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UC Schools Acceptance Rates: Easiest and Hardest Schools to Get Into

Whether you grew up in the Golden State or another part of the world, you might be dreaming of earning your degree at a UC school. A highly selective college system composed of nine undergrad institutions and more than 238,000 students, the University of California schools hold the distinction of being among the best public universities in the country. 


Founded in 1869, the school system earns high marks for its STEM and humanities programs, multi-billion-dollar research centers, and proximity to dynamic cities like Los Angeles and San Diego. So, it’s no surprise that some of the UC schools’ acceptance rates are on the low side. If you’re eager to spend your college career getting a great education in the sun, read on to learn about the hardest and easiest UC schools to get into.


List of the UC Schools


Before we dive in, here’s a complete list of the 10 UC schools (UC San Francisco is a graduate-only school, while the others offer undergraduate and graduate education).


  • UC Berkeley
  • UCLA
  • UC Davis
  • UC Irvine
  • UC Riverside
  • UC San Diego
  • UC San Francisco (graduate only)
  • UC Santa Barbara
  • UC Santa Cruz
  • UC Merced


Why Are the UC Schools Hard to Get Into?


Admission to the UC schools is competitive, and for good reason. Students flock to the UCs because of the high rankings and academic quality. In the 2020 US News & World Report rankings, UCLA and UC Berkeley came in first and second respectively in the list of best public schools. Moreover, UC Riverside ranked No. 1 for social mobility, due to the fact that more students with Pell Grants were enrolled there than in any other university in the country.


The UC system also offers a wide range of majors, extracurriculars, and resources. Students enjoy access to museums, art galleries, concert halls, observatories, and even botanical gardens, all without having to leave campus.


It’s no surprise that the UCs draw a large number of applications each year. According to Forbes, more than 181,000 students applied to the UCs in 2018, and the schools only admitted 71,085 freshmen. While the schools have always been competitive, continued space limitations and scarce state funding mean that they now have to turn away around 60% of qualified applicants on an annual basis. 


The low acceptance rates at the UCs are complicated by the fact that statistics differ significantly for in-state and out-of-state applicants. Because the UCs offer in-state residents the chance to earn an exceptional education without the private school price tag, California students are particularly drawn to these public institutions. 


However, the UCs are cognizant of the fact that they can net a lot more money from out-of-state admittees. In fact, UCLA admitted only 12% of its California applicants in 2019 and 16% of its out-of-state applicants. Keep in mind, however, that there were 2-3 times more in-state applicants than out-of-state ones, not including international students. While the out-of-state acceptance rate is higher, those applicants tend to be better-qualified, and are held to a higher academic standard. The middle 50% SAT scores for accepted out-of-state students was 1440-1550, but 1300-1530 for in-state students. The middle 50% ACT scores were 33-35 for out-of-state, and 28-35 for in-state.


While the University of California colleges are undoubtedly competitive, the good news is that some UC schools’ acceptance rates are much higher than others. Keep reading to find out which schools you’re most and least likely to get into in 2020.


Hardest UC Schools to Get Into


How hard is it to get into a UC school? The truth is that it depends on the university. Both featuring acceptance rates well under 20%, UC Berkeley and UCLA are the most competitive of the UC institutions. Admissions pros place these well-regarded schools among other highly selective colleges like the University of Notre Dame, USC, and Georgetown.


While these UC schools’ acceptance rates can seem intimidating, there are still plenty of reasons to apply. Known for its political activism and diverse student body, Berkeley is the oldest of the UCs. Along with the exceptional academics, top-notch faculty, and exciting research opportunity, students are drawn to the institution for its location. With San Francisco just a 20-minute drive from campus, Berkeley students are never bored.


Academics are also a major draw at UCLA, which offers more than 3,800 courses and 109 majors. With a total undergraduate enrollment of 31,577, this UC is a great choice for students seeking a large school with plenty of activities and extracurriculars. Additionally, the Los Angeles location means that students have access to numerous internships and career opportunities. In particular, UCLA’s robust network of entertainment alumni makes it a wise option for those considering careers in film and television. 


See our post comparing UCLA vs. UC Berkeley for more info on the differences between the schools.

Easiest UC Schools to Get Into


Even if UCLA and Berkeley seem like reaches, you might still be able to attend a UC. The easiest UC schools to get into include UC Santa Cruz, UC Riverside, and UC Merced, all of which have acceptance rates over 50%.


Located 40 minutes outside San Jose, UC Santa Cruz earns high marks for its picturesque campus and close beach access. Along with the small class sizes and community feel, students rave about how progressive the school is. In fact, Santa Cruz came in No. 1 on Business Insider‘s list of the Most Liberal Colleges in America.


Like UC Santa Cruz, UC Riverside has a higher acceptance rate that makes it more accessible. It’s also a great choice for students seeking a more affordable college degree. In fact, the school admits a higher percentage of Pell Grant students than any other top research school in the U.S. 


One of the newer UCs, Merced is still finding its identity. As a result, students have a chance to shape the school into the kind of institution they want to attend. Additionally, Merced accepts a large number of community college students. According to the school website, 96% of admitted transfer students come from a California community college.


UC Schools Acceptance Rates


Wondering what it takes to get into a University of California school? Check out the stats for incoming freshmen at the nine undergraduate UC institutions below:


2021 Data

School Name

Acceptance Rate

Middle 50% SAT

Middle 50% ACT

UC Berkeley








UC Irvine




UC Santa Barbara




UC San Diego




UC Davis




UC Santa Cruz




UC Riverside




UC Merced





In this year acceptance rates actually rose, and average test scores went down, likely due to the pandemic and access to testing. It’s worth noting that all UC schools are test-blind from the 2021-2022 cycle and beyond, so having a strong test score will not help your application. These numbers are provided to help you understand how competitive UC applicants have historically been.


2020 Data

School Name Acceptance Rate Middle 50% SAT Middle 50% ACT
UC Berkeley 16.3% 1350-1540 30-35
UCLA 12.3% 1270-1520 28-34
UC Irvine 26.5% 1195-1435 27-33
UC Santa Barbara 29.6% 1230-1480 26-32
UC San Diego 31.5% 1300-1520 26-33
UC Davis 38.9% 1260-1480 28-34
UC Santa Cruz 51.3% 1170-1400 24-31
UC Riverside 56.5% 1130-1400 21-29
UC Merced 72% 1020-1270 17-25


Need more help selecting the right UC school for you? Check out CollegeVine’s guide on the UC schools.


With college admissions becoming increasingly competitive, applying to schools is a stressful proposition. Fortunately, the CollegeVine chancing engine exists to simplify the process. Simply sign up for your free CollegeVine account and enter your information online. Along with revealing your current odds of getting in at schools across the US, we’ll provide tools to help boost your chance of acceptance. Get started today and take the first step on the road to your dreams.

Short Bio
A graduate of the Master of Professional Writing program at USC, April Maguire taught freshman composition while earning her degree. Over the years, she has worked as a writer, editor, tutor, and content manager. Currently, she operates a freelance writing business and lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their three rowdy cats.