UC Admissions 1 of 3: How the UC Evaluates Academics

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Sheelah Bearfoot
Sheelah Bearfoot

Our collaborative team of content writers and researchers stay up-to-date on the latest news to help you ace your applications. We hope you enjoy the blog.

Get the inside scoop on UC academics 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 do APs impact 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, there are other options. Taking community college or university classes can demonstrate a willingness to go above and beyond. Even aside from the value these high-level courses bring to an application, there are reasons to do so. The intellectual challenge is very good preparation for the rigors of college coursework; additionally, it 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 impact UC academics 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 change 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 occur. The only time it could become an issue is if the course 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 help you, and you will 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. UC accepts both for overall exams.

For majors that don’t require them, good scores only boost your UC academics strength. 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!