How I Got Into UC Riverside

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In high school, my friends and I watched tons of movies where the protagonist waited in anticipation for the email that would decide their future—our dream school’s admissions results. I always thought that when I was a senior, I would also have that movie moment.

 

But, before I got any acceptance or rejection emails, I genuinely had no dream school. I told myself that I’d just wait until I knew which colleges I actually got into. However, once my acceptances came, I still didn’t really prefer one college over another. It wasn’t until I visited campus that I realized where I wanted to go.

 

My older sister went to UCLA, and I always dreaded visiting since the bowl-shaped campus meant you could never escape walking uphill. Similarly, most of the other UCs I visited also had very hilly campuses. Yet, when I visited UC Riverside, I was met with a blessedly flat campus. Though I also considered factors like scholarships, tuition, and distance from home, I have to admit that the flatness of UC Riverside ranked fairly high on the pros list. Aside from that, UC Riverside granted me a scholarship, which ultimately helped me decide on accepting my admissions offer.

 

Though my admissions story is relatively unexciting, when I look back, I am grateful that I decided to go to this school. In this post, I will cover my application process and what I did to get into UC Riverside. (If you’re looking for more details about UC Riverside you can consult what CollegeVine has compiled about admissions rates, diversity stats, etc.)

 

Application Context

 

I’m lucky to have a sister who’s two years older than me, because she was able to help guide me through the application process. I’m Indian-American, and my parents immigrated to the United States when they were young and attended college in California. I went to a fairly large public high school in Southern California.

 

I wanted to get a head start on my college applications, since I knew I would be busy with AP classes during fall semester. I finished most of my UC essays before my senior year started and  finished the entire application in early September. But, somehow I forgot to actually submit it until two days before it was due (in late November)! UC Riverside, like the other UCs, does not offer any early admission deadlines and requires all students to submit their application between November 1st and November 30th. 

 

UC Riverside is need-blind, so admissions officers do not factor in financial status when making admissions decisions. I did not apply for financial aid.

 

Academics 

 

UC Riverside takes high school GPA strongly into account when reviewing applications. At the time of applying, my unweighted GPA was 4.0 and I graduated as Valedictorian of my class. For the fall semester 2021, the middle 50% of UC Riverside Freshman admits had a weighted GPA of 3.69 to 4.11. My weighted GPA at the time of applying was above the 75th percentile.

 

Throughout high school, I took 20 honors courses. Every high school offers different courses, so there’s no perfect number to take. From my experience, you should take enough to ensure that you’re challenging yourself, but not so much that the workload is overwhelming.

 

My school offered AP courses starting sophomore year. UC Riverside is very generous with granting credit for AP courses, so I would recommend taking as many as you are comfortable with if you want to graduate early. Collegevine also has resources for how to decide which AP courses to take. 

 

Freshman Year:

  • None

 

Sophomore Year:

  • AP Art History

 

Junior Year:

  • AP Calculus AB
  • AP Language and Composition
  • AP Physics
  • AP Spanish Language and Culture
  • AP U.S. History

 

Senior Year:

  • AP Calculus BC
  • AP Government and Politics
  • AP Literature and Composition
  • AP Macroeconomics
  • AP Psychology
  • AP Statistics

 

Standardized Testing

 

I opted to take the SAT instead of the ACT. To prepare, I participated in a summer boot camp where I took weekly practice tests. I took the SAT once and received a 1540 (740 in evidence-based reading and writing and 800 in math). UC Riverside doesn’t superscore SAT or ACT scores. For the past applicant cycle, the middle 50% of accepted students scored 560-670 on the evidence-based reading and writing section and 570-730 on the math section. However, due to the pandemic, standardized test scores were not considered during this year’s selection process, but this is likely to change for future admissions cycles.

 

UC Riverside doesn’t require any SAT Subject Tests, but I took a few to supplement my college application. I self-studied and I believe the studying required for subject tests is much less intense than it is for the SAT. Since I was applying as a math major, I took the SAT math II Test and scored 800. I also took the U.S. history, Spanish, and physics SAT Subject Tests.  

 

Extracurriculars and Awards

 

Cross country and track (9, 10, 11, 12)

  • Team captain (2 yr), JV league champion (1 yr)
  • Placed top 7 for cross country every year, medaled in the 800/1600/3200 for track & field
  • I qualified for the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) finals all four years.
  • I was the “team tutor” and did math problems at morning practice with my teammates.

 

Friday Night Live (9, 10, 11, 12)

  • Secretary (2 yr), Vice President (1 yr)
  • Organized campus-wide drug and alcohol abuse awareness events
  • I visited other branches at local elementary schools to connect with students and played games with third to sixth graders.

