The Free-For-All in University of California Admissions

The University of California (UC)’s reputation as a flagship public university system attracts not only us Californians, but a nationwide and international applicant pool.  Record numbers have applied to UC schools year over year.  Given the finite number of seats on each UC campus, someone’s not going to be admitted, regardless of residency status. (And, for Fall 2015, 65,822 someones weren’t admitted to the UC system overall.)

Often, Californians argue that out-of-state students (who pay double resident tuition) are being admitted at the expense of California resident applicants. The argument goes that the State of California hasn’t continued funding (i.e. subsidizing) resident tuition, so the UC has been forced to meet operating costs with higher tuition paying students (i.e. nonresident students).  The assumption follows that higher qualified California resident students are being sacrificed for less qualified, yet higher tuition paying nonresident students.

The Los Angeles Times recently reported current UC admissions statistics for Fall 2015:

About 60% of the 103,117 California applicants were offered a spot on at least one of UC’s nine undergraduate campuses, according to university figures released Thursday. That appears to be a record low acceptance rate, down from about 63% of the 99,955 applicants last year, and about 79% in 1999, the oldest available systemwide figures.


Across all nine UC campuses, 15,173 applicants from other states were offered a freshman spot — 1,711 more than last year

However, the reasons for greater numbers of denials of California residents in the Fall 2015 application cycle are more complicated than higher vs. lower tuition costs.   Increasing numbers of highly qualified California residents are amongst those record breaking applicant pools. Statistically, each UC campus can then be more choosey about who to admit or not, simply having a larger applicant pool. Plus, when thousands of applicants are similarly highly qualified, UC admissions officers evaluate the details of an applicants resume, to try and distinguish one applicant from anther, which creates subjectivity in the admissions process.  Thus, more highly qualified applicants, including highly qualified California residents, are receiving denial letters.

Yet, when:

Nonresident students constitute about 13% of UC’s total undergraduate student body.

while 87% of the UC system is still occupied by California residents, the argument that residents are being denied simply for being residents loses weight.

Every denied applicant wants explanations for their denials.  While potential applicants want understanding to avoid a future denial.  The resident versus non-resident argument seems to give that information; yet, in today’s admissions environment, there is no simple answer to who’s admitted and who’s denied at the University of California.