UC a tougher bet this year for Californians, with 10,700 wait-listed


California’s high school seniors faced slightly tougher odds for freshman admission to the University of California this year, and more than 10,700 were offered a spot on one or more of the university’s controversial new waiting lists, according to statistics released Wednesday.

Susan Wilbur, UC’s director of undergraduate admissions, described 2010 as the most competitive admissions cycle in UC history, caused mainly by a budget-related reduction in California freshman enrollment by 10% over two years.

“The competition for space this year was incredible, and many students and parents were disappointed by the outcome,” Wilbur said. But all academically eligible California applicants were offered admission somewhere in the university system, she said.

Of the 82,056 California applicants to UC, 71.6% were admitted to at least one of the nine undergraduate campuses. That was down from 72.5% last year and 75.4% the year before. And more out-of-state and foreign students than last year were offered entrance, especially at UC Berkeley.

In a break with tradition that has upset many applicants, seven UC campuses compiled waiting lists this year to better meet enrollment targets. (UCLA and UC Merced did not use the lists.) Students have until April 15 to tell UC whether they want to stay on the lists. Admission decisions for wait-listed students are expected by the middle of May.

Some students felt burned by UC’s decision to use the lists, which are more commonly used by private schools and which extend an already tense application process. UC officials, however, pointed out that every wait-listed student was admitted to a UC campus, although not necessarily the one they really wanted.

“Uncertainty is not a good feeling, especially after all the stress of the college applications. Once March is over, you want to be done with that,” said Kevin Varzandeh, a student at Irvine’s Northwood High School who was accepted by UC’s Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz campuses and wait-listed by Davis.

UC Davis had been among Varzandeh’s dream schools, but he now says he won’t attend even if accepted. Instead, he is focused on environmental studies at UC Santa Barbara, which, he said, “seems like a good place for me.”

Felicia Davatolhagh, 17, who is on the track team at Eagle Rock High School in Los Angeles, used sports terms to describe being wait-listed by UC Davis, her first-choice school. “It makes you feel you are not a star, you’re a bench-warmer,” she said. She is going to enroll in biological sciences at UC Irvine, which she has decided is “a better fit.”

Candice Ju of the Marlborough School in Los Angeles said she wished she had been admitted to UC Irvine but is happy the wait list option remains: “It means I still have a chance to get in.” Ju, 18, who was also accepted by UC Riverside, said she will attend Boston University if an Irvine offer never comes.

Wilbur, the admissions director, said Wednesday that she did not know how many students -- if any -- would be admitted from the wait lists or how close UC is to its target of enrolling 32,000 freshmen. But she urged students to send their $100 nonrefundable enrollment deposits by May 1 to a UC campus that already has offered them a place. Doing so will not jeopardize their chances on another campus’ wait list, she said.

Spots at UCLA and UC Berkeley once again were the hardest to win. UCLA accepted only 21% of in-state applicants, compared to 21.4% last year, and UC Berkeley admitted 24.5%, down from 29.5%. Others ranged from UC San Diego, 36.8%, to UC Merced, 78%. On average, each student applied to at least three UC campuses.

In another move that has provoked criticism, the UC system accepted 9,552 out-of-state and international students, up 25% from last year. UC Berkeley nearly doubled such offers to 3,455, with the goal of having non-Californians make up about 20% of its freshman class, compared to 13% last year. UC Berkeley officials said they did so for the extra tuition out-of-state students pay and for the cultural diversity they bring, although some fear that will come at the price of excluding Californians.

UC Davis had the longest wait list by far, with 5,065 students. Admissions officials there said they followed a ratio used by other public and private schools around the country and could not explain why other UC lists were so much smaller.

Minority enrollments will be closely watched this year after a series of racially charged incidents at several UC campuses. Among those offered admission, the proportion of Latinos went up to 23.3%, from 22.2% last year, and that of African Americans also rose slightly, to 4.2% from 4%. Asian Americans once again were the largest ethnic group in the accepted pool, representing 35.4% of the total, compared to 34.9% last year. White students represented 30.6% of accepted students, down from 33.1% last year.

Many of the 23 Cal State University campuses also are using waiting lists this year. Cal State spokeswoman Claudia Keith estimated that 8,000 students statewide are on the lists; she said very few are likely to be admitted.