 

Girl Scouts (9, 10, 11, 12) 

  • Earned my Bronze, Silver, and Gold Award
  • For the Gold Award, I conducted a summer camp to teach basic coding to elementary students. I helped them create an app to raise awareness about an issue they were passionate about in the community (healthy eating, light pollution, etc.)
  • Participated in community-service events like canned-food drives

 

Associated Teachers of America (11, 12)

  • Vice President (1 yr)
  • Volunteered in various educational settings (local junior high schools, Kumon Math and Reading Center)
  • Attended various professional development events and received scholarships 

 

Lancer Awards (9, 10, 11, 12)

  • Annual recognition given to one exemplary student per teacher for a particular subject
  • Awarded for biology honors, world history honors, precalculus honors, AP calculus AB, AP calculus BC, AP Spanish language, and AP government and politics

 

National Merit Semifinalist

  • Awarded to top 1% scorers on the PSAT by state

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Essays

 

I applied to UC Riverside via the UC Application, which is used for all nine UC schools. The essay prompts are relatively similar from year to year and consist of eight prompts, which are fairly broad. Applicants are required to answer four prompts. I chose the four which I felt would enhance my application and reveal information that admissions officers might not know from my general application. This selection of essays is used for all schools, so if you’re applying to multiple UC schools, it’s important not to tailor these to a specific campus.

 

Here are the four prompts I answered as well as some excerpts from my essays:

 

1. Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side. 

 

For this essay, I wrote about calligraphy. I never really considered myself a creative person, so I wanted to show how I discovered a new creative side to myself in high school. This excerpt demonstrates how I used figurative language and imagery to communicate how I used calligraphy to express my creativity.

 

“After much trial and error, I eventually found the perfect mechanism to not only elevate my academic performance, but also to explore a new creative outlet: calligraphy. I soon realized the best way for me to retain information was via my notes, and as a means to entertain myself during some of the more lackluster lectures, I began focusing on making my notes more ‘visually appealing.’ 

 

I composed headings in looping cursive, organized content into orderly rows and columns, and color-coded relevant information accordingly. Pretty notes evolved into elaborate study guides, colorful timelines, and ornate outlines. This simple expression of my previously shunned creative side allowed me to survive my junior year, alleviate stress, and even look forward to classes.”

 

2. What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?

 

This essay is probably my least favorite, since it’s not very unique– I talked about volunteering, which is something a lot of high school students do to pad their resumes. I used anecdotal evidence to personalize my message. Also, I took the opportunity to go beyond volunteering and explain how my experiences helped me decide on my educational and career goals.

 

3. Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you stand out as a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California?

 

This prompt is the most general one, so I used it for something I wanted to talk about that didn’t necessarily fit within the other prompts. I wanted to give some insight into my experience with cross country. This essay had the potential to be a generic essay about sports, so I decided to make it a little more unique by explaining the unconventional way I joined the cross country team. 

 

“My freshman year I decided to join tennis in order to avoid PE. Due to the low amount of people trying out and my sister already being on the team I had—falsely—assumed I would be an immediate candidate. What I failed to take into account, however, was the cold, hard truth: I was indubitably, undeniably an awful tennis player. Frantically, I looked through my options and finally found the one sport that I didn’t have to try out for—Cross Country. Relieved, yet still slightly irritated, I immediately signed up.

 

Unlike the other women’s sports at my school, which are riddled with petty drama, cross country proves to be the exception. Indeed, I was initially fearful of alienation, but the captain at the time made that extra effort to make me feel constantly included. The people on this team have helped foster my growth from the slowest member to a Girls’ Varsity Captain and three-time CIF runner.”

 

4. Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time. 

 

For this prompt, I chose to talk about an accomplishment that I was proud of: receiving the Girl Scout Gold Award. For the Gold Award, I created a summer camp to teach children basic coding. I wanted to talk about this in an essay so that I could provide details that I wouldn’t be able to give in the general application. 

 

From the countless college essays I’ve written, the main lesson I learned was to pick topics that you’re excited about. Not only will your passion show but admissions officers will get a glimpse into who you are as a person. My strategy with these essays was to highlight aspects of myself that weren’t necessarily apparent in my resume. 

 

Letters of Recommendation

 

UC Riverside neither requires nor accepts letters of recommendation.

 

Interviews

 

UC Riverside does not conduct alumni or admissions officer interviews.

 

Wrapping it Up

 

If you’re interested in applying to UC Riverside, the admissions webpage has a host of virtual admissions presentations designed to offer tips and guide applicants throughout the application process. I also recommend checking out their virtual events regarding admission, or taking a tour if possible. Touring the campus not only gives you a feel for the college life, but also connects you with current students who can provide additional insight into the application process.

 

I think the best way to apply to UC Riverside is to make sure your application is genuine and that your essays reflect who you are. Grades and test scores are important as well, but they aren’t guarantees for admission. My advice would be to make sure you spend your high school years doing things that you enjoy, because your passion and commitment will show in your application. It’s important to remember that everyone’s admissions process is unique, and no matter what you do, you’ll end up attending the school that is right for you.

 

What Are Your Chances of Acceptance at UC Riverside?

 

Only 51% of UC Riverside applicants are accepted, but this admissions rate doesn’t necessarily indicate your personal chances of acceptance. Your chances may be higher or lower, depending on your profile.

 

To better understand your chances of acceptance, use our free admissions calculator. This tool will not only let you know your chances at hundreds of schools, but also give you tips for improving your profile. 

 


Short Bio
Nisha Desai is a second year student at the University of California, Riverside. She recently started working at CollegeVine, but has done application guidance and tutoring in a private capacity for a couple of years. She is in school to eventually get her Masters in Education and enjoys reading and running in her free time.

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