How to Get Into UCLA

Padya Paramita

How to Get Into UCLA

You might have your eyes on the University of California - Los Angeles, whether you’re a prospective director who is interested in attending one of the best undergraduate film schools in the country, or you’re an East Coast resident who has always wanted to move to California. Whatever your reason behind Googling how to get into UCLA, you’re here because you’re wondering how to maximize your admission chances. 

Currently with its acceptance rate at a record low of 12%, figuring out how to get into UCLA is no easy task - especially if you’re not a California resident. To help guide you through navigating the various components, I have outlined the different colleges at UCLA, what the academic profile of admitted students looks like, how to build your extracurricular profile, what the UC essays involve, and finally, the deadlines and documents needed in order to complete your application.

The UCLA Undergraduate Colleges

As you think about how to get into UCLA, you must also keep in mind the UCLA undergraduate colleges. When you choose it as one of your schools in the UC application portal, you’ll be asked about your choice of major, which will fall under one of the following schools:

  • The College of Letters and Science
  • School of the Arts and Architecture
  • Samueli School of Engineering
  • Alpert School of Music
  • School of Nursing
  • Luskin School of Public Affairs
  • School of Theater, Film, and Television

UCLA states that your choice of major doesn’t impact your admissions decision at the College of Letters and Science. But, if you’ve chosen a major in the School of the Arts and Architecture, the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the School of Nursing, or the School of Theater, Film and Television, spots at these are much more competitive and you will be considered in comparison to your peers vying for admission. Check out the acceptance rates at each of the colleges below:

School Acceptance Rate
College of Letters and Science 14%
School of the Arts and Architecture 7%
Samueli School of Engineering 10%
Alpert School of Music 19%
School of Nursing 2%
School of Theater, Film, and Television 4%

There’s a stark difference between the selectiveness at the School of Arts and Architecture, School of Nursing, and the School of Theater, Film, and Television and the rest of the colleges. So, if you’re applying to one of these specialized programs, you will need to build both your academic and extracurricular profiles up superbly in order to be considered for a place at these extremely competitive colleges. 

Academic Requirements

Because UCLA is a large public university and part of the broader University of California system, several advantages are given to California residents. Californian high schoolers who have earned a grade point average (GPA) of 3.0 or higher are allowed to apply to the college. For nonresidents, the GPA is capped at 3.4. Students must not have any grade lower than a C in any subject. 

When selecting your courses in high school, note that applicants wondering how to get into UCLA must meet the following course requirements: 

  • A” History / Social Science (2 years) - Two years of history/social science, including one year of world history, cultures, and geography; and one year of US history, or one-half year of US history AND one-half year of American government.
  • “B” English (4 years) - Four years of college-preparatory English. If taking ESL-type classes, only the highest year can be counted towards this requirement.
  • “C” Math (3 years required; 4 years recommended) - Three years of college preparatory mathematics; the minimum pattern is Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II. Math courses taken in the 7th and 8th grades that the student’s high school accepts as equivalent to its own may be used to fulfill a part of this requirement.
  • “D” Laboratory Science (2 years required; 3 years recommended) - Two years of laboratory science in at least two of these three subjects: biology, chemistry, and physics.
  • “E” Language Other than English (2 years required; 3 years recommended) - Two years of the same language other than English. Courses taken in the 7th and 8th grades may be used to fulfill part of this requirement if the student’s high school accepts them as equivalent to its own courses.
  • “F” Visual and Performing Arts (1 year) - A single, yearlong visual or performing arts class such as dance, drama, music, or visual art (drawing, painting, etc).
  • “G” College Preparatory Elective (1 year) - One year chosen from additional "A-F" courses beyond those used to satisfy the requirements above or courses that have been approved, elective classes.

Typically schools don’t go this far into saying that you must take a visual or performing arts class so you might be surprised. If you know you’ll be applying to UCLA or another UC school, you must start preparing early in your high school career so that you make sure you’ve got all your bases covered.

GPA and Test Scores

Alongside ensuring that you’ve met these requirements, when thinking about how to get into UCLA, note that admissions officers also consider the strength of your high school course load, along with your performance in honors courses, college-level classes, AP, and IB Higher Level courses. The median GPA range for admitted students are:

In-State: 3.44 - 3.91

Out-of-State: 3.60 - 3.98

The school also requires SAT or ACT scores. The UCLA median numbers for each of these tests are: 

Median SAT Range

In-state: 1120-1490

Out-of-state: 1300-1500

Median ACT Range

In-state: 28-35

Out-of-state: 33-35

By looking at both the GPA and the SAT ranges, it’s clear that if you’re an out-of-state candidate, you’ll have your work cut out for you in comparison to in-state candidates.  According to the school website, “Test scores will be evaluated in the context of all other academic information in the application and preference will be given to tests that show a demonstrable relationship to curriculum.” Admissions officers will look at which AP, IB, and SAT subject tests you’ve taken and evaluate your preparation according to your major selection.

UCLA pays special attention to your high school context, including the whether it offers honors, AP, and IB HL courses, along with other indicators of the resources available at your school. Even though as part of the UCs, UCLA doesn’t require a counselor recommendation, admissions readers do still compare your standing alongside other applicants from your school to see how you have taken advantage of the resources in your arsenal.


