How to Get Into UC-San Diego: Admissions Data and Strategies
Berkeley and UCLA used to be the two clear-cut crown jewels of the University of California system. While that remains the case in 2021, many other branch campuses have become highly-selective universities in their own right, with an ever-increasing degree of admissions difficulty. UC-San Diego is the top example as it is now a place where 100% of admitted students hail from the top 10% of their high school class and the average GPA is over 4.0.
Prospective Tritons now face a test-blind admissions process that requires near-perfect grades in a rigorous curriculum and exceptional essays. Given this tall order, the intent of this article is provide future UCSD applicants with:
1) A deep-dive into just how highly-selective the UC-San Diego admissions process truly is.
2) Data that will help you better assess how you measure up to the competition.
3) How the UC-San Diego admissions committee operates and what they look for in a successful candidate.
To accomplish these goals we will touch on the following topics:
- UCSD’s Class of 2024 acceptance rate
- SAT, ACT, GPA and class rank of accepted UC-San Diego applicants
- Admissions trends
- The demographics of current UCSD undergraduates
- UC-San Diego’s yield rate
- How UC-San Diego’s admissions officers evaluate candidates
- Tips for applying to UC-San Diego
- How to assess whether applying to UC-San Diego is even worth the $70 application fee (for you)
Let’s begin with an examination of the most recent admissions data.
UC-San Diego: Acceptance Rate – Class of 2024
UCSD received 118,360 applications for the Class of 2025, but they have yet to release official acceptance rates for this cycle. The previous year, they received 100,073 applications and accepted 38,325 individuals which calculates to a 38% acceptance rate. The acceptance rate was a less generous 32% for the Class of 2023.
UC-San Diego Admissions – SAT, ACT, Grades, Class Rank
The University of California System has adopted a test-blind policy beginning with those applying in the fall 2021 cycle and extending through at least 2025. For the Class of 2024, when scores were still accepted, the mid-50% ranges were 1280-1460 on the SAT and 26-33 on the ACT. Every single student enrolled in the 2020-21 freshman class finished in the top decile of their high school class. The average GPA was 4.09 and 77% of this cohort possessed a GPA above a 4.0.
Admissions Trends & Notes
- 91% of the 3,347 current transfer students came from California community colleges.
- 57% of entering freshmen took more than 10 honors courses in 10th and 11th grades (combined).
- The average SAT score for the Class of 2024 was 1363; the school is now test-blind.
- Only 2.7% of entering students had lower than a 3.6 GPA in high school.
- The yield rate decreased from 19% to 17% between 2019-20 and 2020-21.
Who Gets Into UC-San Diego?
Let’s look at the demographics of UC-San Diego undergraduates:
Most UC-San Diego students hailed from the Golden State and paid in-state tuition. The total geographic breakdown is as follows.
- Percent from other U.S. States (non-residents) – 7%
- Percent from other countries (non-resident, international) = 17%
- Percent from San Francisco/Bay Area: 13%
- Percent from San Diego County: 22%
- Percent from Los Angeles/Orange Counties: 35%
- Percent from Other California Counties: 6%
Looking at ethnic identity, the breakdown of the entire Triton undergraduate student body, the breakdown is as follows:
- Asian American: 37.1%
- Hispanic: 20.8%
- African American: 3%
- International: 17%
- Caucasian: 19%
- African American: 3%
The breakdown by gender reveals an almost perfectly even split of male and female students.
- Male: 50%
- Female: 50%
The fields of study among current undergraduates were as follows:
- Biology: 17%
- Social Sciences: 37%
- Physical Sciences: 12%
- Engineering: 20%
- Arts & Humanities: 5%
UC-San Diego’s Yield Rate
UC-San Diego’s yield rate—the percentage of accepted students who elect to enroll, divided by the total number of students who are admitted was 17%. This is far lower than many other elite public institutions, UT-Austin has a 46% yield, UNC-Chapel Hill sports a similar 45%, and UGA also comes in at 45%.
How UCSD Rates Applicants
There are only three factors that UC-San Diego ranks as being “very important” to their admissions process: rigor of secondary school record, GPA, and application essays. Factors are rated as “important” are: talent/ability character/personal qualities, extracurricular activities, volunteer experience, and state residency.
As mentioned previously, UC-San Diego, along with all other UC campuses are now test-blind. This makes the traditionally holistic review process at UC-San Diego even more pronounced. Every application “is reviewed by a minimum of 2 individuals.”
In the admissions office’s own words: “Our goal is to identify and admit students who are fully prepared to excel in our challenging academic environment. We’re looking for students who represent strong academic achievement, exceptional personal talent and the broad diversity of abilities, personal experience and backgrounds characteristic of California.”
It definitely helps if you are recruited as an athlete to join one of UC-San Diego’s 23 Division I sports teams. A great number of incoming students are designated as “recruited athletes” each year and there are almost 600 total varsity athletes.
Tips for Applying to UC-San Diego
If you plan on joining the 118,000+ Triton hopefuls for the next admissions cycle, you should know the following:
- While a holistic process, UC-San Diego does not offer interviews.
- UC-San Diego does not consider “demonstrated interest” in the admissions process.
- Make sure to dedicate sufficient time and effort to the supplemental essays required by UC-San Diego. In the 2021-22 cycle, there are eight total prompts, of which applicants are instructed to choose four to respond to. Each response in limited to maximum of 350 words.
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: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, 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 stand out as a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California?
The best approach here is to select the four prompts that are the best fit for you and elicit the most compelling and personal responses. For more, read our blog: How to Master to UC Personal Insight Essays.
Should I Apply to UCSD?
Getting into UC-San Diego has never been more a challenging endeavor, as it now requires near-perfect (or perfect) grades in 10+ honors/AP/IB courses. Even in-state applicants need to have pristine academic transcripts and other compelling attributes. As such, all students need to make sure that they formulate an appropriate college list, containing a complement of “target” and “safety” schools. You’ll definitely want to do this in collaboration with an admissions professional who is aware of the latest trends and strategies associated with your prospective colleges.
Dave has over a decade of professional experience that includes work as a teacher, high school administrator, college professor, and independent educational consultant. He is a co-author of the books The Enlightened College Applicant (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016) and Colleges Worth Your Money (Rowman & Littlefield, 2020).