, UCLA might be the school for you. Located in the second-largest city in the United States, UCLA offers all the advantages of urban life with the beauty of dramatic architecture and stunning landscape. The weather is enviable and moderate, just five miles from the Pacific Ocean, with temperatures ranging from 55°F to 75°F year-round. Due to its location and climate, many of UCLA’s students embrace an active lifestyle participating in everything from competitive sports to yoga, biking, rock climbing, and hiking.
A Day in the Life: UCLA Student
Use our college admissions calculator to find out your chances of getting accepted into UCLA.
Plans for a new university in the San Joaquin Valley began when the UC Board of Regents determined a long-term enrollment demand in Central California. They chose Merced as the location for this new university. Undergraduates began arriving in Fall 2005.
In January 2006, the first classroom, office building, and science and engineering building opened. Later, in 2011, under the direction of Chancellor Dorothy Leland, a $1.3 billion Merced 2020 Project began. This public-private partnership expanded the teaching, research, residential, athletic, and retail space on the campus. The project finished in Spring 2020.
UC Merced’s mission is to provide teaching, research, and public service that benefits society. They’re the first American research university of the 21st century, providing cutting-edge research focusing on sustainability. Undergraduates experience education in and out of the classroom, participating in research, service learning, and leadership development. Since it’s a newer school, there are many opportunities for growth and creation.
US News & World Report 2021 ranked UC Merced #97 in National Universities.
UC Merced is home to spectacular sunrises. Students can view the sunrise from their dorm rooms each morning. The field where the sun rises looks painted, creating an intense, almost magical setting.
While UC Merced is part of the prestigious family of University of California schools, students find it easy to connect with professors, make appointments, and get career advice and support for their educational goals. It has the benefits of a research school and a small college.
Located in a rural area of California, UC Merced doesn’t offer much to do outside the campus. Students must live on campus for the first two years, so they find creative ways to entertain themselves on campus. School spirit is high, and many students hang out in the activity rooms and dorm lounges. The campus is central to many larger cities, so students with cars can easily hike in Yosemite or spend time in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Use our college admissions calculator to find out your chances of getting accepted into UC Merced.
Before UC Riverside existed, it’s campus was the Riverside Citrus Experiment Station. This high-impact innovation center, founded in 1907, provided transformative research, paving the way for next-generation scientists, engineers, and policymakers. In 1954, UC Riverside welcomed its first students and faculty, and in 1959, the UC Regents voted UC Riverside as a general campus with general instruction and professional skills. Once a small university, UC Riverside is now a world-class research and educational institution.
UC Riverside has prestigious entomology and agriculture departments. Within these departments, world-class genetics experts are leading the fight against mosquito-borne illness. They also house the nation’s largest indoor atmospheric test chamber, leading air pollution and alternative fuels research.
US News & World Report 2021 ranked UC Riverside #88 in National Universities.
There are 13 solar-powered benches around campus. Most sit near the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, but others hide around the campus. These benches come in handy when it’s hard to find an open outlet inside a building.
UC Riverside faculty and staff make sure everyone feels welcome and included on campus. Research opportunities are everywhere, and if students want to participate in research, they’ll quickly find something they love.
With more than 400 clubs on campus and many that organize excursions, hikes, and trips, there’s always something to do on campus. Other exciting activities include career workshops, movie screenings, and cultural events.
Use our college admissions calculator to find out your chances of getting accepted into UC Riverside.
Although the first undergraduate students at UC San Diego enrolled in 1964, the origins of the school date back to the late 1800s when zoologists from the UC Berkeley campus needed a location for a marine field station and thought the La Jolla area was the perfect spot. Faculty established this area as part of the University of California in 1912, calling it Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The Regents of the University of California decided to turn the location into a general campus in the late 1950s. The Scripps Institution of Oceanography became the center of the campus.
Widely considered one of the top science universities in the US, UC San Diego offers numerous opportunities to do research, helping to develop cutting-edge technology and theories.
US News & World Report 2021 ranked UC San Diego #35 in National Universities.
UC San Diego is close to many beaches, making it a recognized top surf school.
Most students at UC San Diego are serious about their education, with a large percentage extending their education or professional schooling. Although the school is large, professors are willing to help and mentor students, especially if they seek them out.
