How to get into the University of California as a UK student

Whilst the University of California is not Ivy League, it is a renowned university that often ranks highly and has a competitive application process. It has ten campuses, including the prestigious UC Berkeley and UC Los Angeles (UCLA), which have particularly selective admissions processes. Hence, studying at the University of California, particularly at one of its top campuses, is the ambition of many high-achieving students. But don’t let the competition intimidate you. 

Here at The Profs, university admissions are our thing. We have plenty of experience getting students into top-tier US universities; we even have a US admissions team who are especially dedicated to this cause. So if you need guidance getting into the University of California, you’ve come to the right place.

As a UK student, you may be uncertain about the steps and strategies necessary to boost your chances of gaining admission to the University of California. Well, we’ve got you covered. In this article, we guide you through the process and provide valuable tips on how to maximise your chances of success with the University of California. 

If you’re in need of bespoke guidance, just reach out to our expert US admissions team. 95% of our students get into their first and second-choice universities. 

Also, don’t forget to check out our main article on getting into US universities as a UK student. We’ve also got articles on getting into Harvard, Stanford, Cornell, MIT and NYU as a UK student.


What are the University of California’s entry requirements?

The University of California has a GPA requirement of 3.4. However, many students apply to the University of California, hence it has a competitive admissions process and you should aim to have a higher GPA than the requirement. A 3.4 GPA is equivalent to B+ grades, so it’s a good idea to aim for A’s.

However, you should also note the calibre of students enrolled in different campuses at the University of California. In 2023, Berkeley reported that the middle GPA of its enrolled freshmen ranged from 4.15-4.29. For UCLA, the average ranged from 4.20-4.31 (also 2023). This is equivalent to A and A* grades. 

Ensure that you check the average GPA of enrolled students to your preferred campus and course to gauge what grades you should be aiming for. 

The University of California asks for your GPA to be earned by 15-year-long academic courses. So, it is likely to combine your GCSEs with your A levels when calculating your GPA. Ensure that your GCSEs are as high as possible, especially in English, Maths, and Science. 

Beyond providing a robust academic track record, the University of California has subject combination requirements, as well as several more expectations that will determine the success of your application. This article will break down what you need to do to succeed in your application.

What is the University of California’s acceptance rate?

The University of California released statistics regarding its admitted students per campus for its freshmen class for Fall 2023. Check out the table below:

UC CampusApplicantsAdmitsAcceptance rate
San Diego130,84132,31424.7%
Santa Barbara110,87630,91427.9%
Santa Cruz68,82143,15962.7%
Hastings College of LawUndisclosedUndisclosedUndisclosed

The University of California prioritises admitting largely Californian students, hence they report that 82% of their admitted undergraduate students are Californian (2023). This doesn’t mean that international students aren’t welcome to apply or don’t stand a chance, however, it might make competition for spaces a little more fierce.

Do I have to apply for a student visa?

You’ll be glad to know that you need only deal with the student visa application once/if you are admitted to the University of California. Hence, applying for a student visa is not part of the application process. You need only do so if you receive an offer and accept it. Please note that you will need your admittance letter or proof of registration to begin the process! 

About the student visa

There are generally two visa categories for studying in the United States: the F-1 student visa and the J-1 student visa. Both require full-time personal study in the US.

Most admitted full-time international students at the University of California are eligible for the F-1 visa. Only some students are eligible for the J-1 student visa. Unsure about what type of visa you need? Check out the table below:

F-1 Student VisaJ-1 Student Visa
All students who have accepted offers to study a course full-time, on-campus are eligible for the F-1 visa.Students eligible for the J-1 student visa must be receiving 50% of their tuition funding from a government agency, official scholarship or an employer (student or personal loans do not qualify) OR they must have a government scholarship (hence the government requires that they use the J-1 visa) OR their visa must be sponsored by an agency such as Fulbright, USAID, or AMIDEAST.

Please note: Students who are eligible for both the F-1 student visa and the J-1 student visa must indicate to their university and/or the US home office which visa category they wish to use. 

If you need more information on US student visas for the University of California, check out this page.

5 tips to get into the University of California 

Before embarking on the application journey, it’s crucial to conduct thorough research and prepare yourself for the rigorous admission process. 

UC has a really helpful page that you should consult as a check-off list.

Here are some key steps to follow:

1. Build your foundation blocks

Before you get to the point of filling out your application, you need to be prepared. Have you got an appropriate profile? Are you a suitable candidate? If you’re unsure, check out these factors below. 

The earlier you get started on your University of California application, the more time you have to check off these pointers!

Get to know the University of California’s requirements:

First things first, familiarise yourself with the University of California’s admission criteria, including academic requirements. 

