UC San Diego Acceptance Rate: What Does it Take to Get In?

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Part of the esteemed University of California System, the University of San Diego is located in the La Jolla neighborhood and home to 130 undergraduate majors across five disciplinary areas: arts & humanities, social sciences, engineering, biological science, and physical science.


A unique aspect of UCSD is its “Sixth College” system, in which students are placed in colleges according to unique philosophies and named for great thinkers. When they apply, students rank the colleges in order of preference.


With an admission rate of 30.2%, UCSD is a selective school that sits in the center of other UC schools in terms of difficulty of admission. So what does it take to get into the UCSD? Keep reading for CollegeVine’s recommendations for creating a stand-out UCSD application profile.


Applying to UC San Diego: A Quick Review


The majority of UCSD’s admits are from California. In 2016, 71% of the freshman class was comprised of California residents, with just 7% coming from out of state and 22% coming from out of the country. Now, the University of California system caps enrollment for out-of-state students. The percentage by school varies.


UCSD strives for diversity: According to data from the same year (2016), 74% of the freshman class was made up of students of color and 29% was comprised of first-generation students.


Broadly, UCSD defines the criteria for evaluation as:


  • Academic Achievement
    • GPA, test scores, and rigor of curriculum
    • Eligibility in the Local Context (ELC) (ranking in the top 9% of California high school at the end of junior year—”adds value” to your application”)


  • Personal Qualities
    • Academic Enrichment
    • Creative, Intellectual, Social or Professional Achievement
    • Challenges, Hardships, Unusual Circumstances—linguistic background, parental education level, and other indicators of the support available in your home


  • Portfolio Review (if applicable)


Finally, UCSD welcomes undocumented students, offering plenty of resources for these individuals. 


UCSD Application Requirements


1. Coursework


UCSD defines the minimum coursework requirements as:


  • History/social science: 2 years
  • English: 4 years
  • Mathematics: 3 (4 recommended)
  • Laboratory science: 2 (3 recommended)
  • Language other than English (or other second language): 2 (3 recommended)
  • Visual and performing arts: 1
  • College preparatory elective: 1


Keep in mind that “recommended” coursework really means required except in unusual cases, so you should strive to meet or exceed these recommendations.


2. GPA


UCSD is a rare university that states minimum GPA requirements for applicants. They are:


  • 3.0 with no grades lower than a C for California residents
  • 3.4 with no grades lower than a C for non-California residents


These are merely minimums; many students greatly exceed these requirements, and having a higher GPA will improve your chances of admission.


3. Tests


UCSD requires the SAT with critical reading, math, and writing or the ACT plus writing. You must submit scores from all your sittings. Don’t be too intimidated by this; many colleges that require you to submit all your scores will only record the highest. UCSD does state, however, that it will only take scores from the same sitting.


The university also recommends taking all AP and IB exams associated with the courses, and you must submit scores directly from the College Board in order to receive course credit.


International students whose native language is not English and non-native speakers must submit TOEFFL (83 minimum) or IELTS (7 minimum) scores as well.


4. Personal Insights Questions


You must respond to four out of eight personal insights questions. For advice on writing these essays, check out CollegeVine’s guide: How to Write the University of California Essay Prompts 2018-2019. These questions are the same across all University of California undergraduate schools.


5. Application


Like the other UC colleges, UCSD does not accept the Common or Coalition Application. Instead, you must complete an application unique to the UC system. You must also submit your transcript. Keep in mind that letters of recommendation are not considered, and Music, Theatre & Dance, or Visual Arts program applicants may submit an optional portfolio or audition video.


UC San Diego Acceptance Rate: How Difficult is it to Get In?


Admit rate: 30.2%


High School GPA: 4.02 – 4.28
ACT Composite Score: 28 – 34
ACT English Language Arts: 27 – 31
SAT Evidence-Based Reading & Writing: 640 – 730
SAT Mathematics: 660 – 790
SAT Essay: 16 – 18

(range reflects the middle 25%–75% range)

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So, How Does One Get Into UCSD?


Excel in your coursework and standardized tests. You should aim to greatly exceed the minimum requirements for GPA, test scores, and coursework. The most competitive candidates will have scores at least in the 75% range and an above-average GPA for the admissions pool. Additionally, you should take a curriculum with plenty of honors and AP or IB courses to demonstrate that you challenge yourself.


Demonstrate that you are a person of strong character. USCD describes personal qualities as one of its criteria for evaluation. Since teacher recommendations aren’t part of your application, you will need to demonstrate this on your own. That means showing how your values align with those of USCD and emphasizing your personal attributes as well as academic. This can come through in your extracurricular activities, such as a commitment to community service beyond the value it will add to your application and anecdotes in your application and essay, such as describing a time you stood up for the underdog or fought for what you know is right.


Emphasize what sets you apart. UCSD prides itself on its diverse student body. That doesn’t mean you must have a minority background to be admitted, but you should have some “hook” that makes you stand out from the applicant pool. Perhaps you had an unusual upbringing. Maybe you speak multiple languages. Or your the first person in your family to attend college. Whatever it is, emphasize what makes you unique in your essay or other aspects of your application.


How to Make Your Application Stand Out?


There are numerous factors that affect your chances of admission to UCSD, but here are three steps you can take to increase them.


Step 1. Place emphasis on areas like extracurricular achievements and diverse and unusual circumstances. Your essays are an excellent place to do so.


Step 2. Exceed minimum requirements. UC system schools are unusual in that they state the established minimum requirements for admissions. Use this information to your advantage. You should aim to exceed them substantially, particularly if you’re out of state.


Step 3. Demonstrate your enthusiasm for UCSD. Of all the colleges in the UC system—and all the universities in the country—why does UCSD appeal to you in particular? Like most schools, the UCSD adcom wants to know that you want to go there in particular. USCD doesn’t have interviews, so you’ll need to demonstrate interest by visiting the college, getting on the mailing list for collateral, and signing up for online materials. You should also find ways of incorporating the college’s values, which should match your own, into your essays.


What If You Get Rejected?


Being denied admission to any college, particularly one of your top choices, is disappointing. Still, it’s important to take a step back and regroup. If you get rejected from USCD, here’s what you can do:


Apply to multiple colleges.

Make sure your final list is well balanced among safety, target, and reach colleges. You’ll improve your chances of being admitted to multiple schools if you include several where you have a good or reasonable chance of acceptance.


That includes other University of California schools. Since there are many UC colleges that have a higher admissions rate than USCD, you’ll increase your odds of being admitted to the UC system by applying to multiple UC schools. Since there is a single portal for all UC schools, you won’t have to spend significant time on these applications.


Take a gap year.

If you had your heart set on UCSD or received bad news from the other colleges on your list, one option is to take a gap year and reapply next admissions cycle. If you do decide to go this route, make sure you have a plan for how to spend the year. You might undertake a research project, volunteer, study to improve your SAT scores, or take classes non-matriculated at a local college.


Keep it in perspective.

Even if UCSD was your top choice, chances are, you’ll find a way to make a college that did accept you work. College really is what you make of it, and if you put effort into adjusting to another school by joining clubs, working hard in your classes, and cultivating a social life, you’ll likely find that you can make a fulfilling college experience for yourself, even if you end up at a college that wasn’t your top choice.


For more advice on applying to UCSD or other schools in the UC system, read:


The Ultimate Guide to Applying to the University of California

How to Write the University of California Essay Prompts 2018-2019


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Laura Berlinsky-Schine
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in History. She lives in Brooklyn, New York and works as a freelance writer specializing in education. She dreams of having a dog.