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UC applications slow down for fall 2023. Will Californians get a better shot at admission?


After two years of record growth, the University of California received a smaller number of applications for Fall 2023, with state students stable but nonresidents declining, according to preliminary data released Friday.

Overall, UC attracted 206,405 freshman seat applicants, a 2% drop from last year, with international students accounting for the largest drop. The number of California freshman applicants remained nearly flat overall at 132,226 — rising at six of the nine UC student campuses and falling slightly at UCLA, UC Davis and UC Merced.

But since UC plans to increase California student enrollment by 4,200 this fall under an agreement with Governor Gavin Newsom, the chances of admission may be a little higher. While campuses won’t announce their admissions decisions until next month, last year they accepted a record number of California freshmen while significantly narrowing access to foreign and international applicants amid demands to preserve seats for state residents.

Campuses expect to continue this trend this year. UCLA, UC San Diego and UC Berkeley again plan to exchange about 900 nonresident students and give those seats to Californians, as part of a deal with Newsom and lawmakers to offset losses in higher tuition that will be paid for by foreign and international students.

Despite the dip for fall 2023, freshman application numbers are still higher than they were in 2021, marking the start of a two-year record increase that campus officials largely attribute to the elimination of standardized testing requirements for admission. Six of the 10 most applied universities in the country are UC campuses.

“The University of California received an impressive number of applications from prospective students this year. This is a testament to the university’s continued reputation as a premier center of higher education,” UC President Michael V. Drake said in a statement. “A UC education prepares students for the future, positions them for expanded opportunities and encourages them to make a positive impact in their communities.”

But the high demand has led to lower admission prices, especially on the most popular campuses.

California freshman admission rates fell to 14.5% for fall 2022 at UC Berkeley, down from 16.9% the previous year. They fell even lower at UCLA, from 9.9% in the same period to 9.2%. System-wide, admission rates for California students fell to 64.4% last fall from 65.7% the previous year.

Of California freshman applicants for Fall 2023, Latinos again made up the largest share at 39%, followed by Asians at 31%, White applicants at 21%, Black students at 6%, and American Indian and Pacific Islanders at 1% or less. Those proportions are about the same as last year, with a slight increase for Latinos and a small decrease for black students.

And the significant decline in transfer applicants that began during the pandemic has slowed. Student transfer applications fell to 39,363 for Fall 2023 — a 2.4% drop from last year, compared to a 12.6% drop between 2021 and 2022, when the pandemic led to a sharp fall in enrollments at community colleges in California.

UC San Diego and UC Berkeley have managed to increase the number of California transfer applicants for the fall of 2023 — a key focus of state policymakers pushing for simplifying the process from community colleges to UC campuses.

Jim Rawlins, UC San Diego’s associate vice chancellor of enrollment management, said the campus was stepping up efforts to ensure community college students and advisors understood the coursework required to apply to certain majors. The campus also extended the application deadline from November to January, resulting in approximately 100 additional applicants.

“If small steps like that help a few students, that’s great, we’re doing our part as good neighbors of the community colleges,” Rawlins said. “And the feedback we’ve gotten from them suggests that’s really, really helpful.”

UC Berkeley also attracted slightly more California freshman and transfer applicants for Fall 2023 — 72,656 and 16,112, respectively. The campus decided to ramp up recruiting events in more regions of California, even during the pandemic, when many institutions pulled out, admissions officials said. One event, “Power in Community,” brought disadvantaged students from Northern California to campus to hear from administrators and others about financial aid, support services, and student groups.

UC Santa Barbara admissions director Lisa Przekop said her campus also doubled down on efforts to attract applicants from California while devoting less attention to international and out-of-state students. Her team has not traveled to key recruiting areas in Asia and South Asia since the pandemic, and has decided not to hold virtual sessions for students there this year due to the time difference — which has forced admissions officers to present in the middle of the night.

At the same time, Przekop said, UC Santa Barbara was holding more than 1,000 information sessions for students across California. Thanks to an easing of pandemic restrictions, admissions officers began traveling to high schools and college fairs again, while continuing online webinars, some in Spanish, and intensifying social media outreach.

The result: California’s first-year applications have grown steadily to 74,902 for fall 2023, from 73,575 and 71,209 in the previous two years. The number of applications fell slightly for foreign and international students and entrants.

“I really don’t see our numbers as a decline because the reality is we’ve grown in California and that’s where we’ve focused our efforts,” Przekop said. “We were much more visible.”

UC Irvine was one of three UC campuses with more enrollments overall. Freshman applications rose from 119,165 last year to 121,074 for Fall 2023, while transfer applications fell slightly. But the total of 143,000 applications set a record for the third consecutive year.

Dale Leaman, UC Irvine’s executive director of student admissions, said he was especially encouraged that the drop in transfer applicants was smaller. “I count it as a win,” he said. “Speaking to several community college colleagues… there has been a recovery in student engagement and interest in returning.”

He said the 2023 admissions cycle, after two years of uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 upheaval and the elimination of standardized testing, could mark a return to pre-pandemic trends. UC applications had declined in 2019 and 2020 before the surge began in the past two years.

The total number of UC Riverside applications rose to 68,058, with nearly 2,100 more California and nonresident students seeking freshman positions. Emily Engelschall, associate vice-chancellor of enrollment services, credited a new marketing campaign along with a return to a fully staffed admissions team that saw a 13% increase in school attendance and a full restoration of in-person campus tours for the first time since the pandemic.

“After the pandemic, we felt it was really important to reinvest in those personal connections with our counselors, with our student community, with families to go out and tell our story,” said Engelschall.

The Riverside campus also extended the deadline for transfer applications to the end of January, adding 1,000 more applications, though the total number fell slightly from last year.

UC Merced also extended submission deadlines for all students, adding nearly 400 more applications. While preliminary data released by the UC Office of the President shows a decline in Merced applications, campus officials said the extended deadline contributed to a final count of more than 26,000 freshman applicants, a record.

UC Davis enrollments remained essentially flat for freshmen, at 94,609, and fell slightly for transfer students, to 14,741. UC Santa Cruz increased its application count, with 68,820 first-year applicants — an increase of nearly 1,800 from last year — and 11,140 prospective transfer students, a slight decrease.

At UCLA, both freshman and transfer requests declined, but the Westwood campus remained the most popular choice for California students, along with other states and countries. UCLA received 145,882 freshman applications and 23,954 transfer applications.

Gary Clark, UCLA interim vice-provost of enrollment management, said the campus had not yet determined how many additional students UCLA would admit this year. But he said he was relieved that a drop in applications would mean fewer disappointed students who don’t get the much-coveted letter of acceptance next month.

“Even with a slight drop, we have a great pool of applicants to choose from, so we feel pretty good,” Clark said.

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