The University of California states on its website that your academic courses in your later years of secondary school should include: 

  • 2 years of History (US or your school’s country)
  • 4 years of English Language and Literature (or in the language you’re instructed)
  • 3 years of college-preparatory Maths (including the topics covered in elementary and advanced algebra and two- and three-dimensional geometry).
  • 2 years of college-preparatory Science (including or integrating Biology, Chemistry, or Physics). Some allowances for interdisciplinary or Earth and Space Sciences, and Computer Science, Engineering and Applied Science.
  • 2 years of a second language
  • 1 yearlong course (or 2 terms) of Visual and Performing Arts
  • 1 additional course from any subject aforementioned area

More information regarding the University of California’s subject requirements is available here.

Ensure that your subject combinations complement your chosen course at the University of California. If not, pursue related activities, qualifications, and projects outside of school to demonstrate your academic aptitude for your chosen discipline.

Have you got a strong academic profile?

Focus on achieving excellent grades throughout your secondary school years. 

As previously mentioned, you should be aiming for B+’s to A*’s (depending on your chosen campus) in your GCSEs and A levels (or IB grades) for your best possible chance at receiving an offer.

Smash the SAT or ACT

Since 2020, the University of California has been test-free. This policy is different to some US universities’ test-optional policy. Instead, UC does not afford the option for applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores as part of their application. Hence, standardised test scores will not be considered when making admission decisions or awarding scholarships. 

However, applicants can report their SAT or ACT scores after their application has been submitted. Applicants may wish to do this if they would like their scores to be considered as an alternative method of fulfilling minimum entry requirements e.g. to supplement a lower than average GPA score. 

Basically, if you are lacking in any part of your application you should take the SAT or ACT (if you can achieve highly in it) and report your score once you have submitted your application. It’s best that you do everything in your power to show that you’re a hard worker with academic aptitude.

Before the University of California was test-free, the middle score of their enrolled students at UCLA was between 1500 and 1570 on the SAT, and 33 and 35 on the ACT (2019). Hence, these are good ranges to aim for.

Unsure whether you should take a test or worried that you might not achieve a decent grade? Contact our admissions team for further advice, or our talented SAT and ACT tutors for expert help. We even have articles on how to prepare for the SAT and ACT.

Note: The University of California’s requirements could change. So, keep up to date with the information available on the UC website and also check for any requirements specific to your chosen campus.

Ace your English language test

Fluency in English is a prerequisite for admission to the University of California. UC asks that applicants take an English language proficiency test if they’ve completed all their high school (secondary school) in a country where English is not the language of instruction. 

If you need to demonstrate your proficiency you should take an exam during your last year of secondary school. The table below shows the tests that UC accepts and the required scores:

ACT English Language Arts (ELA)Score 24
Writing and Language in the SAScore 31 or higher 
AP examination in English Language and Composition, or English Literature and CompositionScore 3, 4 or 5
IB Standard Level examination in English (Language A only) Score 6 or 7
IB Higher Level examination in English (Language A only) Score 5, 6 or 7
International English Language Testing System (IELTSScore 6.5 or higher 
Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)* examination – Internet-based test (iBT) or iBT Home Edition or iBT Paper EditionMinimum score of 80 or better
Duolingo English Test (DET)Minimum score of 115

For more information on English language requirements at UC, see this page.

Consider taking the GRE or GMAT

The University of California requires the GRE or GMAT for some of its postgraduate courses e.g. UC Berkeley’s School of Business. For some courses, graduate applicants will be given the option to submit GRE/GMAT scores.

First-year applicants to any course and/or campus at the University of California will not be required to submit a GRE or GMAT score. 

To impress the University of California, postgraduate applicants should aim for GRE scores of 156-163 in verbal and 155-168 in quantitative or GMAT scores of 600-780. 

Unsure whether you should take the GRE/GMAT or worried that you might not achieve a decent score? Contact our admissions team for further advice, or our talented GRE and GMAT tutors for expert help. We even have articles on how to prepare for the GRE and GMAT.

Say yes to extracurricular activities:

Do not underestimate extracurricular activities, especially if you intend to apply to a US university like the University of California. 

UC even states that its campuses are looking for well-qualified students who have taken advantage of the educational opportunities presented to them both inside and outside of the classroom. So, it’s great to show that you’re a team player who’s enthusiastic about the possibilities around them and gets involved.

Participate actively in extracurricular activities that align with your discipline or demonstrate relevant skills and showcase your teamwork, collaboration and passion. UC particularly values promise for leadership e.g. significant community service or significant participation in student government.

