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What Does UCLA Really Want From Its Applicants?

Your GPA is 3.9, your SATs are over 1800 and you want to go to UCLA.   Easy, right?  Not exactly. That’s because you are similar to almost half of UCLA’s 57,000 plus applicants this year.  So how do you distinguish yourself from the multitude?   According to the UCLA admissions department, one way to stand out is in the personal essay.

On a recent tour of UCLA’s campus, I learned firsthand from admissions what they’re looking for in an essay.  It all boils down to the L.I.D.  In this third and final blog in a series we’ll be talking about the importance of L.I.D. in the UCLA essays.

First up is the L word (not what you think!).  L is for LEADERSHIP.  UCLA wants to see that you’ve held leadership position(s) and they want you to talk about them.  This pertains to more than just the class presidents.  Leadership can involve Sports, Scouting, Clubs – even jobs.  Any place in which you were organizing  or leading others.  A note of warning though: be honest about your leadership positions.  Don’t pretend that you were president when you weren’t.  That could cost you.

Next is the I word.  I is for IMPROVEMENT.  Just like your parents and teachers, UCLA likes to see improvement.  Whether it’s improving a tennis game or a swim time.  It can also be improving your grades or improving the lives of those less fortunate through your community service work.

D is DEDICATION.  This is where you let UCLA know how you weren’t a fly by night soccer player.  You stuck with the team even when you got injured.  Or you worked with the drama department for four years even when you weren’t the lead.  Or you’ve dedicated yourself to a cause.  You don’t have to save the world but it couldn’t hurt!

UCLA admissions stresses the importance of having more than one person read your essay.  Why not let that person be us?  Give us a call today.

Juliet Giglio
Educational Consultant in California

Reader Interactions


  1. Respected Sir,

    Im finding that you’re being very helpful satisfying queries and i also wish to get into UCLA so would request for your opinion.

    Im currently in grade 12 final year and an international student from INDIA. I visited UCLA this year and fell in love with it and here forth would request you to rate my chances or tell me how to improve them.

    I gave my SAT exam in July this year and got this score:-
    CR: 550
    WRITING: 660
    MATH: 720
    COMPOSITE: 1930

    i gave TOEFL in April and got a score of 109

    Im applying to Cognitive Science Major and if you could please also tell me how is the acceptance rate and SAT scores for this major.

    I have a pretty strong essay about my cultures which was appreciated by my friends and family.

    Im also preparing for my SAT subject tests in MATH LEVEL 2 and PHYSICS for October and believe that will be able to get between 750 – 800 in both the subjects.

    It is my only wish to get into UCLA and i am willing to work as hard as possible to achieve it.

    Warm Regards

  2. Hello, Ishaan,
    I wish you luck in getting into UCLA. Ido not have a crystal ball, but I want to give you a few pieces of advice. First off, how did you take your SAT in July? Did you mean June? Your critical reading score is the bugbear, but that score is somewhat outweighed by your 109 TOEFL score. I’m not sure about the relative difficulty of the particular major you have chosen, but my guess is that it is relatively competitive, So your math score might need to be a bit higher, too. And I hope you do get the predicted score on the SAT2 subject tests, as predicted. UCLA in general is very competitive for students from India and China, because there are so many students applying from those two countries. Perhaps you would prefer to be a citizen of Malawi or Paraguay? (just kidding…). Finally, I urge you to have a second, third, and fourth choices. There are many fine universities–even in the State of California system–where you can get an outstanding education in your chosen major and go on to have a distinguished career. Beware of falling head-over-heels in love with a damsel who may decide she doesn’t love you as much as you love her…! “Play the field,” as they say, and look around for other interesting beauties to court. Let me know if I can be of help.
    Best regards,

  3. Hi, Akhil,
    Getting into UCLA as an in-state student is easier than for a non-resident. That said, it isn’t easy to get in with an 1800 SAT. So three pieces of advice. First, study hard to raise your SAT score by the November test. Second, consult with your school guidance counselor with regard to your admissibility, as California counselors have a better idea of how students similar to you have fared from your particular high school. Third, you’d better be looking around at other options, just in case your objective is out of reach.
    I wish you the best of luck!

  4. Hi, Jenny.
    Thanks for your email. I’m not sure how to advise you. There are many bits of information in your note that indicate that you have some ideas about how things will shake out. You mention that money is a problem, your lack of extracurriculars, as well as a mental disorder. I think your inquiry is beyond my expertise. I recommend that you seek advice from your school guidance counselor. That person will be more immediately able to answer your questions and in a better position to provide substantive help.
    I wish you all the best,

  5. Hi! Is it true that the UC’s will ONLY accept the new SAT for the graduating students at 2017? I also had no idea that the UC’s would not look at freshman GPA. My gpa at freshman year was a 3.8 and now I’m a sophmore. However, I’m not sure I have a feeling that my sophmore GPA will not be better than my freshman GPA. Is there a way to compensate that?

  6. Hi.
    You can’t change your previous GPA. You can always “compensate” by doing better in subsequent years. You can also aim for a high SAT or ACT score. But hey…what’s so bad about a 3.8 GPA your freshman year?
    Good luck with sophomore year!

