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  • Writer's pictureHollis Bischoff

Thinking about a UC for college? Think again

Republished with permission from the Los Altos Town Crier. Originally appeared in the October 24, 2018 edition.


As local high school seniors develop their college lists each fall, the University of California system prominently factors in. However, admissions missteps and policy have, in recent years, made it imperative that Californians look beyond the public university system for viable options.

After last year’s public relations disaster – where UC Irvine attempted to manage its 2017 overenrollment problem by rescinding acceptances to more than 500 admitted students, and then had to rescind its rescinds and allow those students to enroll – the UC Regents passed a policy that prevents this type of rescinding in the future.

In an effort to avoid overenrollment this year, UC Irvine’s admission rate dropped from 37 percent to 29 percent in 2018, making it the third most selective UC campus. However, UC San Diego enrolled 1,200 students over its target. It was expecting approximately a 21 percent yield (the percentage of students who are admitted and then matriculate, over the number of students admitted) but actually had an unexpected yield rate of more than 30 percent. This is the second year UC San Diego has underestimated its enrollment yield. As a result, at UC San Diego, most two-person dorm rooms have now been reconfigured to house three students, and it is expected that classes will be impacted more than usual.

UCs out of reach?

According to numerous sources, UCLA, UC Santa Barbara and UC San Diego have all experienced significant overenrollment. The schools are quietly allowing this year’s overenrollment numbers to stand but are planning to admit fewer students in 2019 and 2020 to ensure match or underenrollment until this large wave of students has been absorbed and moved beyond lower-division classes. This is on top of recently published admissions data that show that both UC Berkeley and UCLA admitted not only a smaller percentage of students, but also a smaller number of students overall.

Impacting admission rates at these UCs will also inevitably drive up yield at all of the other UCs, so expect all UCs to lower their admission rates and depend on waitlists, if necessary, to fill their classes in 2019 and 2020.

Some other numbers to consider when evaluating a student’s chance of being admitted: 46 percent of those admitted to a UC in 2018 were the first in their family to attend college, and out-of-state students, while capped, are still at between 18 to 22 percent of the total school population, leaving at most 36 percent of the incoming class for everyone else ranked in the upper 9 percent of their high school program (for whom the UC system guarantees acceptance to at least one of its campuses).

These numbers mean that for most Californians, the UCs are out of reach, and it is important that they seek alternative choices outside of California or budget for higher-cost private schools, which are also seeing lowering admission rates. For example, USC’s acceptance rate for 2017 dropped to an ultra competitive 12 percent.

There are only a few California universities whose admission rates did not change significantly; for example, Chapman University’s admission rate of 53 percent stayed about the same, as Chapman continues to increase the size of its incoming first-year class.

New policy for CSUs

For those who were hoping to change their focus to California State University campuses, the CSU system has implemented a new policy that requires each CSU campus to give priority to students within the local admission area, giving those students “extra points” in the CSU index calculation used to determine admissions.

This will put downward pressure on acceptance rates out of the local area for Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Cal Poly Pomona and San Diego State, the most popular CSU campuses.

Another new policy, designed to help mitigate the impact on out-of-area students, is to redirect students who are CSU eligible but not admitted to another CSU with space. This program will help give California students choices within the CSU system if they are not admitted to their first-choice schools.

Going forward, savvy high school seniors will build their college lists to include likely and target options beyond the UC and CSU systems to assure choices come May.

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 about college admissions at and tweets at @collegeunlocked. For more information, email

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