Consider pursuing internships, volunteering, or joining clubs and organisations related to your intended field of study. 

Whilst it’s ideal for your extracurriculars and work experience to be as relevant to your discipline as possible, it’s still valuable if it’s not. Unlike UK universities, US universities tend to value seemingly irrelevant activities and student jobs because US applications are more personal and focused on applicants’ individual characters and experiences. 

Athletes are often admitted to UC by “special admit”, especially when it comes to UCLA and UC Riverside. Hence, if you intend to play a sport competitively at UC you should apply to an appropriate campus, flag your intentions as an athlete in your application and contact the relevant sports department directly.

Watch out for deadlines

Note down your deadlines in advance so that you can work towards an organised timeline of goals. Again, the earlier you start preparing, the better. Be sure not to miss any deadlines or find yourself rushing at the last moment. 

Always check the deadline for your chosen campus and course on the University of California’s website for your intended year of admission.

The University of California differs from most other US universities in the sense that it does not offer early action deadlines. Instead, UC operates on one standard time system, whereby applications open at the start of August and close in November.

However, in terms of classes, UC has two calendar systems in place. UC Berkeley and UC Merced are on the semester system calendar while all other campuses are on the quarter system calendar. All campuses are open for the fall term, but only some may open for the winter/spring term. 

You can check out the deadlines for the University of California applicants here.

Does the University of California offer scholarships?

Yes, the University of California, the federal government and the state of California offer gift aid. Most of this is need-based and a small portion of this is merit-based.

Types of aid available:

  • Federal Pell Grant Programme
  • Cal Grant Programme
  • Middle Class Scholarship (MCS) Programme 
  • Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan

You don’t need to complete multiple applications, you can apply for all financial aid here. You can also consider the Fulbright scholarship (for UK students going to the US) and international student loans. Note that as an international student, you will not qualify for federal grants. 

If you’re not sure you qualify for enough financial aid and you’re worried about finances, you might want to explore other affordable options. You could stay in the UK and enrol in an undergraduate course here and then complete a semester or a year abroad at the University of California. For example, St Andrews has an exchange programme with the University of California! 

Please note: There is a $80 application fee ($95 for international applicants) to apply to the University of California but you can request an application fee waiver here

Also note: UC wants you to tell them if you have achieved any academic accomplishments in light of your life experiences and special circumstances e.g. disabilities, low family income, the first generation to attend college, need to work, disadvantaged social or educational environment, difficult personal and family situations or circumstances, refugee status or veteran status. UC is likely to view your achievements in light of your context so it could boost your application to explain that, whilst your GPA is slightly lower than your peers, you fought tooth and nail to achieve it despite your hardships (if applicable).

2. Craft your application

Once you have laid the foundation, it’s time to focus on creating a compelling application that highlights your unique strengths and experiences. 

Unlike most other US colleges and universities, UC does not take applications through the common app or coalition app. Instead, applications to all UC campuses must be made through the UC website. 

Next, prepare the following aspects:

  • Choose the right course for you. Research the specific programme or field of study that you are interested in and ensure it aligns with your academic and career goals. Check out all the courses available at the University of California here.
  • Gather your academic transcripts and grades.
  • Complete your personal insight questions.

For a walkthrough of the application process, see the University of California’s page.

Please note: You should apply to multiple UC campuses as this will significantly increase your chances of being admitted. However, you can only submit one UC application per term; duplicates will be cancelled. So, ensure that you apply for multiple campuses as part of your singular application. 

Forget what you’ve learned about letters of recommendation:

UC does not require (or read) letters of recommendation as a part of your initial application. 

Some campuses, like Berkley, may ask selected students for references. However, this would be months after the UC application deadline in November. Be sure to keep an eye on your email in case a campus contacts you for references as part of a supplemental review. 

As references are never a part of the initial application and not common practice for any UC campuses, it’s safe to say that your grades and personal insight questions will make or break your application. 

Many US universities prioritise references to the extent that they can hold more weight than the rest of your application. So, it could certainly be a plus that UC places all the importance on you as the applicant and gives you complete control over impressing them. It’s also handy that UC has fewer steps than other universities (no standardised tests or recommendation letters).

However, this also puts far more pressure on the quality of your grades and essays. So, it’s imperative that these factors are as polished as possible.

Also, if you do land in the small group of applicants who are asked for recommendations later down the road, ensure that you choose wisely. Usually, US universities value references from teachers who know you well and taught you a traditional academic subject in your most recent years of secondary school. 

Get to know your references well so that they can boast about your academic aptitude, achievements, and personality. If there’s anything that you’re proud of or that you didn’t have a chance to mention, politely ask them if they can do so for you.