UCLA states that alongside academics, the school prioritizes “evidence of an applicant’s ability and desire to contribute to a campus that values cultural, socioeconomic, and intellectual diversity.” As you dedicate yourself to extracurriculars that matter to you, think about how you’re standing out as unique. “Diversity” not only refers to someone’s background, but to unusual aspects of your application that other students cannot bring. 

The university further mentions that it wants applicants who can “make meaningful and unique contributions to intellectual and social interchanges with faculty and fellow students, both inside and outside the classroom.” Your activities must display a willingness to drive positive change with what you’re doing. Think about how you can step up as a leader in your various communities. 

To help you outline all you have done, the UC application allows you to fill a total of 20 entries of the following:

  • Award or honor
  • Educational preparation programs
  • Extracurricular activity
  • Other coursework outside A-G
  • Volunteering/Community service
  • Work experience

For the award/honor, extracurricular activity, volunteering/community service, and work experience sections, you get 500 characters to describe each pursuit, and then 500 more to describe what you did in your role. Clearly, UCLA is looking for standout candidates who have gone out of their way to go after initiatives that help their community, provide chances for collaboration, and showcase their excellence in their chosen field. 

Most standout students fill out all of the available spaces, so in order to compete, you’ll need to make sure you’re going beyond just participating in regular clubs. Whether you start your own business, submit your writing to journals for publication, or have a job throughout your time in high school, work to concretely accomplish something through your experiences. Think about how you can establish yourself as a leader and follow through accordingly.

The UC Personal Insight Questions

For the UC essays, better known as the “Personal Insight” questions, you must choose to four answers to the eight given questions. Each response is limited to 350 words, which isn’t a lot. Let’s take a look at all of the prompts:

Question 1:

Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time.

Question 2:

Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.

Question 3:

What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?

Question 4:

Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.

Question 5:

Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?

Questions 6:

Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.

Question 7:

What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?

Question 8:

Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you stand out as a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California?

Note that there is no specific “Why University of California” or “Why UCLA” essay. If you’re applying solely to UCLA, you might mention parts of the school that resonate with your interests, but often people use the portal to apply to multiple UC colleges, so the responses aren’t expected to be school-specific. But because of this, it’s extra important that admissions officers are able to read your writing and understand what you would bring and how you would contribute to campus. Even without specifically naming UCLA, you can showcase that you have the “True Bruin” values - respect, accountability, integrity, service, and excellence. How have you captured a commitment to an inclusive environment? How have you demonstrated excellence inside and outside the classroom?

Picking the Right Essay For You

Because you have a choice, pick the prompts that can convey the highlights of your application profile to the admissions officers. Focus on showing who you are and what makes you unique. If you don’t have a story that fits a particular prompt, choose a different one. For example, you may not have faced a significant challenge in your education. But that’s just one option. There’s no reason to force an essay that may not resonate well with admissions officers, given that other candidates may have faced far more serious issues in life. 

You also have to be careful given the breadth and depth of space granted by the University of California application’s activities and honors sections. Don’t use your essays to expand on a part of your extracurriculars that you’ve already talked about elaborately. To get a more thorough understanding of how to tackle each of the essays, check out this blog.  

Deadlines and Requirements

Unlike most schools, UCLA doesn’t have separate early and regular deadlines as part of the UC system. The one and only date you have to submit all your applications by is November 30 (the application portal is open to be filed and submitted starting November 1). Make sure you have all of the required documents, scores, and written responses ready by the 30th, or else you’ll miss your shot at acceptance into the school. Outlined below are important deadlines and necessary components for how to get into UCLA:

Requirements for the UCLA Application Deadlines and Notes
UC Personal Insight Questions You have to answer 4 out of the 8 prompts. The word limit is 350 words per essay.
Official high school transcript Only students who are admitted (and who intend to enroll) are required to submit official transcripts.
Letters of Recommendation UCLA does not require letters of recommendation unless it is necessary for your major.
SAT or ACT The last tests students can take for admission in the fall are the December ACT and December SAT.
SAT subject tests These are not required for candidates, but School of Engineering applicants are strongly encouraged to take Math Level 2 and a science test (Biology E/M, Chemistry, or Physics) depending on their intended major.
Arts supplement (optional) If you’re applying for a major in Art, Architecture, Film, Theater, Dance, and Music, you may submit a portfolio (guidelines here:
Financial aid documents U.S. citizens and permanent residents applying for aid must fill out the FAFSA by March 2.

A lot of these deadlines apply on a case-by-case basis. For example, if you’re applying with a Biology major in mind, you’re required to take the Math 2 and Biology subject tests. On the other hand, if you’re applying to the School of Nursing, you would need a letter of recommendation, whereas someone applying to the College of Letters and Science wouldn’t. Carefully go through the UCLA website and check what your specific requirements are before deciding that certain protocols don’t apply to you.

As you continue your research on how to get into UCLA, you must be on your A game throughout your time in high school, as the competition is only getting tougher. Carefully look through its mission and see how your profile can align with what this popular university looks for in its students. Choose your classes, build your extracurricular profile, and write your essays carefully in a way that conveys what you can uniquely bring to the college.

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