  7. Karas,
    You seem to have a good idea of what is necessary for admission to top universities like UCLA. Since you live in California, I suggest that you have a good talk with your school guidance counselor to find out whether you are on track. Sometimes counselors in the school can have a better idea of the odds of acceptance to UCs. You do need to get involved at school, but you also need to keep up your grades.
    Best wishes,

  8. Hi! I have a 3.6 GPA and a 5.0 unweighted and I’ve improved my grades throughout high-school I played basketball for two years but then got bored and went on to lifting and track, will it look bad that I switched? I also went to the Dominican with an Interact Club from another high-school then came back and started an interact club at my school and now we have over 90 members. Is that good? Oh and it is my senior year
    Thank you! This helped me understand more

  9. Hello. I’m currently a junior. How important are grades and SAT scores compared to other things such as leadership, extracurriculars, and improvement? My overall GPA is a 3.5 unweighted and a 4.1 weighted. But you can see that my grades have improved drastically over the years. Will I have a really hard time getting accepted even if I am stellar in the other categories?

  10. Sonia,
    The number one most important credential in college admission is your grades. It seems with your grades you have done pretty well in HS, and I see no reason why you would not be accepted to college. Which college? Hard to say without more info. But if you have taken challenging courses, done well, and also performed reasonably well on the ACT/SAT tests, you should have no problem.
    Best of luck.

  11. Hi!
    I have found this site very helpful, and I just wanted to ask a question regarding my application.
    I am currently a senior studying in an international school with an IB curriculum in Hong Kong, and am applying to the UC’s. I am predicted as a 36 for IB, and am quite involved within the community. (e.g: 2 leadership roles, 1 sport, 4 activities/community service) However, my SAT score is 1830.
    What would you think are my chances are of admission into UCLA?

    Thank you

  12. Hello, I’m a senior currently doing college apps at the moment and my dream school is UCLA. Now, my GPA isn’t the best (in my eyes for a uc especially for UCLA) but I have really been dedicated to my church choir since 8th grade year. Would my community service and personal statements make or break it? Plus I’m first generation Nigerian.

  13. This helped a lot. Junior is hard for me right now, but I’m getting through it. I go to a science and engineering school. UCLA is the school I’ve been aiming for, for a few years now, however I don’t mind going somewhere else in California.

  14. And really, it doesn’t have to be in California, but I would love to go to school there. I am from Texas, so I know it will be harder to get into a college out-of-state. I would love to study forensics so I can major in that field. Also my aunt and uncle live in LA. My uncle inspires me to want to become an actress. He is an actor, plus it has been my dream for a long time! The other night I went to a college night and they mentioned many other colleges across the states that offer great performing arts programs including the University of new Orleans.

  15. Hi, Erika,
    Grades matter a lot in the process. Your community service and personal statements will make a difference, but your intuition that grades matter more is probably correct, especially at a very competitive place like UCLA. You also don’t mention whether you are a California resident, which will make a difference, too.
    So in the absence of complete information and due to the fact that I can’t really make predictions, all I can do is wish you the best of luck in the process!

  16. Hi, Evelyn,
    It seems that you are interested in a great many things, which is terrific. Switching states is not only more difficult in terms of admissions, sometimes, but the cost of attending out of state can be significantly more, too. I hope you are able to figure out your plan. Let me know if you think I can help.

  17. Hi!
    Im an out of state resident and a sophomore. I own a charity and I have several extracurriculars, mock trial, dance, volleyball, laccrosse. My gpa last year was a 4.1 weighted and a 3.8 un weighted. I havent taken the SAT or ACT though I plan too. But do I seem like a good candidate for UCLA to accept?

  18. Hi,
    Im a California resident, I come from a blue collar household, and went through adversity when my grandmother passed away, as it has effected my mother and our family in general. I let my grades slip down to a 3.4 this last semester and a 4.0 unweighted, but overall four the previous four semesters I had an avg. 4.3. I am heavily involved within my community. I do expect to bring my gpa up the following semester, but my question is if, you suggest I write my personal statement about this or about my passion to teach and the experience I have tutoring and mentoring fellow peers?
    Thank you, in advance.

  19. Hi. Currently I am a sophomore in the state of North Carolina and I was looking around at future opportunities when I came across UCLA. First, it is my understanding that the school is extremely difficult to be accepted to if one is applying from out of state. Is this true? Also, what would be the best course of action to take throughout the rest of my high school years to garuntee my best chance of being accepted when the time comes?

  20. Hello! I am a junior at a small public school in Texas. I want to go to UCLA terribly. My current GPA is 4.12 weighted, and I am currently ranked first out of sixty-three students. That could change, however. I am involved in theatre, speech and debate, competitive academics (UIL), student council, and national honor society. However, I made my first B on a report card ever last six weeks with an 88 and I am currently making a B in my dual credit college class. What are my chances of being accepted? I can write a really great essay, if that helps.

  21. Hi. My name is Heaven and I’m currently a junior in high school. I am having trouble on getting a good score on the SAT’s and ACT. I tried practice exams but I always get the same score around 1123 on the SAT. On the ACT, I got a 18. I really want to go to UCLA with all my heart. Is there anything that I should do to make it better?

