UC Admissions 1 of 3: How the UC Evaluates Academics

female student suffering from headache in library

Get the inside scoop on how to get into the UCs from our UC Admissions Expert, Sheelah. She’s seen UC admissions from all sides – she graduated from Cal in 2016 with a B.S. in Genetics and Plant Biology, and has over four years of experience working in UC Berkeley’s Undergraduate Admissions Office.

Drawn from a Q&A session about the UC system, this will be a three-part series, broadly covering the following categories:  1) evaluation of your academic record;  2) evaluation of your extracurriculars; and  3) fine-print admissions questions. Hope this helps clear up some confusion during this stressful process!

Question: In high school, how important is taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses? How heavily are APs valued in applications?

AP courses are an important part of your student’s academic profile. If your school offers APs, we want to see that you’ve taken them. If it doesn’t, taking community college or university classes can be another way to demonstrate a willingness to go above and beyond. Even aside from the value these high-level courses bring to an application, the intellectual challenge is very good preparation for the rigors of college coursework and provides crucial background in the subject matter you choose. For that reason alone, students should take advanced classes when possible. I can’t place a quantitative number on how much APs are valued for a given application because it’s not a one-size-fits-all process and we take a holistic approach. From a qualitative standpoint, doing well in AP and other advanced courses should be a priority for students, because we see it as a method to demonstrate dedication, intelligence, and drive.

Question: How would the evaluation of an applicant be affected if they drop an AP course during the second semester of senior year? 

This usually would not have a negative impact on an admitted student, though we do want to know if any schedule changes are made. The only time it could become an issue is if the course being dropped means a student will not fulfill the A-G requirements necessary for UC admission.

Question: Is being really accelerated in math a differentiator? (Four grades accelerated.)  My son is an incoming 9th grader and will be taking AP Calculus AB this fall. Will that be a differentiator?

If you have the opportunity to take that course so early in your high school career, that’s fantastic, go for it! Taking that course alone would not be enough to distinguish someone as an applicant, however. What it does sound like, though, is a great springboard into excelling in activities that would set you apart. For example, entering math competitions or doing independent projects in this field would be great subject matter for personal statements. It sounds like you’ll also have the opportunity to take progressively higher-level math during high school or through concurrent enrollment at a community college or university program, which could allow you to differentiate yourself by taking a long list of classes that few other applicants have taken. This will all set you up to be very well-prepared four years from now.

Question: What do I need to know about submitting standardized test scores, like the SAT and ACT?

The UCs don’t value the SAT over the ACT. Both are equally accepted for overall exams.

For SAT subject tests, most majors don’t require them, but they function similarly to AP classes by showing a willingness to go above and beyond and showcasing your subject mastery. In general, take them if you can. For majors that don’t require them, good scores only boost your application. Majors that do require them will ask for specifics. For example, all branches of engineering at Berkeley require Math Level II and one science subject test of your choice. Look here for more information, and also check the departmental websites of the majors to which you intend to apply.

Questions? Let us know!