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University of California | Campus Guide for All Nine Campuses

University of California | Campus Guide for All Nine Campuses

The University of California (UC) schools are considered some of the best public universities in the country.

While the nine undergraduate campuses (UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, UC San Diego, UC Davis, UC Irvine, UC Santa Cruz, UC Riverside, and UC Merced) share similarities due to their overarching governing body known as The Regents of the University of California, they certainly differ in campus culture. 

Every year at Prompt, we assist hundreds of students with their UC PIQ essays and activity lists. As interest in the UCs continues to climb, we’ve put together this helpful comparison guide for students considering applying to one or more UCs. (BTW- While the UC schools use one application, applying to each campus costs $80 for domestic applicants and $95 for international applicants. It would cost $720 for a domestic student to apply to all 9 campuses!) 

Campuses by the Numbers; Application Review Process; Location; Rankings; Tuition; Campus Overviews
Campuses by the Numbers; Application Review Process; Location; Rankings; Tuition; Campus Overviews

Campuses By the Numbers*

This table gives prospective students and families a sense of the size and selectivity of each of the UC campuses. 

Application Review Process

The UC system is known for its comprehensive review process of 13 factors that each of its nine campuses uses to evaluate applications holistically. However, each campus provides additional information on their admissions pages about their procedures and processes. Be sure to thoroughly read through campus-specific requirements and considerations before applying! 

Location 

The UC campuses are scattered throughout California, from big cities to smaller towns. Location accounts for one of the most significant differences between the UC schools and may be an important factor to consider when determining which UC might be the best fit for you.

Rankings

While important, rankings are just one of many factors that a prospective student should consider when choosing which colleges to apply. 

Tuition

Tuition Rate for CA Residents - $14,436 

Tuition Rate for Non-CA Residents - $14,436 + $34,200 in non-resident supplemental tuition

The UC system is a public, state university system with a mission to serve students in the state of California. Due to high rankings and prestige, the UC schools receive thousands of applications a year from out-of-state and international students as well as California residents. To balance institutional mission and priorities along with demand, the UCs add a non-resident supplemental fee to the base tuition rate for all non-CA residents. 

Fall 2023 Undergraduate Enrollment Data

At Prompt, we have helped thousands of students get admitted into their top-choice institutions. If the UC’s are on your list of dream schools, and you want to increase your chances of admission by writing compelling essays, reach out to us today

Campus Overviews

Berkeley 

Founded in 1868, UC Berkeley boasts being the oldest of the UC schools. UC Berkeley offers 150 different undergraduate programs and majors housed within 5 colleges and 1 school. While UC Berkeley is a competitive school and is often ranked among the country's top one or two public colleges, admission to STEM programs at Berkeley is uniquely competitive. Students should pursue research experience to add to their resumes when applying to a STEM program. 

Fast Facts:

  • Mascot: Oski (a golden bear) 
  • UC Berkeley’s alumni include 107 Nobel laureates, 34 Pulitzer Prize winners, and 19 Academy Award winners. 
  • The University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley spans 3-acres and is one of the most diverse landscapes in the world with over 10,000 types of plants. 

Davis

UC Davis describes the town of Davis as the “ultimate college town” that boasts a laid-back and friendly atmosphere. While UC Davis has the largest campus of the UC schools, the institution strives to create ways for students to form smaller communities and connections. UC Davis houses the country’s most top-ranked agricultural program, and the school’s history is deeply rooted in agriculture. 

Fast Facts:

  • Mascot: Gunrock the Mustang 
  • UC Davis’s athletics teams are known as The Aggies, a reference to the school’s agricultural roots. 
  • UC Davis sits on over 5,300 acres of land with about 2,300 of those acres being dedicated to agricultural space and research. 

Irvine

Settled between San Diego and Los Angeles, UC Irvine is an idyllic beachside campus. UC Irvine is known for its strength in a wide array of disciplines, but their humanities and sciences are particularly lauded. UC Irvine is also known for having one of the strongest Honors Colleges in the UC system. 

Fast Facts:

  • Mascot: Peter the Anteater 
  • UC Irvine is ranked #3 for Diversity by The Wall Street Journal and Times Higher Education. 
  • UC Irvine holds four Guinness world records: the largest dodgeball game (2010), the largest water blaster fight (2013), the largest game of capture the flag (2015), and the largest game of balloon tag (2018). 