While the school is considered an academically intensive school, there are plenty of activities around campus. Beautiful beaches are only ten minutes from campus, and downtown San Diego offers a vibrant nightlife. Outdoor enthusiasts enjoy the nature around campus, including hiking, biking, and surfing.
Use our college admissions calculator to find out your chances of getting accepted into UC San Diego.
UC Santa Barbara originated in the 1890s as a manual training school. In 1921, it was renamed Santa Barbara State Teachers College, growing its curriculum and offering four-year degrees. In 1944, the UC Regents decided to bring the college into the system, calling it “The Santa Barbara College of the University of California." After relocating to Goleta from downtown Santa Barbara, the college became a general campus of the University of California system in 1958. In 1961, they expanded their offerings to include the College of Letters & Science, School of Engineering, and School of Education.
While UC Santa Barbara is a safe and beautiful beach town campus, it’s also known for its exceptional chemical, electrical, and materials engineering and science programs.
US News & World Report 2021 ranked UC Santa Barbara #30 in National Universities.
As one of the few colleges in the US that owns beachfront property, UC Santa Barbara students can enjoy a day at the beach any time they wish!
Academics are challenging, but the atmosphere is laid back and inviting. Most students on this campus are active and outgoing, participating in on and off-campus sports, activities, and clubs. True to most beach towns, the nightlife is exciting, giving UCSB its reputation as a “party school.” If this isn’t your scene, another UC might be a better choice for you.
Use our college admissions calculator to find out your chances of getting accepted into UC Santa Barbara.
In response to California’s post-war baby boom and the number of students expected to enroll in the UC system, the UC Regents decided to open UC Santa Cruz. When it opened in 1965, it wasn’t like the rest of the traditional UC universities. Its goal was to do things in new and different ways.
Modeled after Oxford University in England, UC Santa Cruz is a cluster of decentralized small colleges where research is central. Still, students can interact with their professors and other students daily. UC Santa Cruz is a world-class research and teaching university focusing on improving the planet and the lives of those on the earth.
UC Santa Cruz is known for its progressive research programs that improve the planet and its inhabitants. From researching personalized care for cancer patients to building efficient solar cells, UC Santa Cruz is looking for ways to make lives better. They also have one of the most impressive marine biology programs in the nation.
US News & World Report 2021 ranked UC Santa Cruz #97 in National Universities.
UC Santa Cruz’s mascot is a banana slug.
UC Santa Cruz is a laid-back, happy, open-minded, and “chill” environment. Students take their studies seriously but also enjoy the world around them. Professors are challenging yet accessible, offering advice and guidance to any student who asks. Nearly every student has a personal passion, participating in activism, social justice, or a specific cause.
Use our college admissions calculator to find out your chances of getting accepted into UC Santa Cruz.
Students wishing to enroll at a UC school as first-year students must complete their secondary education and earn a certificate of completion. International students have a few additional admission requirements.
The UC system recently decided to eliminate the SAT and ACT from their application requirements by going test optional. While test scores aren't required, GPA is still a heavily weighted part of the application.
|Acceptance Rate||GPA Range|
|UC Berkeley||17.6%||4.13 - 4.30|
|UC Davis||46%||3.96 - 4.25|
|UC Irvine||29.9%||3.96 - 4.26|
|UCLA||14%||4.18 - 4.31|
|UC Merced||85.4%||3.40 - 3.96|
|UC Riverside||56.3%||3.69 - 4.11|
|UC San Diego||38.3%||4.04 - 4.28|
|UC Santa Barbara||36.9%||4.04 - 4.27|
|UC Santa Cruz||65.2%||3.71 - 4.16|
The University of California schools have their own application system. You cannot apply to UC schools through the Common App. Thankfully, you can apply to all nine of them with one application. While this is more convenient, it’s still important to only apply to the UC schools you’d like to attend. Each campus has an $80 application fee.
In addition to your dream school, also apply to one or two safety schools or ones you have a high chance of getting accepted. Check out Crimson’s university admissions calculator to see your chances of getting into your dream UC.
Once you have a shortlist of colleges, consider visiting the campus, talking to alumni, and diving deep into each school’s history, campus culture, and student life.
The main sections of the UC application include:
Check out our free eBook on How to Crush your US College Application!
