An aerial view of the UC Santa Cruz campus.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Higher Ed

UCSC sees record number of applicants, mirroring entire UC system

UC Santa Cruz received a record-high 74,000-plus applications for enrollment for the 2021-2022 academic year, an 11% increase from the previous year’s applications. The record application numbers here mirror a trend across the entire University of California system, according to data released Thursday.

More than 49,000 of the UCSC applications came from California high school students, a 12% increase over the previous year, and 11,000 came from students studying primarily at California community colleges, an 8% increase.

Systemwide, UC campuses collectively saw record-shattering applications showing remarkable surges in Black, Latino and other underrepresented students seeking admission, putting the system within reach of dismantling longstanding admission barriers and building a student body that reflects the state’s diversity, experts said.

Overall, the nine undergraduate campuses drew a record number of applicants despite myriad pandemic challenges, totaling 249,855 — a 16.1% leap over last year. Among Californians, Black freshman applicants increased by 21.8%. Latinos — who have made up the largest proportion of in-state students seeking freshman seats since 2013 — rose by 12.2%. Asian Americans increased by 10.7%, whites by 18.8%, Pacific Islanders by 23.9% and Native Americans by 5.5%.

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“These are phenomenal numbers and speak to the ability of UC to attract students from across the state and country at a time of incredible turbulence,” said Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, which represents more than 1,700 colleges and universities.

He added that universities have long used the excuse that they lack diversity because they can’t attract enough applicants. But UC has proved otherwise.

Shaun R. Harper, a USC education professor who heads the campus Race and Equity Center, said that UC will need to do much more than increase the number of diverse applicants.

“The critical next steps are to actually admit, enroll and graduate them,” Harper said. “Public research universities prepare many of our state’s scientists and innovators. When UC campuses fail to equitably enroll and graduate Black and Latino students, they ultimately deny California the chance to realize its full economic potential.”

At UCSC, 6% of applicants identify as African American; 32% as Asian American; 34% as Chicanx/Latinx; 0.5 percent as Native American; and 25 percent as white. Of the California community college applicants who are domestic students, 6% identify as African American; 28% as Asian American; 1% as Native American; 32% as Chicanx/Latinx; and 32% as white.

The increased number of applicants means that competition to earn a spot at UCSC will increase. The number of applicants is more than four times the entire undergraduates enrollment of 17,207 as of fall 2020.

    On top of the record applicants, nearly 200 students approved last year have deferred their enrollment to fall 2021.

    First-year undergraduate applicants will be notified of admission decisions beginning late-February, with most notifications in mid-March. Transfer decisions will begin to be released in mid-March. Admitted first-year students have until May 1 to indicate their intent to enroll and transfer students have until June 1.

    UC campus officials credited the gains to the elimination of standardized testing requirements, active recruitment in underserved areas, and community partnerships to identify and prepare students as early as middle school for the academic rigor needed for a competitive application.

    The double-digit application growth comes despite challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. After high schools shut down, shifting to online instruction, many students struggled to achieve the traditional hallmarks of a strong college application: high grades in rigorous AP and honors courses, distinctive extracurricular activities and competitive SAT and ACT test scores. The pandemic also disrupted college counseling, which was more difficult to arrange online than dropping by the school’s counseling office for face-to-face meetings.

    UC’s gains are in line with the 16% increase in applications at large universities that are among the 900-plus private and public campus members of the Common Application, a nonprofit organization. Smaller campuses, however, saw a 3.5% decline in applications, according to Common App Chief Executive Jenny Rickard.

    Rickard said 85% of the organization’s campuses dropped standardized testing requirements or made the tests optional amid the pandemic, a move she agrees fueled the surge. UC dropped the requirements entirely for fall 2021 applicants under a court order issued in litigation involving students with disabilities. So far, UCLA, UCSC, UC Merced and UC Davis have said they plan to remain test-free next year as well.

    One unexpected effect of the pandemic is that students had more time to complete college applications because they were “stuck at home all day,” said Ruth Garcia, a Downtown Magnets High School senior. She said some of her friends told her they would not have applied to UC campuses otherwise.

    “They couldn’t do community service. They weren’t out doing this or that club or basketball practice,” said Lynda McGee, a Downtown Magnets college counselor. “So they had time to get their applications finished.”

    Systemwide, applications from California Community College transfer students increased by 7.5%. UC applications also rose among students who are low-income and the first in their families to attend college, bucking a national decline in those groups.

    This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times, a Lookout content partner, and was modified by Lookout Santa Cruz staff with information about UCSC applications.