UC app advice needed for major / chances

My son’s profile:

Intended major - Phy (top choice) or Math or CS
UC GPA 4.11, unweighted 3.67
SAT 1450
SAT Math 2 800
AP scores: “Calc BC” - 5, “Phy 1” - 3, Comp Sci A - 4, Comp Principles - 4
Extra curriculars: Fair (reasonably good but not outstanding)
Tests registered for: SAT Physics Subject & SAT General (score improvement)

His top application choices would be Physics in Berkeley (dream), LA and Santa Barbara. He would also be happy with Physics at some of the other UCs - San Diego, Irvine or Davis. Maybe even Santa Cruz. If he is given a choice between CS & Physics at the top schools, he prefers Physics as that is where his interests lie. But a little unsure of the employability prospects for a Physics major (in case he does not pursue graduate studies) from Riverside or Merced as we have not heard a lot about the Physics from those two places. So he may apply for Computer Science for Riverside and Merced (maybe even UCSC).

I have been combing thru https://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/infocenter/freshman-admissions-summary a lot and have the following gut feelings:

Gut feeling 1: Berkeley and UCLA maybe out of reach. Will improving SAT General to say above 1500 get him in the range?
Gut feeling 2: The next tier (Santa Barbara, San Diego, Irvine, Davis) he may have a fair chance in each (around 40-50%) but between the 4 of those he is likely to get into at least one. Is that a fair assessment?
Gut feeling 3: CS is competitive and may not be easy even at Riverside and Merced. Would going for CS make Riverside and Merced unlikely or make them not safety schools?

Please advise about the major selection as well as likely chances at the UCs. We are planning other schools in addition to the UCs - like Cal Poly as well as a few out of state universities. But for now I would like advice regarding the UCs and his chances - the ones we apply to out of state depend on how certain we feel about getting into one of the top 6 UCs for Physics program.

Some UC statistical data based on the capped weighted UC GPA and not major specific:

2019 Freshman admit rates for UC GPA of 3.80-4.19 capped weighted and not major specific:
UCB: 12%
UCLA: 7%
UCSD: 33%
UCSB: 32%
UCD: 47%
UCI: 35%
UCSC: 72%
UCR: 87%
UCM: 96%

2019 Data:
25th - 75th percentiles for SAT totals:
UCB: 1340-1540

UCLA: 1330-1550
UCSD: 1300-1520
UCSB: 1280-1520
UCD: 1230-1490
UCI: 1250-1510
UCSC: 1200-1450
UCR: 1130-1400
UCM: 1020-1290

2019 UC capped weighted GPA averages along with 25th-75th percentile range:
UCB: 4.23 (4.15-4.30)
UCLA: 4.25 (4.18-4.32)
UCSD: 4.16 (4.03-4.28)
UCSB: 4.16 (4.04-4.28)
UCI: 4.13 (4.00-4.25)
UCD: 4.13 (4.00-4.26)
UCSC: 3.96 (3.76-4.16)
UCR: 3.90 (3.69-4.11)
UCM: 3.73 (3.45-4.00)

For CS, his GPA and test scores should be above the mean averages listed for the best chances. He is a competitive applicant so applying widely to the UC’s and including some of the Cal states like Cal Poly SLO and/or Pomona will give him several options.

UCLA and UCB would be in the Reach category. UCSD closer to a Low Reach for CS, High Match for Physics.

UCI/UCD and UCSB are good targets for Physics, slightly Reachier for CS.

UCSC good target for CS or Physics

UCR/UCM close to safeties for both CS and Physics.

CS is usually in the College of Engineering which is a direct admit by major. UCB also offers CS also in the College of Letters and Sciences which does not admit by major but will require a specific GPA in pre-req classes to declare the major.

UC admission by major:
Division (L&S, CNR, CoC, CED, CoE) matters for admission selectivity.
Within CoE (but not the other divisions), major matters for admission selectivity. Changing majors within the CoE after enrolling is not guaranteed, unless one is CoE undeclared.

    Note that L&S admits students as undeclared; admission to capped majors (e.g. CS, economics, psychology, ORMS, statistics, art practice, and a few others) is by college GPA in prerequisite courses (and portfolio for art practice) after attending for a few semesters.

Alternate majors not considered.

Admission decisions are made based upon the qualifications of the applicant pool and the number of available spaces within each academic area:
• College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences admits by college
• College of Biological Sciences admits by college
• College of Letters and Science admits by division within the college
• (Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies; Mathematics and Physical Sciences; Social Sciences)
• College of Engineering admits by academic department
Students applying as “undeclared” or “undeclared/exploratory” are considered within the college/division to which they applied.

Applicants are encouraged to list an alternate major, but not in the same area as the primary major (e.g., Computer Science Engineering with alternate Computer Science in the College of L&S). Occasionally, we admit to the alternate major.


  • Freshman Selection:
    UCI admits into the University first and then into the major. In the case that UCI is unable to accommodate all qualified applicants in their first-choice major, those students who indicate a valid alternate major may be offered admission in that major or Undeclared.

