Important Updates from the 2021 UC Counselor Conference

So, here we are, turning the page to November and questions about the University of California application are coming in, fast and furious. Is my Media Studies class a-g approved? Do I have to answer all 8 PIQs? Is it true that it’s best to submit my application on Thanksgiving Day?

As the awesome counselor that you are, you’ll likely be spending much of the next month fielding questions about all things UC.

If you didn’t have a chance to attend the 2021 UC Counselor Conference in September, we thought to lend a hand and share our notes – we’re like that nice kid who sat next to you in second period Geometry. 

Here are some overall highlights:

  • Applications and number of admitted students were at all time highs for Fall ‘21

  • Confirmation of the test-blind admissions policy through Fall ‘24 (so goodbye admission by exam pathway)

  • UC is currently piloting a process for importing transcript data directly into the application—woo hoo!

  • PIQs are now checked at random for plagiarism

  • Firm reminders that responses to PIQs are not essays; they should be more like answers to interview questions

  • New Tuition Stability Plan sets systemwide tuition and fees based on initial year of enrollment; that rate holds steady for 6 yrs. or until graduation (whichever comes first) 

The Admission Pathways are alive and well—keep in mind the difference between the two programs:

Statewide index for guaranteed admission: based on number of a-g courses + GPA

Eligibility in the local context (ELC): based on GPA only

After the Update from the Office of the President, we heard from each of the nine campuses about the latest admissions statistics, changes in academic offerings, construction and more! 

Here are some key takeaways below. If you’re a Cliffs Notes kinda person, you can read all of the details on this document here.

School Announcements & Updates

UC Berkeley 

28% increase in applications – 112,000 first-year applicants (whoa!)

14.5% admit rate

  • Offering a new major – Aerospace Engineering

  • MET and GMP Programs still require supplemental applications, they will be available in December

  • Reminder that College of Letters and Science doesn’t admit by major; some other majors/colleges do

  • Still no alternate major option, but they are considering it for the future

  • Fall Program for Freshmen and UC Berkeley Changemakers are great first year pathways; Global Edge Program cancelled due to COVID

UC Davis

87,121 first-year applicants

49% admit rate

  • Currently ranked #3 in social mobility by Washington Monthly

  • College of Letters and Science is the most popular school; College of Engineering is the most selective

  • New majors include Systems and Synthetic Biology, Human Biology and Data Science

UC Irvine

107,957 first-year applicants

29% admit rate

  • Unlike some campuses, all students are specifically considered for the major to which they apply; don’t expect to change majors down the road 

  • Starting construction on a second medical center – this one on campus!


139,489 first-year applicants

11% admit rate

  • Now has capacity to house 97% of freshmen (and host Olympians in ‘28)

  • Letters and Science major has no impact on the likelihood of being admitted

  • They don’t really consider students for second choice major

  • European Languages and Transcultural Studies is new major

UC Merced

27,795 first-year applicants

87% admit rate

  • Continues to grow with their largest incoming class in history 

  • Applicant pool is 92% CA residents, but that is changing

  • Expanding minor offerings, including Critical Race and Ethnic Studies

  • Enrollment Success Coaches provides great support for students at risk of summer melt

  • Still accepting applications for Spring ‘22

Pro Tip: UC Merced is currently accepting applications for their Counselor Educator Program (through 11/30), a paid program that brings counselors to campus for tours, housing, food, etc. It’s a great way to become familiar with the campus and get an inside look at admissions.

UC Riverside 

52,675 first-year applicants

66% admit rate

  • Still operating under Comprehensive Review, but that may change soon

  • New Statistics BS+MS Program – earn both degrees in 5 years!

  • 60% of students apply to only 10 of the 100 offered majors 

UC San Diego 

118,400 first-year applicants

34% admit rate

  • Three new Public Health majors as well as Black Diaspora and African American Studies, and Business Economics

  • Triton Trolley Stations are opening on campus which will allow for much better transport into San Diego

UC Santa Barbara

105,647 first-year applicants

29% admit rate

  • Like UCLA, Letters and Science major has no impact on the likelihood of being admitted

  • College of Creative Studies continues to be a hidden gem; remind students about the supplemental application with 12/28 deadline

  • If applying to Engineering, should list alternate major in College of  Letters and Science

UC Santa Cruz 

61,820 first-year applicants

58% admit rate

And if you like data, the UC Info Center provides all of the undergraduate admissions data you could possibly want. Review admissions statistics by population, high school and more. It’s a great place to point your numbers-obsessed parents and students.