UCLA

UCLA was established in 1881 as the southern branch of the University of California. Since its founding, UCLA has grown into the most applied to university in the country, receiving 167,876 applications for freshman and transfer applicants for Fall 2021. UCLA’s campus is located in the Westwood community of Los Angeles and spans over 400 acres. 

Fast Facts:

  • Mascot: Joe Bruin (a brown bear) 
  • UCLA is the leading arts and cultural center in the western United States. The campus hosts more than 1,000 visual and performing arts events each year. 
  • The top five most popular undergraduate majors at UCLA are biology, business economics, political science, psychology, and psychobiology. 

Merced

UC Merced is the youngest of the UC schools and first opened to undergraduate students in 2005. It is the youngest university to earn a Carnegie research classification and is the fastest-growing public university in the country. 

Fast Facts:

  • Mascot: Rufus the Bobcat 
  • Sustainability is a hallmark of UC Merced, and the campus is the first public research university certified as carbon-neutral, with every building being LEED certified. UC Merced has also partnered with multiple corporate foundations to set aside 25,000 acres of grassland for permanent conservation. 
  • UC Merced is the first public research university in the US to open in the 21st century. 

Riverside

UC Riverside was established as a University of California system campus in 1954. Prior to its establishment, the campus was founded as the UC Citrus Experiment Station, which conducted research in biological pest control and growth regulators. UC Riverside is known for being a leader in social mobility and is the #11 ranked public university for financial aid. 

Fast Facts:

  • Mascot: Scotty Highlander (a brown bear)
  • UC Riverside is the only UC campus to offer an undergraduate degree in creative writing and the first UC campus to offer Cahuilla (the language of Southern California Cahuilla Indian Nations). 
  • Harkening back to its roots, UC Riverside is home to the Citrus Variety Collection, a living citrus museum with over 900 varieties of citrus. 

San Diego

UC San Diego is the southernmost campus of the UC system and offers over 200 undergraduate majors and graduate programs. However, engineering, biological sciences, medicine, economics, and computer engineering have long been top academic focuses of the school. In fact, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego is considered one of the most important centers for global earth science research and education in the world. 

Fast Facts:

  • Mascot: King Triton 
  • With its proximity to numerous beaches, UC San Diego is considered the top surfing school in the nation. 
  • The Geisel Library was named in honor of Audrey and Theodor Seuss Geisel (better known as children’s book author Dr. Seuss). 

Santa Barbara

UC Santa Barbara can trace its roots back to 1891 when it began as an independent teachers’ college. UC Santa Barbara is one of only 69 research-intensive universities in the US and Canada to be elected to membership in the Association of American Universities. The campus is particularly known for having one of the top chemical engineering departments in the country and a highly-ranked mechanical engineering program. 

Fast Facts:

  • Mascot: Gaucho Ole (Argentinian cowboy) 
  • UC Santa Barbara is known for its extensive 7-mile biking system, with 53% of UC Santa Barbara students commuting around campus via bicycle. 
  • Marine scientists from UC Santa Barbara played a key role in developing Ocean in Google Earth. 

Santa Cruz

UC Santa Cruz was founded in 1965 and is located on Monterey Bay among the redwood trees of the Santa Cruz Mountains. UC Santa Cruz is known as a world-class public research institution that has a commitment to teaching and public service. The school is particularly known for its astronomy and space sciences programs. 

Fast Facts:

  • Mascot: Sammy the Banana Slug 
  • UC Santa Cruz manages four natural reserves that also provide locations for learning and research. 
  • The campus has over 25 miles of hiking and jogging trails. 

Conclusion

Deciding on which UC campuses are the right fit for you can be stressful, but giving yourself enough time to do your research and complete your UC application is key. Research each school’s website thoroughly for your academic interest areas and extracurricular activities (such as research opportunities, professional development, and clubs and organizations). If possible, visit the schools that you are most interested in by taking a campus tour or attending an on-campus open house. Many schools offer virtual admissions events and webinars for students who aren’t able to travel to campus. You can also connect with the admissions office to see if a regional admissions officer will be visiting your area or high school in the future!

Abby Shepherd
Abby Shepherd has over a decade in higher education admissions, working with the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University graduate and undergraduate admissions. She has a BA from Temple and an MS.Ed from the University of Pennsylvania. She works with Prompt as an advisor on student applications.