  22. Hi! i’ve noticed that the following who have written to you are mostly high school students, and unlike myself i am not a high school student, i graduated in 2010, and only went for 1 semester in a community college, i want to get into a UC school (USC or UCLA) but want to know what you would suggest in order for me to get back on track and continue to follow my dreams. In high school i wanted to apply to USC but my counselor told me that i wouldn’t get accepted, and that i shouldn’t have reached too high due to dyslexia, and was shut down.

  23. Hi! I know that it’s silly, but I’m in 8th grade and I’m already thinking about college. I’ve wanted to get into UCLA for as long as I can remember. Is there anythinf I can do throughout highschool regarding extracurricular activities, clubs, or classes that I can take that will increase my chances of getting into UCLA? I’m from Texas, but my dad was born and raised in LA. He attended UCLA, so that makes me a legacy, correct? Are my chances increased just by being a legacy, or is it not even relevant?

  24. Hi Mr.Montgomery,
    I am really interested in going to UCLA but I don’t know if I can get in because a large amount of the college admittance process is through gpa and scores, from what I’ve heard. I have a 3.8 unweighted gpa and have a 2190 on the SAT but, my in my area, these scores are just slightly above average. How can I stand out more in my application and, based on my scores, do you think I am a good candidate for UCLA?
    Thanks so much!

  25. I am an international student and I will be applying for UCLA soon with financial aid.
    I want to know if the financial aid requirement may hinder my acceptance.

  26. Hi,
    I recently moved from India, where I did 9th and 10th grade. My CGPA was 9.4 (the highest possible score being 10.0) at a school ranked in the top 10 in the country regularly. I took the PSAT and scored 201 (I’ve heard that the PSAT is a good indicator of how you’ll perform in the SAT).
    About a month back, my Dad got a job transfer to California. I’ll be attending a public high school (it’s highly ranked though) for junior and senior year. I plan to take 2 honors classes and 3 AP classes this year.
    Having transferred from one school to another, I doubt any leadership opportunities will be open to me. However, I think I can show improvement and diligence in hobbies that I’ve taken part in for at least two years.
    Assuming I continue in the same way, do I have a good chance of getting into UCLA? If not, what can I do to improve my chances?

  27. Hi! I’m a US citizen currently studying in a British Curriculum school in the Middle East. I will graduate in June 2019, and will take my ACT next year, and I am expected to get between a 29 and 33 on the test. My GPA is roughly around a 4.0, and I am a California born US citizen. Will I be able to get into UCLA? And when should I apply?

  28. Do you think I’ll get into UCLA? I’m a senior now.
    GPA: 4.7 W / 4.0 UW
    Total of 11 AP classes and 7 honors classes throughout all of high school.
    I’m still on track to be a valedictorian (just can’t screw up in AP Physics) and am in the top .5% of my class.
    SAT: 2300 (750 Reading, 800 Math, 750 Writing)
    ACT: 35
    SAT subject tests:
    Biology: 800, Chemistry: 780, Math 2: 800
    My Extracurricular activities are pretty weak though:
    Speech and Debate for 3 years: President my senior year and have competed at state for multiple events
    Robotics for 3 years: Our team won world’s one year
    Community Service: 500 hours at Valley Children’s Hospital. About 150 hours with my school’s Key Club
    Guitar: I’ve played for almost 3 years. I started the Guitar Club at my school and I play guitar for my school’s jazz band. Also, I play lead guitar in a band with my friends and we gig every other weekend.
    Church: Have been a leader at VBS and help set up many events
    Also, I’m an instate student and UCLA is my first choice.

    Please give me a yes or no. I completely realize that you’re not some kind of genie or anything and can’t for sure say but please give me your best guess… Thank you

  29. Hi I’m from California, and am a sophomore at a charter high school. My GPA right now is a 3.4, and I know for a fact that I can do better, but I’ve been going through some family problems. Next year I’m planning on taking english 2, algebra 2 trig., US history, honors chemistry, AP spanish 4, and ASB leadership.
    My senior year is going to be AP English lit., honors physics, honors pre calculus, AP art history, AP U.S. Gov and politics, and ASB leadership again. I would also be doing the medical academy and ASB for the first time starting junior year, and be the president of the Make A Wish Club for those two years. This year I started the interact club at my school and we basically help the community and volunteer to help people who need it ( I’ve done about 57 hours so far). I’m also the team captain for my soccer team, and planning on doing track this year. UCLA is my dream school and I know for a fact that I can follow up and accomplish all I need to! Please write me back if you recommend doing something more or different! Thank you!!

  30. Hello! I’m currently a senior in high school. Even though I’m Egyptian, I was born and lived my whole life in the United Arab Emirates. My GPA is a 4.0 and I got a score of 1110 on my SATs. Note that I was my high school’s student council president during my junior year, have been playing basketball for the past 6 years, and I grew a passion for drawing during my junior year-which is something I’m trying to improve by time.
    What are my chances of getting accepted in UCLA?
    And what are some tips you would give me to strengthen my application?

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