Counseling » Higher Education in California

Higher Education in California

In 1960, the California Legislature created the Master Plan for Higher Education in California. While many of the campuses represented in the three systems are much older, this plan has been the driving force of the college and university systems in California for the past forty years. Basically, the Master Plan designates three major systems of higher education. These include the University of California system, the California State University system, and the Community College system.


University of California


The University of California system is designed for the top 12.5% of California high school graduates. The intent of the subject requirements is to assure that students admitted to the university have mastered the academic subjects and skills needed for undergraduate study. Besides minimum preparations, prospective UC students are urged to take a full load of challenging courses including honors level and Advanced Placement courses in their junior and senior years. It is important that students take the most challenging courses they can complete successfully. Students should also prepare well for the SAT I and II tests, as they are included in the eligibility index. Beginning with the class of 2001, the SAT II subject tests will be double the weight of the SAT I test in calculating eligibility. Realistically, most students need at least a 3.0-3.3 GPA in the required and recommended curriculum. See College Admission Criteria for specific course requirements.


Currently there are eight undergraduate campuses in the UC system (a ninth campus, UC San Francisco, is devoted to health sciences and is not open to students until they are upper division or graduate status). A new campus, UC Merced, is in the planning stages.


The eight campuses are located in Berkeley, Davis, Irvine, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, Santa Barbara, and Santa Cruz. Clearly there are differences between the eight undergraduate campuses - each campus has unique features and programs that meet different academic needs. All of the campuses offer a great education and have developed world-renowned reputations.


Some campuses are more impacted than others. If the number of applicants exceeds the spaces available, the university uses criteria that exceed the minimum requirements to select students. Therefore, meeting the minimum requirements is not always enough to gain admission to your choice of UC campuses. Most counselors agree that the three most difficult campuses to be admitted to are Berkeley, Los Angeles, and San Diego. Davis, Irvine, and Santa Barbara are the middle tier of difficulty, with Santa Cruz and Riverside able to accommodate all eligible applicants (though Santa Cruz has seen more applicants in the recent past and may not be able to admit all eligible applicants in 2003 and beyond). An example of the difficulty of gaining admittance is reflected by the number of applicants to the San Diego campus for 2001: approximately 35,000 applicants for 3,500 spaces; and Berkeley, approximately 32,000 applicants for 3,000 spaces. This is not stated to discourage you from applying, only to give a realistic picture of the competition for admission. If you would like to review statistics on admission and find out more about the UC system and each of its campuses, go to Click on Introducing the University and navigate to the Freshman Profile to see statistics on admission rates for the latest incoming freshman class.


A new path to eligibility was introduced by UC called ELC, or Eligibility in the Local Context, beginning with the class of 2001. This program identifies the top 4% of students from each high school graduating class in California and invites those students to apply to the University. Go to the website above to find out more about this admission pathway and any other questions about the University of California.


California State University


The California State University system is designed for the top one third (33.3%) of all California high school graduates. There are currently twenty-three campuses of CSU, and its combined undergraduate enrollment makes it the most populous four-year University in the world. The campuses consist of comprehensive universities, polytechnic universities, and the California Maritime Academy. Each of the campuses has a different flavor and feeling, and both geographic location and student population characteristics lead to great variety in the type of experience each campus will give. Some campuses are mainly 'commuter' campuses, most offer unique programs, and a few assess and evaluate with non-traditional grading policies.


The UC and CSU systems are in the process of bringing their subject requirements and admission criteria into alignment. This process will be complete by the year 2006. Though grade point average and standardized test score requirements are not as high as the UC system, students planning to enroll in the California State University system should enroll in course work beyond the minimums. Most students need a 3.0 GPA or above in the required and recommended curriculum. The SAT I or ACT score becomes crucial in determining eligibility once the GPA drops below a 3.0 in required coursework. Several CSU campuses and/or majors have more competitive standards. There are several highly impacted campuses in the CSU system, including Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, San Diego State, Chico State, and Long Beach State. Go to for general information, or for admission information or to apply online.


Community Colleges


There are over 100 Community Colleges in California. They are organized into 72 districts and serve more than 1.5 million students - this makes the California Community College system the largest system of higher education in the world. Community Colleges, just as the UC system and the CSU system, are supported by California taxpayers. Community Colleges are locally oriented and were often called 'junior colleges' in the past. They are designed for 100% of California high school graduates - in fact, you do not have to be a high school graduate to attend. If you are over eighteen years of age and can benefit from instruction, you may enroll in a community college. High schoolers are permitted to be concurrently enrolled students while still attending their high school if they meet certain criteria. Because there are so many students who attend Community Colleges, it is impossible to profile a 'typical' student. Of the many reasons students attend Community Colleges, the two major reasons are to prepare to transfer to a four-year college or university, and/or to learn occupational/vocational skills and earn certification for a career.


Many students attend a Community College and apply as transfer students to the University of California or California State University. There are transferable classes that prepare students for upper division coursework at a four-year institution. Community Colleges are a bargain for students - classes are $13 per unit, or $195 for a full 15-unit semester load. Students who are not ready for or do not wish to attend a four-year college can benefit from Community College. There may be personal, academic, or economic reasons to delay attendance at a four-year institution, and Community Colleges assist students in preparing for transfer later. There are also many two-year certificate programs available at community colleges in such fields as technology, health professions, or mechanics. If you are interested in attending a community college with a view to transferring to a four-year college or university, be sure to link up with a college counselor who can assist you in planning your academic schedule and check to make sure you are earning transferable credit. For more information on community Colleges go to