The University of California offers information on recommendations here.

Make it personal:

Unlike most other US universities, UC does not ask for a statement of purpose (known as a personal statement in the UK) from its undergraduate applicants. Instead, it asks them to answer 4 of 8 personal insight questions.

UC asks students to choose the 4 questions that speak to them the most and will allow them to showcase their personality and experiences. Each answer should not exceed 350 words. UC warns that there is no disadvantage or advantage to choosing any questions, and there are no right or wrong answers. 

UC advises: “Take time to think about your life experience, ambition and inspiration.” 

The purpose of this assessment is for you to introduce yourself to UC, and for UC to get a real sense of who you are and your voice. UC specifically advises applicants to write about something they genuinely care about. They want to hear your passions! So, craft well-written and authentic answers to UC’s questions that showcase your personality, motivations, and aspirations. You should especially not shy away from personal factors that are relevant to who you are and your experiences. 

However, this is a university application, so try to mention your future ambitions and career aspirations as well as highlight any of your achievements and wins. UC advises that you write persuasively and address your audience, be compelling and clear. Also, try to make your examples detailed and story-like. 

Try to tick off these key points:

  • Academic Achievement
  • Personal and School Context
  • Special talent
  • Life challenges
  • Special circumstance (if applicable)

Just remember to stay on the topic of the question. Yes, it’s great to bring up all the factors that “sell” your application, but these points should always be aiding you in answering the question on hand. You want to sound focused and concise to convey that you are competent and articulate. 

UC wants to know if you would be a good classmate and roommate and what you offer them as a university. Use their questions as an opportunity to demonstrate your intellectual curiosity, critical thinking skills, and how you can contribute to UC as a community.

You can check out our previous article on personal statements which can offer some helpful tips for this step, however, as the goals and guidelines of UC’s personal insight questions are different, we recommend chatting with our US admissions team. We can match you with expert coaches who specialise in top-tier US university admissions.

UC published its previous personal insight questions on their website. You can view them below:

  1. Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time.
  2. Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: artistically, through problem solving, or original and innovative thinking, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.
  3. What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?
  4. Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.
  5. Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?
  6. Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom. 
  7. What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?
  8. Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you a strong candidate for admission to the University of California?

Visit this page for more information on UC’s short answer essay questions.

These mini-essays are supposed to be an introduction, where UC meets you, the real you. Show who you are as a person and why you deserve to be at UC. UC even says that they don’t expect you to be perfect, they just want to hear what makes you ‘YOU’.

UC stresses the importance of proofreading, editing and getting feedback. So, it’s imperative that you hand in something of high quality without any errors. But have no fear if you’re worried about your writing skills, or fretting over what to say. We know how to help! 

Here, at The Profs, we have excellent writing tutors with plenty of experience who can help you craft a compelling body of work. If you need any assistance, just reach out.

3. Stand Out from the Crowd:

The University of California is incredibly competitive, hence the students who apply there are of very high calibre. Meaning, it is tough to stand out. A polished academic track record and brilliant writing skills are a must, but they’re not enough as many of your peers will also have this. You need to offer more.

As previously mentioned, highlight your extracurriculars and/or work experience. But try to go beyond this. 

Mention if you happen to have any extra qualifications, got the highest available grade in an assignment or earned the top score in your class. If you have won any prizes for competitions within academia or the arts, say so. 

Anything that colours who you are as a person, or shows tenacity or heart could help you to stand out. Think, how are you different?

Identify unique experiences, perspectives, or talents that set you apart from other applicants. If you could do with a little more to mention, consider pursuing independent research, participating in a competition, or engaging in an impactful initiative.

This is why it’s great to start thinking about your application as early as possible. If you’re in year 11 or 12 you have time to focus on what you have accomplished and think about what aspects of yourself you’d like to highlight or develop. 

Showcase your achievements:

The advice for UK applicants typically encourages students not to mention ALL their achievements. Instead, it’s usually recommended that you only mention achievements relevant to your discipline. 

However, US universities want to hear about all your achievements. The University of California loves to see that you managed to balance being captain of your swim team with volunteering, whilst also maintaining straight A’s in class! So, highlight your academic accomplishments, awards, research projects, activities and/or significant experiences.

UC is particularly interested in students who have undertaken special projects (both in the context of your secondary school curriculum or in conjunction with special school events, projects or programmes). Wider reading and independent study are a great way of proving that you’re ready for higher education and degree-level work.

UC also values subject-specific talents, awards, and achievements, such as visual and performing arts, communication or athletic endeavours. UC also highlights special skills, such as demonstrated written and oral proficiency in other languages or exploration of other cultures. 