For the College of Letters and Science, the applicant’s major is not considered during the review process.
The Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science admits students by declared major, with more emphasis on science and math programs.

UCLA only guarantees review of an applicant’s first-choice major and does not typically admit to the alternate major

The campus does not admit students on the basis of academic major or choice of UC San Diego undergraduate college. Alternate majors are considered and capped majors are highly competitive. Also note: Capped majors require additional pre-req courses and specific GPA to be able to qualify if changing majors. Also if applying to a capped major, select an non-capped major as an alternate.

College of Letters and Sciences: Choice of major is not considered in selection to the College of Letters and Science. The exceptions to this rule are dance and music performance majors. Both majors require applicants to complete an audition in late January or early February.

College of Engineering: Students are selected by major for all engineering and computer science majors. Only applicants with a solid background in advanced high school mathematics will be considered for admission to engineering. This includes high grades in all math courses through grade 11 and enrollment in pre-calculus or higher in grade 12. A student not selected for their first choice major will be reviewed for admission to an alternate major outside of the College of Engineering if one was selected.

College of Creative Studies:
Applicants to the College of Creative Studies submit a supplementary application in addition to the general UC Application, which is reviewed by Creative Studies faculty. Students are selected within Creative Studies majors only. Applicants not selected for Creative Studies will automatically be considered for admission to the College of Letters and Science.

Important Note for Prospective Engineering Students: Choice of major does not influence the selection of first-year students, except for those applicants interested in a major offered by the Jack Baskin School of Engineering (BSOE). Freshmen who are interested in a BSOE program should be sure to indicate a BSOE proposed major. Students who do not indicate a BSOE program or who apply as undeclared might not be able to pursue a BSOE program.

Admission by major but alternate/2nd choice major will be considered if applicant does not need their first choice admission standards.

Thanks a lot for your detailed reply - very helpful. The suggestions also make a lot of sense.

https://career.berkeley.edu/survey/survey is UCB’s post-graduation survey. You can narrow it to specific majors like physics. Note that many physics graduates go into computing and engineering jobs, although they may be “second choice” to employers compared to CS and engineering majors. Other jobs listed are also often math-intensive (e.g. data science, operations research). This suggests that out-of-major electives in those other areas can be helpful in determining interest and helping getting employment in those areas.

https://iraps.ucsc.edu/surveys/current-fds-campus-overview.html is UCSC’s post-graduation survey, but it is several years old.

https://careerservices.calpoly.edu/gsr-past is CPSLO’s post-graduation survey.

Thanks ucbalumnus.

you seem to have a pretty good sense for admission chances and have been given some good advice above. I’d add, a couple of thoughts - this year is going to be really competitive because of all the gap year applicants and the way schools are accommodating applicants without SAT/ACT scores. PLEASE APPLY BROADLY!

SDSU, CPP and CSULB would be good ads to his ap list.

good luck.

Thanks for your reply! Yes - the gap year/deferred applicants and how the universities will deal with non-SAT/ACT applicants will likely make the entire process more unpredictable. Or at least not completely predictable based on previous years SAT/ACT scores/GPA. We are planning to most likely apply to SJSU as well as it is local for us - and a few outside state/private universities. So a total of 9 UCs, couple of CSUs (Cal Poly, SJSU) and say 5 outside state/private universities - for a total of around 15 or 16. Do you think 15-16 is not enough & need to add more CSUs because of this unpredictability than Cal Poly & SJSU?

In a way it would be 7 or so applications even though there is a lot of colleges (a Nov 30 single UC app for all UCs, a Nov 30 single CSU app for couple of CSUs and 5 other common app/coalition colleges early January).

https://www.sjsu.edu/admissions/impaction/freshmen-impaction-results/index.php indicates that physics at SJSU historically has not been a competitive major, although it could change this coming year.

On the other hand, computer science at SJSU has historically been highly competitive.

I should have clarified - SJSU would be for CS or Computer Engineering. Yes - CS or CE would be competitive to get in at SJSU - especially being in the heart of Silicon Valley.

At SJSU, software engineering is the most similar major to computer science. However, it has also become highly competitive in recent years.

For fall 2020, the eligibility index (= GPA * 800 + SATRW + SATM, where GPA is recalculated high school GPA like UC weighted-capped GPA; SJSU added 0.25 to GPA for applicants graduating high school in Santa Clara County) thresholds for admission to SJSU were:

3000 applied math – computational
3200 applied math – statistics
4300 computer engineering
4825 computer science
3000 mathematics
3100 mathematics, prep for teaching
2950 physics BA
2950 physics BS
4350 software engineering

Since CSUs will not be using SAT (or ACT) scores this coming year, it is likely that recalculated high school GPA alone will be the means of ranking applicants within majors and campuses.

Thanks for the info on SJSU - very helpful info about eligibility index and the 0.25 addition to GPA. Yes - I am aware of the SJSU Software Engineering program - a family member did MS in Software Engineering around 15 years ago. I did not realize that the program is now higher rated than the Computer Engineering program itself.