Stumped on how to answer a question? Tricky situation you haven’t encountered before? We always start with the UC Quick Reference Guide, which covers application and selection questions for the entire system.

Pro Tip: If you haven’t already, sign up for the UC Counselors and Advisers Bulletin to receive monthly updates on admissions policy and practices, upcoming events, application news and reminders from the UC Office of the President.

Now that you have the latest and greatest info on campuses, majors and admissions stats, let’s head to the Personal Insight section of the application.

Personal Insight Questions

For most students, the toughest part of the UC application is responding to the PIQs. Below you’ll find some notes for each PIQ from Cuca Acosta, Associate Director from UC Santa Barbara, and Devon Bohart, Admissions Analyst & Advisor from UC Davis. 

1. Leadership

  • Consider traditional and “non-traditional” forms of leadership

  • What was accomplished and/or learned from their experience?

  • Can they reflect on 1 or 2 examples to show impact, in their lives or the lives of others?

2. Creativity

  • Creativity manifests in different ways, don’t set limits

  • What is a creative skill or experience that enriched the student? How does this skill affect them inside/outside of the classroom?

  • What is a challenge they faced or overcame in a way that others might not have?

3. Talent/Skill

  • Student is setting the definition of talent/skill for us; identify it quickly and tell why it’s meaningful to them

  • Students don’t have to be recognized with an award for these to be valid, thought they are welcome to talk about any they have received

  • Has this led to opportunities within or beyond the classroom?

4. Opportunity/Barrier (academic)

  • Has anything added value to the educational experience?

  • Consider academic enrichment programs

  • How are they addressing or overcoming barriers? Did they have support from others, or did they have to navigate on their own?

  • What resources or strategies did they utilize? PROBLEM SOLVING is key!

  • Does your school have academics or magnet programs? Clearly explain the opportunity

  • Stick to 4 years of high school in this response

5. Challenge (personal)

  • Sometimes kids don’t realize that an hour commute each way is a challenge that impacts their ability to engage in activities, sports, etc.

  • May be personal, or something broader that has impacted them and IS PERSONAL TO THEM

  • Reflect on 1 or 2 examples of how this challenge has impacted the student directly, academically or otherwise

  • How are they facing the challenge, or how did they overcome it? What resources or strategies did they utilize? PROBLEM SOLVING is key!

6. Academic Subject

  • Can be dance, art, theatre, etc. – doesn’t have to be a core academic subject

  • How did interest begin, and how has it further developed?

  • Consider experiences within or beyond the classroom (clubs and personal projects).

  • Don’t need to know about favorite teacher or favorite project in class (removes personal)

  • Has the interest in the subject influenced a choice of major or career path?

  • What academic opportunity have allowed further exploration in this interest?

  • Doesn’t have to correlate to intended major

7. Making Your Community a Better Place

  • Saw the opportunity to make change

  • Students need to set the definition of community

  • Discussion of the student’s role in the community is helpful

  • What was the catalyst to getting involved, whether it was a problem they saw in the community or motivation from external forces?

  • Why were they inspired to act? What did they learn? SO WHAT?

8. Standing Out

  • Broad question – opportunity for students to talk about something not already asked

  • Opportunity to CLOSE THE LOOP in the process

  • Add clarity, depth of knowledge or context to student’s life

  • What is an experience or trait that is meaningful to your student, and why?

  • Encourage them to brag, this is an opportunity to uplift oneself

  • Make sure you add new information in this response (kids often don’t)

  • What else is important for admissions to know about the student?  

Students should think about PIQs as Interview questions and respond as such

How can responses be formulated like an interview?

  • Focus on content, not style – no thesis statements, fragments or run-on sentences

  • Use “I” statements; self-reflection

  • Write persuasively

  • No creative hooks please; looking for facts

For more notes on the PIQ from the conference, head here.

Whether you’re leading an AVID class through brainstorming exercises or reading tons of very rough drafts, here are some of our go-to PIQ resources:

29 days to go. You’ve got this.

This post was originally published on 11/1/2021

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