UC Davis and other University of California schools turned the heat on applicants as first-year student admissions have reached record lows this year.
According to recently released data, UC Davis’ first-year student admissions rate dipped to 44.5 percent this year, down from 52.4 percent two years ago. Other campuses, with the exception of UC Riverside and UC Merced, also witnessed admissions declines of 1 to 9 percent.
“Due to reductions in state appropriations,” said Frank Wada, executive director of undergraduate admission and university registrar, “UC Davis is unable to increase freshman enrollment, so the number of admission offers we could make was also limited.”
Wada said higher numbers of applications also drove the increased selectivity of first-year student admissions, which rose by 2.2 percent to 43,269 in 2010. UC Davis has also implemented a waitlist, which will allow 5,000 applicants a chance to enter after May 1 if enrollment space clears up.
“Until the economic challenges at universities across the country are resolved, enrollment opportunities are unlikely to increase,” Wada said. “As a result, we expect competition to remain extremely competitive at all exceptional research universities like UC Davis.”
While the criteria for admission into UC Davis remain unchanged, competition for applicant selection has grown fierce.
The average high school GPA for first-year students admitted to UC Davis jumped from 3.94 in fall 2008 to 4.02 in fall of this year. Five other UC campuses reported mean high school GPAs of 4.0 as well.
High school applicants have also continued padding their applications with extracurricular activities and standardized tests in the race for university seats.
“I probably joined more clubs than I would have had I not been thinking about college,” said Liz Archer, a senior from Davis High School, in an e-mail interview.
Preparing herself for the competition, Archer said she took both AP and honors classes, completed the SAT and ACT and held leadership positions in clubs and sports.
“I played two sports: I cheer for my school – I’m captain – and I played rugby,” said Cynthia Medina, a senior from Adolfo Camarillo High School. “Students take 5 AP classes, can get As in all of them and play two sports. It’s really competitive and really stressful.”
In their “AP Report to the Nation,” College Board data showed the percentage of high school seniors who have taken an AP exam rose from 19.9 percent in 2004 to 26.5 in 2009.
This rigorous environment has led some students to reconsider their college options, said Courtenay Tessler, a counselor at Davis Senior High School.
“Students who used to think certain UCs were safety schools no longer think that,” said Tessler. “And now they’re looking at CSUs and we’ve got a lot more kids looking out of state.
Tessler said she has helped high-achieving students, who may have been accepted to UCs in less competitive times, find schools that fit into their career and college majors. And for those who continue to see UCs as their ideal choice, she believes transferring from the community college system is their best bet.
Yet, for Tessler, there is a fundamental rule that applies to all students: follow what moves you.
“I’m a firm believer that if you don’t do what you believe in, you’re not going to end up where you want to be,” Tessler said. “Go with what you’re interested in, what motivates you, what you’re passionate about; that leads you to colleges and programs that are a good match for you.”
LESLIE TSAN can be reached at email@example.com.