About the University of California San Diego
Location: San Diego, CA
Undergraduate Population: 33,096
Most Popular Majors: Engineering, Computer Science, Oceanography, International Studies, Psychology
Motto: Fiat lux (“Let there be light”)
Asian/Asian American 38.6%
Black/African American 3.3%
Native American less than 1%
When the University of California governing board, the UC Regents, originally authorized the San Diego campus in 1956, it was planned to be a graduate and research institution with a focus in the sciences, mathematics, and engineering. Due to its location in the La Jolla area, the plan was for the university to be initially called University of California La Jolla. However, UC President Clark Kerr paid homage to the San Diego city donors by changing the proposed name to University of California San Diego.
Local leaders disagreed on whether the new university should be a technical research institute or a more broadly based college that included undergraduates. Eventually, the original authorization for the San Diego campus given by the UC Regents in 1956 approved a “graduate program in science and technology” that included undergraduate programs, a compromise that appeased everyone involved. The UC Board of Regents approved construction of the new campus in 1960.
By 1963, construction was finished for the School of Science and Engineering and construction began for departments in the Social Sciences and Humanities. The undergraduate program accepted its first class of 181 freshman at Revelle College in 1964. Second College was founded in 1964 and was renamed after environmentalist John Muir two years later. Engineering, especially computer science, became a crucial part of the university’s academics over the years. Researchers at the school helped develop UCSD Pascal—an early machine-independent programming language that later heavily influenced Java—as well as the National Science Foundation Network, a precursor to the Internet during the 1970s.
UCSD continued building new colleges for students—each with its own general education curriculum, support services, residential neighborhood, and distinctive traditions. In 2002, Sixth College was established and remained the newest of its kind, until Seventh and Eighth Colleges were founded in 2019 and 2021 respectively. Today, UCSD offers a diverse selection of majors divided into eight academic divisions—Arts & Humanities, Biological Sciences, Data Science, Engineering, Health Sciences, Physical Sciences, Oceanography, and Social Sciences.
Notable University of California San Diego alumni include co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement Alicia Garza, Academy Award-winning actor Benicio Del Toro, fantasy author Raymond E. Feist, biotechnologist, businessman, and co-leader of the Human Genome Project Craig Venter, and NASA astronaut Kathleen Rubins.
- Every year, students from all eight undergraduate UCSD colleges come together on RIMAC field for some fun and quirky competition at the UnOlympics. Students contend for the coveted Golden Shoe—and annual bragging rights.
- The Sun God Festival is a student-curated, daytime music and arts festival at UC San Diego. It was named one of the “Top 5 College Concerts That Should Be Actual Festivals” by entertainment company LiveNation.
- Every quarter, the Bear Gardens brings together all students in a social event with activity booths to win stuffed teddy bears and enjoy free food from food trucks.
- UC San Diego is known for its eight undergraduate residential colleges—Revelle College, John Muir College, Thurgood Marshall College, Earl Warren College, Eleanor Roosevelt College, Sixth College, Seventh College, and Eighth College. Each college has its own set of general education requirements, personalities, and ideals. When prospective students apply to the university, they must indicate their preferred college.
- Summer Sessions at UC San Diego are especially popular. The university offers more than 900 courses and research opportunities from more than 50 academic departments for current and visiting students worldwide. Faculty members also lead five-week Global Seminars during the summer.
- Through the Undergraduate Research Hub, students engage in research and leverage resources to partake in high-impact projects. The hub also aims to foster long-term mentor/mentee relationships between faculty members, staff and undergraduates.
Average GPA: 4.16
Test Scores (mid-50% range): Test blind
Admit Rate: 23.8%
Test-optional? Test blind
Offers Early Admissions? No
Alongside other UC schools, the University of California San Diego asks students the following questions, known as Personal Insight Questions, or PIQs. Applicants must choose four of the eight questions to answer. Each response should be no more than 350 words.
- Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time.
- 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.
- What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?
- Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.
- 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?
- Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.
- What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?
- Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California
When approaching the UC PIQs, think about which prompts will give admissions officers the best sense of who you are and what you care about. Remember that you only need to answer four of them, so you should choose the prompts that are most relevant to your own experience. To make the most of your PIQs, keep this advice in mind:
- Focus on you. Whatever the question, consider your experience: what you did, felt, thought, or learned. If you’re describing a challenge you faced or a subject that inspires you, for example, it’s very easy to spend a lot of your essay writing about the challenge or what you like to study. But that doesn’t tell admissions officers much about you. What did you feel when you faced your challenge, and what concrete steps did you take to overcome it? What excites you about a particular academic subject, and how have you actively pursued it?
- Highlight impact. The prompts about leadership and community are specifically asking about your contributions, but there are other ways to make an impact as well. When writing your essays, think about where and how you’ve made a positive difference.
- Provide depth. Some of these prompts could probably be answered by writing on topics you’ve listed in the Activities and Awards section–this can be a great place to look for a topic you want to say more about. If you feel like the description you gave in that section tells most of the story, it’s probably not a good topic for a PIQ. You want topics that will let you add your perspective and showcase who you are, not just what you participated in.
- Think outside the box. Leadership doesn’t have to mean a title, creativity doesn’t have to be artistic, and your community doesn’t have to be your school or a local organization. Leadership can be mentoring others or organizing a project or event. You can be creative in how you approach problems or make connections between ideas. And a community can be geographically diverse, as long as there is mutual connection and influence within it.
For more tips on common supplemental essay prompts, see our blog post here.