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

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Part of the esteemed University of California System, UC San Diego is located in the La Jolla neighborhood and home to 130 undergraduate majors. 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 acceptance rate of 30%, UCSD is a moderately 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 UC San Diego application profile.


Want to know your chances at UCSD? Calculate your chances right now.


Want to learn what UCSD will actually cost you based on your income? And how long your application to the school should take? Here’s what every student considering UCSD needs to know.


Applying to UC San Diego: A Quick Review


The majority of UCSD’s admits are from California. In 2016, 71% of first-years were 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% were 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




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.


Due to COVID-19, UC has temporarily suspended the letter grade requirement for the above completed in spring 2020 for all students, including UC’s most recently admitted freshmen. These courses completed in spring 2020 with Pass (P) or Credit (CR) grades will satisfy appropriate requirements. 




Unlike many universities, UCSD 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.




UCSD requires the SAT with Essay or the ACT with 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, so it doesn’t superscore.


Prospective engineering and biological or physical science majors are encouraged to submit 2 SAT Subject Tests related to their major. If you take a Math Subject Test, you must take Math Level 2.


Due to COVID-19, UC San Diego will be test-optional for those applying during 2020-2021. For fall 2023 and 2024, applicants, UC San Diego will be test-blind. To learn more about test-optional policies, visit our blog post.


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


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


Personal Insight Questions


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




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.


What research opportunities are available at UC San Diego? Check out this video and watch the rest of the livestream to learn more about UCSD from current students.


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


The UCSD acceptance rate for the 2019-2020 cycle was 30.2% (newer numbers have yet to be released). 


Here are some other metrics to see how you stack up against the middle 50% of accepted UCSD students:


High School GPA: 4.03-4.28

ACT: 24 – 33

SAT: 1250-1470

So, How Do You 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 UCSD and emphasizing your personal attributes as well as academic. This can come through in your extracurricular activities, such as a commitment to community service. It can also be demonstrated through 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 you’re 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 UCSD 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. UCSD doesn’t have interviews, so you’ll need to demonstrate interest by visiting the college (if you can), 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 from UCSD?


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 UCSD, 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 UCSD, 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. You should only do this if you actually want to take a gap year, however, and not because you want to reapply to UCSD. It’s often harder to get in the second time, not easier. You’ll have to do something truly impressive in your gap year to change your chances favorably.


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 2020-2021


Curious about your chances of acceptance to UCSD? Our free chancing engine takes into account your GPA, test scores, extracurriculars, and other data to predict your odds of acceptance at over 500 colleges across the U.S. We’ll also let you know how you stack up against other applicants and how you can improve your profile. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today to get started!

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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.

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