The California Conundrum

College admissions is more complicated than when we applied 30 years ago, and unfortunately, California’s state university systems have not grown to meet our changing and burgeoning population.

There’s not enough room in the UC and CSU systems’ freshman class for all of California’s graduating seniors each year – let alone the tens of thousands of out-of-state students who apply.

In the video to the right, I share some statistics with you that help you see the reality of California’s higher education problem:  not enough capacity.  Half a million California high school seniors graduate each year, and there are about 150,000 spots in the first-year class for the entire UC and Cal State systems combined.  COMBINED.  A recent LA Times article notes that half of those graduating seniors – so 250,000 of them – meet the qualifications for either the UC or the Cal State systems, or both.  This LAist article from December, 2021 also reiterates the crunch and lack of space at both of California’s public university systems.

Starting with the Class of 2021, both systems suspended the use of the SAT/ACT for admission, which compounded the problem.  Removing the testing requirement opened the floodgates for students with strong grades (but possibly low test scores) to apply the UCs and CSUs – students who wouldn’t have applied in past years.  Because of this change, the UC system received 15% more applications than the year prior, and UCLA’s applications were up 40% that year.  Just two cycles later, UCLA’s applications were up 50%.  Unless the nine undergraduate UC campuses expand capacity at the more desirable campuses, which they don’t seem to have on their “to-do” list, this is the new reality, which means UC admit rates will decline and continue disappoint thousands of students.

For California families, there’s a simple solution: look beyond California.  We realize you’ve lived here all of your adult life.  We realize you’ve been paying taxes and contributing financially to the health and reputations of the UC and Cal State systems.  We realize you’ve sent your kids to public schools throughout their childhood.  It’s reasonable for you to expect your children to continue to receive a public education through the university level.

We validate all of those feelings and frustrations.

At the same time, we challenge your assumption that staying in-state is actually the most cost-effective higher education option for your child.  In many cases, it’s actually not!  Though you hear constantly in the media that out-of-state and private colleges cost $50k, $60k, $70k or more – this is not true for all out-of-state and private college choices!  In fact, our team has hundreds of former clients all over the country, attending both public and private colleges, their parents paying about what they would have paid if they had stayed in California and attended a UC.  Sometimes even less!

Non-California students eager to apply to UC schools have an additional burden:  the UC system doesn’t count your Honors or IB SL courses as weighted in their GPA formula.  They count AP and IB HL courses as weighted, but it’s a challenge for you to compete with in-state students.  So out of state applicants should assume that all of the UCs are a “reach” for them.

If you’re looking for value, the WUE program makes it easier for West Coast families to send their kids out of state without breaking the bank.  Here’s our short explanation of how WUE can work well for you!  Additionally, many private colleges offer fabulous merit-based (not need-based!) scholarships – CTCL schools are great at this.

We always encourage families to start early.  One of the more stressful parts of the college admissions journey is the fear of not getting in “somewhere good.”  Our challenge to you is to redefine “good” (for example, here’s why you shouldn’t build your list based on college rankings) and consider more what would work well for your child – focus on finding the environment where they will be happy and successful.  The earlier you start, the more time and effort your teenager can put into really doing the research and finding those colleges that fit them best.

We’re not here to tell you where you’ll get in and where you won’t – the colleges can do that themselves.  We’re not here to tell you to go to St. Olaf instead of UC Santa Barbara, if you are admitted – although I did have a student go to Southwestern University [a CTCL school] over Cal Poly SLO a few years back and her dad said it was the best decision their family ever made and a perfect fit for their daughter!

But we are here to help you walk through this process if you need some help.  College admissions is all we think about all day, every day.  Our team has visited over 400 colleges in the last ten years, many of them hidden gems that your family may not consider.  If you’d like a little extra guidance on your college admissions journey, we’re happy to be your trusted expertsYou can reach out to us here!


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