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  • Writer's pictureHollis Bischoff

Beyond Berkeley: Expanding options

Republished with permission from the Los Altos Town Crier. Originally appeared in the October 14, 2015 edition. – Article Link


As application season heats up for the Class of 2015, families face the reality that the best way to get into a top UC is to come from outside of California.

The admissions news heightens anxiety as UC acceptance rates continue to plummet: UCLA this year had a record low 17 percent acceptance rate, and UC Berkeley admitted just 20 percent of its applicants.

These numbers gain even more importance when put in the following context.

  • 42 percent of incoming freshmen are first generation, and UCs are focused on increasing this number.

  • 10 percent of the UC system is from out of state. For UCLA, the number rockets to 25 percent.

This leaves only 37 percent of the spots open at UCLA and 48 percent at Berkeley for all of the other California students. Layer on top of that the UC objective of offering a spot to every California student in the top 10 percent of his or her high school class – though that spot may be at UC Merced – and suddenly it becomes apparent that even high-achieving students must look at other options for a top-notch education. Every major is impacted, and even getting in creates the challenge of getting out in four years.

So what are the other choices within the UC system?

  • Consider UC Riverside. With an admission rate of 58 percent, it is an up-and-coming campus. Students get a more diverse experience, and with the Guaranteed Admission Program, those with a 3.9 weighted grade-point average and a minimum 1600 SAT score can lock in early acceptance (the 2015 deadline has passed). In addition, UC Riverside grants preferential admission to the UC Riverside Medical School for its students – a real advantage in the hypercompetitive medical school world.

  • Think about UC Irvine. Rated No. 1 three years in a row as a “young” university (under 50 years old), it has a terrific honors college and is also recognized as an innovative school for training teachers. In 2013, UC Irvine was one of three UCs awarded three stars (in the top 10 percent) for preparing innovative teachers. Sierra Magazine also named it a top 10 “Cool School” for its sustainability efforts.

How about the options beyond the UC system?

  • Check out the “public ivies.” In 2001, Howard Greene, former admissions officer at Princeton University, published a guide to public universities at which students can receive a first-class Ivy League education at a fraction of the cost. Many of these schools are within admissions targets for students while providing academic excellence.

  • Explore out-of-state public hidden gems. There are good options for students with less-than-stellar grades who are willing to venture outside of California. Schools to consider: the University of Alabama; Evergreen State College in Washington; Miami University in Oxford, Ohio; Montana State University; the University of Montana; the University of Nevada at Reno; the University of New Mexico; and Oregon State University.

  • Discover “Colleges That Change Lives” ( While I posit that all colleges change lives, these 44 schools share a number of characteristics, including smaller class sizes, truly holistic admissions with test-optional applications, integrated residential living learning environments and strong alumni support.

  • Contemplate private schools. There are a number of reasons to consider a private school, including smaller class size, more personal attention and a strong emphasis on exploration – while still emphasizing graduating in four years. Schools gaining popularity with UC-competitive students in California include Chapman University, Loyola Marymount University, Occidental University, the University of Southern California and the University of San Diego.

All of these choices have the potential for generous merit scholarships, reducing the cost of attendance to equal to or less than a UC.

Hollis Bischoff is college admissions adviser for CollegeUnlocked. She earned a graduate certificate in college and career counseling from UCLA and is a Certified Educational Planner. She blogs at and tweets at @collegeunlocked. For more information, email

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