University of California makes more admission offers following big spike in applications

Sather Gate at UC Berkeley.

The University of California made a record number of admission offers to incoming freshmen and transfer students this year, the result of a significant spike in applications among those students, according to data the university system released Monday.

Across the system’s nine undergraduate campuses, more than 132,000 students received offers for freshman admission, or about 13,000 more than a year ago. However, the admission rate declined from 69% to 65% across the system because so many more students applied.

The bigger question will be how many students actually enroll across UC this fall, something that isn’t yet clear. UC doesn’t yet have final enrollment figures and typically doesn’t release those numbers until December or January.

UCLA’s Royce Hall in the pre-pandemic era

The figures released Monday on admissions offers include students who were wait-listed. Some of those students still don’t yet know if they have a spot at their desired campus. Campuses make offers to students on waitlists as space opens up when other accepted students decide to attend college elsewhere. UC’s overall enrollment capacity is not increasing significantly this year.

The increased admissions offers that UC campuses made this year included a jump of about 8,000 out-of-state students who were accepted. About 28,000 students from states other than California were admitted, up from about 20,000 last year. That corresponds to the applications the system received, which included a higher share of out-of-state students than in previous years. That increase comes as lawmakers have said they intend to reduce the number of out-of-state students that some UC campuses enroll beginning in 2022-23.

UC on Monday also touted that it increased offers to low-income students, Black and Latino students, first-generation college students, international students and transfer students. But each of those groups of students also applied in higher numbers. The share of students offered admission among each of those groups is proportional to the students who applied.

Last year, for the first time ever, Latino students made up the largest ethnic group of admitted students. This year, that happened again, with Latino students making up 37% of admitted freshmen, up from 36% last year.

“These remarkable numbers are a testament to the hard work and resiliency of students and their families across California,” UC President Michael Drake said in a statement. “I am particularly heartened by the social and economic diversity of those offered a place at UC. Fall will be an exciting time on our campuses.”

Two UC campuses — Los Angeles and Santa Barbara — made fewer freshman admission offers to students this year than they did a year ago. The remaining seven undergraduate campuses admitted more students, according to Drake’s office.

Abby Jones, the deputy admissions director at UC Berkeley, described this admissions cycle as an “unprecedented” one. Not only did students apply amid a global pandemic, but for the first time ever, UC campuses could not consider SAT or ACT scores, even on an optional basis.

Experts attributed the spike in applications to UC in large part to the elimination of those standardized tests from the admissions process, as many students felt more optimistic about their chances of being accepted without having to submit those test scores.

UC Berkeley offered admission to about 16,400 incoming freshmen, about 960 more than a year ago, according to that campus. But with so many more applicants to Berkeley, the share of students who were accepted actually decreased from 17% to 14%.

“We always have more capable, qualified and talented applicants than students we can admit. And that was definitely the case this year,” Jones said.

California lawmakers have said they plan to fund increased enrollment at UC for in-state students beginning in 2022-23, something that would result in fewer of those qualified students being rejected.

Deciding how many students to offer admission is a calculated decision made each year by admissions and enrollment management officials, who need to be careful not to under- or over-enroll students in any given class.

This year, UC Santa Cruz offered admission to 36,375 incoming freshmen, slightly more than it offered last year, according to the UC President’s Office. That’s also significantly more than the Santa Cruz campus admitted in 2019, when it offered spots to 28,784 incoming freshmen.

Michelle Whittingham, associate vice chancellor of enrollment management at that campus, said the enrollment targets for each incoming class fluctuate based on the number of students who are graduating and leaving the UC Santa Cruz campus.

UC Santa Cruz McHenry Library (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Several years ago, that campus admitted “really large classes,” so incoming classes in years like 2019 had to be smaller, she added. But as students from those large cohorts graduate, it allows for increased capacity for the newest classes.

“As they work their way through their educational journey and they start graduating, that allows the incoming classes to be a little bigger,” Whittingham said.

The pandemic and the increased applications in general also added wrinkles that made admissions decisions this year more challenging, said Jones, the deputy admissions director at UC Berkeley.

Jones said the uncertainty of the pandemic made it harder to predict how students would respond to admissions offers. At the same time, because applications increased at a lot of universities, campuses had to prepare for the possibility of fewer students accepting admission offers because they were keeping their options open in general, she said.

But Jones added that she is optimistic about how Berkeley’s final fall enrollment numbers will look. “We’re really excited about the incoming class.”

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