Stanford, UCLA & UC Berkeley: My Favorite Common App Essays
Since there is only one application for the UC system, they all have the same filing periods.
|Fall quarter/semester||November 1-30|
|Winter quarter/semester||July 1-31|
|Spring quarter||October 1-31|
*Note: UC Berkeley and UC Merced follow a semester system calendar. Some campuses are not open in winter and spring.
UC law schools, medical schools, and all UC graduate schools require students to submit their online applications directly to their program. If you’re applying to more than one program, you’ll need to submit one application for each program. Each UC campus (and sometimes each program) has an application fee. While each program has specific requirements and deadlines, most will need to include the following:
Crimson offers personalized support for applications aiming to gain entry to top Masters and Doctoral programs in the US including all the UC Schools. Book a free consultation with out academic advisors to learn more about our Postgraduate Application Support Program.
The UC system offers a wide range of programs and specialties in nearly every career field. While choosing the UC that’s right for you can be challenging, it’s not impossible. First, decide which career path you’d like to pursue. Then, visit each school’s website to learn about their mission, values, and student body. At this point, you probably have an idea of which schools fit your personal and professional goals. Once you’ve narrowed down your lists, check out their GPA requirements and acceptance rates. From location to competitiveness and acceptance rates, you can find a UC that complements your goals.
|UC School||Top Major|
|UC Berkeley||Statistics, Sociology, and Media Studies|
|UC Davis||Agriculture, Veterinary Medicine, Biological and Agricultural Engineering|
|UC Irvine||Physical Sciences (Chemistry, Earth System Science, Mathematics, Physics, Astronomy)|
|UCLA||Engineering and Psychology|
|UC Riverside||Engineering and Business|
|UC San Diego||Computer Science, Biomedical Engineering, and Biology|
|UC Santa Barbara||Engineering (Chemical, Electrical, Materials), and Social Sciences|
|UC Santa Cruz||Astrophysics, Marine Biology, and Computer Science|
If you’re interested in a law career, the best UC school for pre-law (legal studies) and law school is the University of California, Berkeley.
|US News Ranking||Acceptance Rate||Median LSAT||Median GPA||LSN Applications|
For students wishing to pursue a career in medicine, the best UC school for pre-med is the University of California, Berkeley. UC San Francisco has the best medical school in the UC system.
|US News Ranking||Acceptance Rate||Median MCAT||Median GPA||Total Applications|
UC Berkeley’s College of Engineering is the best UC school for engineering. Their Civil, Electrical, and Environmental graduate programs ranked number one in US News College rankings. Berkeley’s engineering program alumni include CEOs and co-founders of companies like Apple, Google, Intel, Tesla, and Boeing.
|US News Ranking||Acceptance Rate||Median GPA||Total Applications|
Students looking for a UC school with the best psychology department should attend UC Berkeley. US News ranks their psychology department number one in the nation (tied with Stanford).
|US News Ranking||Acceptance Rate||Median GPA||Median GRE||Total Applications|
|1||5% (Grad school)||3.6||Verbal 163, Quant: 169, Analytical Writing: 4.8||~600|
For more rankings download our free eBook on the Top US and UK University Rankings by Subject
Each UC school offers unique specialties, programs, and opportunities, and navigating your options can be challenging. If you’re still unsure which UC is best for you, Crimson can help. Our admissions advisors understand everything about the University of California system. They can direct you to the classes you should take, extracurriculars, and activities that pair well with your future major and address any questions you have about the UC application process. Book a free consultation with an admissions counselor today.
Nine UC campuses offer undergraduate and graduate studies. UC San Francisco only offers graduate/professional studies.
With acceptance rates over 50%, the three easiest UC schools to get into are UC Santa Cruz, UC Riverside, and UC Merced. UC Merced is officially the easiest UC to get into, with an acceptance rate of 85.4%.
Based on numbers alone, the hardest UC to get into is UCLA, followed by UC Berkeley.
If you applied to UC schools and didn’t get accepted, you still have a chance to get in as a transfer student. Consider attending a two-year community college that’s known for feeding students into the UC system. While getting into a UC as a transfer student is still challenging, it might be easier to transfer through a UC feeder school than compete with a massive pool of high school seniors.
With its gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean, beautiful campus gardens, and buildings, UC Santa Barbara is the prettiest UC campus.
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We can provide you with a list of a recommended universities.