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You are here: Home > Online Articles > University of California System Offers Windows of Opportunity for International Students



University of California System Offers Windows of Opportunity for International Students

By Martin Walsh


Nearly one million college students from other countries study in the United States, or roughly 5 percent of the nation’s total enrollment. California colleges host about 150,000 of them; that’s more than any other state. As such, a close analysis of last year’s University of California admission decisions will provide counselors with the data needed to guide the senior class.

For those counselors new to the profession, California is home to nine undergraduate campuses. Recognized for their top-notch STEM programs, three UC campuses (UCLA, UC San Diego, and Cal) are consistently ranked among the top ten universities in the world by the Academic Ranking of World Universities. Four other UC campuses are also on the list of top 150 universities in the world, namely UC Davis, Irvine, Santa Barbara, and Santa Cruz. My point: the UC system should be on the college list of most every international student.
Now, let’s look at the data from the last two cycles. For international students and counselors, please pay close attention; there are clear windows of opportunity at several UC campuses.

Key Findings

1. Systemwide, the overall freshman admission rate decreased from 62 to 60 percent, which was bad news for counselors in California! Admission rates for international students reached 67 percent, a slight bump from 2017.

2. Pockets of opportunity for international students: While the admitted mix remained steady for the year for international students, four UC campuses—Davis, Irvine, Santa Barbara, and Santa Cruz—expanded their mix of non-resident admittances. UCLA and Cal remained the most difficult admission offer for an international student to receive.

Highlights by campus

Berkeley. The overall admission rate fell from 18 to 15 percent in 2018 on the strength of 5 percent application growth and a 13 percent decline in the total number of admitted students. The mix of in state admittances grew from 62 percent to 66 percent, at the expense of international school applicants.

Davis. The overall admission rate fell from 44 to 41 percent for 2018, as application growth outpaced admitted student growth (10 percent vs. 4 percent). International applicants were admitted at rates far in excess of California residents (56 percent vs. 34 percent). Davis was one of only three campuses to report admitted student growth last year.

Irvine. The overall admission rate declined precipitously from 37 to 29 percent on a 12 percent surge in applications and a 12 percent decline in admits. Admission rates declined across the board for residents and international students. Still, international admission rates at Irvine remain higher than the resident admission rate (39 percent vs. 25 percent).

Los Angeles (UCLA). The overall admission rate declined from 16 to 14 percent on 11 percent application growth and a 3 percent decline in admitted students. International student admit rates remain around 13 percent; this is a very difficult admission offer for any international student.

Merced. The overall admission rate declined from 75 percent to 71 percent, as admitted student growth outpaced applicant growth for the year (9 percent vs. 3 percent). Virtually all of the 500 additional admitted students in 2018 were California residents. International admits represent only 4 percent of the total population.

Riverside. The overall admission rate declined from 58 percent to 51 percent on a 12 percent surge in admitted students. Residents and international students all experienced declines in admit rates, and the mix of California resident admits remains high at 89 percent of the total.

San Diego. The overall admission rate declined from 34 to 30 percent, fueled by 10 percent application growth and a 2 percent decline in admitted students. The California resident admit rate declined from 31 to 27 percent, while the admit rate for international students declined from 33 to 29 percent.

Santa Barbara. The overall admission rate declined slightly from 33 to 32 percent. The admission rate for California residents declined from 32 to 30 percent, while the admit rates for international applicants increased from 31 to 34 percent. Santa Barbara was one of just three campuses to increase overall admittances year over year, and the only one to increase admittances across the board for in-state, out-of-state, and international applicants.

Santa Cruz. The overall admission rate declined from 55 to 48 percent in 2018 on the strength of 14 percent applicant growth. The number of admitted residents declined 14 percent, while international admits grew 8 percent. Admission rates for international applicants are significantly higher at this campus than the resident admit rate (78 percent vs 41 percent).


Pockets of opportunity remain for international applicants. The search for improved diversity and full-pay applicants to counter rising expenses should continue to create opportunity for non-residents interested in a UC education. Not all campuses have reached their non-resident enrollment limits, and the mix of out-of-state and international admission rates are on the rise on selected campuses.

Admission rate advantages exist at Davis, Irvine, San Diego, Santa Barbara, and Santa Cruz. Significant admission rate advantages exist for international students at Davis, Irvine, Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara.

California’s Junior College Option

For those international students who do not get admitted into the UC system, I strongly encourage students to look at the excellent junior college (JC) system found in California. Last spring the University of California and the California Community College system singed a joint agreement that initiated a comprehensive effort to guarantee admission for all qualifying California Community College transfer students. DeAnza Junior College, located not far from the headquarters of Apple Computer, remains the JC most prepared to work with international students.

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