Create a comprehensive CV that reflects your achievements and background, then refer to this when you are drafting your answers.

Don’t worry about an interview

UC does not conduct interviews for freshmen applicants.

It’s great not to worry about an extra step to prepare for or get nervous about. However, interviews are an opportunity to stand out, charm with charisma, and make a lasting impression. 

What this means is, your application needs to be as fantastic as you can make it. Whether or not you’re admitted rests on your grades and personal insight questions alone. These need to be polished to perfection!

Don’t take any risks with your application. Do everything you can to secure your future at UC by reaching out to our expert US admissions team. We know how to prepare the kind of application that UC wants.

4. Connect with the University of California:

It’s important that you connect with the University of California. Your application should not appear generic and the best way to do that is to build a bond with the University of California itself. 

You can do this by:

  • Attending information sessions, webinars, or virtual tours offered by the University of California to gain firsthand knowledge about the university.
  • Reaching out to current students or alumni to learn more about their experiences and seek advice.
  • Attending open days and virtual days. You should target one or two campuses in particular e.g. Davis.
  • Researching your course and department at the University of California: what research do they carry out, what achievements and awards have they received, and what activities do they get involved with on campus or within the student community?
  • Researching what societies and sports the University of California offers so that you can plan (and demonstrate) intentions to get involved.
  • Researching the opportunities and vibe in California, especially around your chosen campuses e.g. San Francisco.
  • Reaching out to people by calling/emailing your department (or during the open days or via LinkedIn) to network and ask questions. If this goes well, you might even have some names that you can note down in your application, or should you need any help.

Following the steps above will boost the quality of your application as you will be able to demonstrate alignment with the University of California. However, these steps should also serve you in your quest to be sure that the University of California is a good fit for you, as well as what campus suits you best.

Please note that it’s important to refer to the official University of California website for the most up-to-date and accurate information.

5. Seek Guidance:

Consider working with one of our experienced US university admissions tutors who can provide personalised guidance, review your application, help polish your essays, and coach you through the interview process. 

We have a track record of success in applying to top-tier universities like MIT, Harvard, Cornell, NYU and Oxbridge. In fact, 95% of our students receive offers to their first and second-choice universities. If the University of California is your dream, take every step to make it happen and reach out to our expert team.

How we can help

Gaining admission to the University of California as a UK student requires dedication, hard work, and careful preparation. By seeking guidance from our experienced and accomplished admissions team, you can maximise your chances of achieving your dream of studying at the University of California. 

We offer a talented team of tutors, including specialists in:

We are here for every step of the process. Call us for a University of California application review and a bespoke plan of action. There’s no reason you shouldn’t succeed! Just reach out to join our winning team.


How much does it cost to study at the University of California?

The University of California’s estimated annual costs for an on-campus student (2024-2025) come to $14,436 for tuition, $1,800 for campus fees, $19,200 for campus housing and meals, $3,000 for health insurance allowance, $1,300 for books and supplies, and £2,500 for personal transportation. This adds up to $42,236. An off-campus student’s expenses come to a slightly lower estimated cost of $40,036. However, this price is before any aid. 

More information, as well as how to receive financial aid, can be found here.

What are the admission requirements for the University of California (UC) as a UK student?

UK students applying to the University of California must meet the general admission requirements, which include achieving a competitive GPA (ideally mostly A’s in your A levels or IB) and writing an excellent set of personal insight questions. Each UC campus may have additional specific requirements, so it’s essential to review the admission criteria for the particular UC campus you are interested in. More information can be found here.

How competitive is the admission process at the University of California for UK students?

Admission to the University of California is highly competitive for both domestic and international students, including UK students. UC campuses receive a significant number of applications each year, and the acceptance rates can vary. It’s crucial for UK students to present a strong academic record, outstanding extracurricular involvement, and compelling essays to enhance their chances of admission. The specific acceptance rates for international students per UC campus can be found earlier in this article.

Are there any scholarships or financial aid options available for UK students applying to the University of California?

Yes, the University of California offers scholarships and financial aid options for both domestic and international students, including UK students. UK students can apply for need-based financial aid by submitting the appropriate forms, such as the CSS Profile. 

Additionally, some UC campuses may offer merit-based scholarships or awards based on academic excellence or special talents. More information on this is available in this article. You can also check out UC’s page on the subject.

Can UK students receive academic credit for their A level or IB qualifications at the University of California?

The University of California recognises A-level and IB qualifications and may grant credit or advanced placement for qualifying scores. Each UC campus has its own policies regarding credit transfer, so it’s important for UK students to consult the specific campus’s website or contact the admissions office for detailed information on credit transfer policies and requirements.