The UC problem


Capri Lewis, Staff Writer

As any high school student knows, the college admissions process this year was very competitive. While juniors and underclassmen watched many well-rounded and intelligent seniors get rejected from their dream schools, there was a distinct feeling of dread and anxiety that filled the air of high schools nationwide. More specifically to La Jolla Country Day (and any high school in California for that matter), the UC acceptances were the cause of extreme levels of angst amongst many students. This year, in comparison to similarly prestigious universities nationwide, the UCs had one of the lowest acceptance rates. It seemed like every social media platform was filled with videos of students boasting their impressive stats followed by rejection from nearly every UC. It was shocking and brought a simple question to everyone’s minds and lips: why? 

There are two primary explanations behind his year’s UC system acceptance. For one, the number of first-year applicants was the greatest they had ever been with record-breaking levels of diversity. The number of applicants went up 3.5% from last year, making this year the highest application number in the history of the UC system. Secondly, the UC system recently changed its entire application process, going test blind and not accepting letters of recommendation. In addition, UC Berkeley (one of the most heavily applied to UCs) had to freeze their enrollment due to a lawsuit claiming that they were enrolling too many students and the surrounding communities were being negatively affected. 

The UC system has long been the most applied-to-school system in the nation, with UCLA leading in nationwide applications. With that being said, it is no surprise that the UC system is extremely challenging and, dare I say, intimidating to apply to. However, this still doesn’t answer the question of “why this year?” Why was the class of 2022 rejected from so many schools believed to be achievable options? The answer can be found in the ongoing pandemic that turned so many lives upside down. While the pandemic raged in 2020 and early 2021, many students decided to take a gap year (or two) before applying to college. This year, with things slowly beginning to return to their normal state, the students decided it was finally time to apply to college. Now, from a college standpoint, many of these students seemed worldly and cultured compared to their fresh-out-of-high-school competition. Some of these students had traveled or taken on jobs that helped to provide them with real-life experiences that are seen as desirable by college admission officers. Still, many of these gap year students were not lucky enough to be accepted into the UC system, however, they help to provide an answer to the large increase in applications. 

The second reason for the strange year of UC admission can be attributed to the entirely new application process used by the UCs. UC schools are test blind. This means ACT, SAT, and AP scores will not influence admission to a UC school. Additionally, the UC system does not accept letters of recommendation. These two changes in the traditional college application have contributed to the unconventional acceptance trends present in the UC system. Additionally, many students with lower GPAs or less competitive extracurriculars rely on their test scores and letters of recommendation to compensate and keep their applications looking strong. However, this test and recommendation blind system puts many of these students at a major disadvantage when it comes to being accepted to a UC school. 

Upper school student, Akshar Sharma, who will be attending UCLA in the fall, gave some input about his experience with the UC applications; “I actually enjoyed the different UC applications. While I didn’t have the opportunity to submit my test scores or letters of recommendation, the essay writing prompts were really great. They were all really straightforward and weren’t intended to trick you in any way. Since your test scores and recommendation letters won’t be taken into account, it is extra important that you have strong essays.” Akshar also claims that one of the sole reasons for the UC system changing the way they do applications is to increase opportunity and diversity amongst their admitted students. For example, many economically advantaged students will use expensive test prep services to help better their ACT, SAT, and AP scores. These services will help to ensure a good test score for certain students while economically disadvantaged students have to take the burden of studying for these rigorous exams into their own hands. Thus, standardized test scores actively favor certain students over others thanks to financial opportunities. The UC system believes that in order to help increase economic and racial diversity amongst students, these unfair advantages must be stripped from the application process altogether. As Akshar ended his interview, he responded to my question about lucky, random admission; “I think that every college looks for something really specific in the students that they admit. The UC schools are no different. Every single UC school has a specific type of student in mind during admissions. But with that being said, I do think I got REALLY lucky with my UCLA admission.” Overall Akshar helped to highlight the three themes most present in UC admissions: equality, diversity, and opportunity.

Cover photo credit: Jason Armond/LA Times