My question was more related to NCalRent’s suggestion to add more CSUs (SDSU, CPP and CSULB) to deal with the uncertainty of the deferrals and the optional SAT/ACT. The question was if we already are applying to all the 9 UCs, couple of CSUs (Cal Poly & SJSU) and a few private or out-of-state public universities - isn’t that enough? Or are more CSUs still needed to be added to the list?

BTW I was hoping to keep the private and out-of-state a very small number as it will take more incremental efforts to add more universities which are not UCs/CSUs - as they may require more supplemental essays. Of course, the other factor is the cost of the out-of-state or the private universities is quite prohibitive - as I don’t think we will qualify for any aid (our EFC is too high). So the best case scenario is one of the UCs or one of the better CSUs.

For out-of-state schools, the Arizona and New Mexico publics may have auto-admit and auto-scholarships that could be of interest.

Applying to CS at SJSU takes it away from being anything close to a safety, but if they do the +0.25 GPA thing again and he qualifies, that can make it more likely. Given how physics has not been a very popular major at SJSU, it is hard to imagine applying to physics at SJSU resulting in rejection, although it is theoretically possible.

Non-impacted CSU campuses where his majors of interest are not impacted (e.g. SFSU) would be in-state 100% certain safeties, since they would admit anyone who meets CSU minimums.

Thanks for your reply - does help. But I would fancy the chances at SJSU Computer Engineering (not Computer Science). Based on previous years (with SAT considered) even without factoring the GPA boost of 0.25, his eligibility index (EI) for the college of engineering programs is close to 4800 as per [1], which is reasonably higher than what was required for computer engineering (4300). Of course without test scores, things may become more interesting but I still think there will be more than a fair chance for SJSU computer engineering.
Also he will have other safety schools within the out-of-state pool - and we may add some other CSU as a safety school. Other than that, there is the ultimate safety school - community college & try to transfer to UC/CSU later.

[1] EI for College of Engineering Programs: https://www.sjsu.edu/admissions/impaction/freshmen-impaction-results/ei-college-programs.php .
Note for the SAT score formula, the college of engineering weighted the SAT Math section scores higher than SAT Reading and he scored higher in Math sections. The formula is: [(SAT Math * 3) + (EBRW)]/2 = COE total SAT score.

Responding with some updates as it may help someone facing similar choices next academic year with respect to major choices when they google search.

For SJSU, ended up applying for CS (not CE) - and he got in yesterday. In general he ended up not liking the hardware aspects of Computer Engineering - so he applied to most places either CS or Physics. We felt the selling point for SJSU was CS with the possibility to do software industry internships while being at home. Plus knowing that he would likely get the GPA boost of 0.25 for local applicants, applying for CS was the better idea (apply for what he wanted than what was easy to get into). If he did not get in there would always be other colleges.

Other than SJSU, so far he got Cal Poly Pomona (CS), Purdue (Physics) and Arizona State (CS). ASU was a safety school he got within a week of applying in November - so in a way there was less need for more safety schools. Waiting on the UCs (CS or Physics) and Cal Poly (Software Engineering) - but these are not out yet (except for a few top students maybe).

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Update: UCs were brutal, since without SAT or the subject SAT test scores it was too GPA focused and a 4.11 UC GPA (3.8 unweighted) did not cut it. In son’s case he had taken harder curriculum on the Math side with a strict teacher who taught really well (great scores on outside tests - 5 on AP Calc BC and 800 in Math 2 Subject SAT) but deflated school grades for 4 semesters (3 B’s and a pass for Covid semester). But still we are glad he had the strict teacher as he will be better prepared for college and he learned a lot and developed great love for Math.

Among the UCs he only got UC Merced (CS) and was waitlisted at UCSD, UCSC and even UCR. But luckily he applied broadly - and got most places which were not named UC. Admits were from University of Wisconsin - Madison (where he will go to study CS), University of Florida - Gainesville, Purdue, Case Western, SJSU, SDSU, Cal Poly Pomona, Ohio State, Penn State, ASU and of course UCM. He also got waitlisted at Carnegie Mellon and Cal Poly. So not bad all in all - other than the fact that it is going to cost extra $20k per year compared to a UC. However we are fine with it.


Thank you for the update and best of luck to him at UW Madison.

Thank you!

Son got off the waitlist for UCR 3 days ago. He has to SIR by May 14, but not yet decided. We are OK (actually happier to send him to a nearby cheaper school).


Last Friday, he was taken off the UCSC waitlist and he has decided to go there instead of UW Madison.


Thanks for this thread. I think it will be helpful to future applicants. My son had similar stats and a very similar outcome at almost the same list of schools. He committed to the University of Arizona as a biochemistry major. He did get off the waitlist at UCSC in early May but elected to stick with UA. Given the scholarship he received, the costs were roughly the same. He remains on the waitlist at Cal Poly but at this point I think he’d still stick with UA.

It was a very difficult year for UC admissions and it’s a bit difficult to understand how kids with these stats didn’t have more in-state opportunities. Ultimately, he’s happy and so am I. Glad it worked out for you as well.