The Odds of Getting into Berkeley or UCLA

Some high schools prepare teenagers for college better than others.


But here’s something that many parents in California don’t realize. Sending your child to a top high school could reduce their chances of getting into UCLA or Berkeley.

During the past couple of weeks, I’ve run into parents who are mystified and angry that their teenagers didn’t get into these UC schools. One of these parents is my physician whose brilliant daughter had a nearly perfect SAT and grades to match at one of the top public high schools in San Diego County. The daughter of friend, who is an investment advisor, had the same kind of stats and she attends a private high school.

While I was hearing their complaints, a girl in my son’s carpool at High Tech High was rejoicing that she got into UCLA, UC Berkeley, UC Davis and every other UC she applied to. Her SAT score was about 350 points less than the scores of each of the overachieving girls. Her SAT subject tests weren’t great either.

So what gives?

The girl with the lower scores attends a school that is in the ELC (Eligibility in the Local Context) program, which represents one of the three paths to UC freshmen eligibility. According to the rules, the top 4% of students at ELC high schools are qualified to attend a UC school based on their coursework, but not necessarily their first choice. The goal of ELC is to boost the eligibility pool to the kind of kids who might not otherwise be eligible for a UC.

ELC schools tend to be lower-income and diverse, but the girl in my carpool is white and Jewish.

How much easier is it to get to a UC campus by being near the top of the class at an ELC school? Here’s an example: Berkeley admits about 21% of applicants, but 56% of ELC students. If you don’t know if your teen’s school is in the ELC program, you might want to ask.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and she also write a college blog for

Further Reading:

Why It Will Be Tougher Getting Into UC Berkeley.

Why State Flagship Universities Are Rejecting More Students

University of California Admissions Changes

University of California:  A Fading Reputation?

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  1. This is not true. You do realize that SAT scores are only part of the deal right. I have a relatively low ACT score…, 26. So why did I get into UCLA? Maybe it had to do with the fact that I challenged myself to be strong, learned from my failures, took initiative in my learning, showed humanity and passion that is needed to be a doctor, and shows my personality in the personal statement. I also explained that I have a type of dyslexia that does not allow me to read quickly, thereby me doing bad on the ACT. Btw, my school is not ELC. My school is very competitive. UCLA takes people who thrive at competitive schools because (news shock!) UCLA is competitive. Those overachieving girls just got a high SAT score as far as you know…. But were they able to thrive in a competitive environment? And UCLA will admit the person who thrives in a competitive school than the one who gets the top grade in the lower school any time.

  2. I didnt get into UC davis, UCSB, and UCSD… those universities have a higher percent acceptance than UCLA and UC berkeley.. do you guys still think I may have a chance? or does getting rejected by those top schools pretty much says it all?.

  3. Though this is written in 2009, I think this is still recent. UCLA and Berkeley look for those that excelled despite having many difficult circumstances. The girl with the higher SAT scores, probably did not take all the AP classes available, maybe her personal statement (more than likely well written) didn’t reflect thoughtfully on a social issue, etc. Even if the white Jewish girl did not attend UCLA or Berkeley, and decided to attend UCSB, she has higher chances of “success”–better jobs, better housing, networking with other “successful” middle-class persons. This is called WHITE PRIVILEGE that UCLA and Berkeley are very aware about and give chances to those that have been HISTORICALLY UNDERSERVED and underrepresented in Higher Education. My point is whatever college you send your upper-middle class, child to, they will continue to be upper-middle class or mobilize into a higher SES. Also, getting into Berkeley and UCLA requires more than biased test scores that depict only one side of a person. What I think admitted me into Berkeley was being employed while in high school, reflecting thoughtfully on my experience through my personal statement and also committing myself into public service. It’s also important to note the difference between SOLIDARITY versus Charity!