Record-high number of high school students apply to UC Berkeley

Sproul Plaza is empty on a recent morning during the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite a mostly empty campus, an all-time record number of high school students applied for a spot at the University of California, Berkeley. (UC Berkeley photo by Gretchen Kell)

More than 112,000 high school students have applied for a spot in the University of California, Berkeley’s fall 2021 freshman class, an all-time record high.

A total of 112,821 freshman applications were submitted, a 28% increase, compared to applications for fall 2020. In addition, there was a 38% increase in freshman applications from underrepresented students (African American, Chicanx/Latinx, Native American).

Among transfer students, applications overall increased by 8% to 22,187. And among underrepresented students, there was a 6% increase.

University of California Office of the President officials released freshman and transfer applications data for all nine of the UC’s undergraduate campuses today. The UC saw an increase in freshman and transfer applications of 16%.

UC Berkeley admissions officials believe the jump in UC Berkeley’s numbers — which had already remained high for decades — reflects the hard work and new approaches of admissions officials here. The Office of Undergraduate Admissions’ shift from in-person to 100% virtual outreach and recruitment efforts allowed the staff to reach more students without the constraints of travel and budgets. A more focused effort of outreach to underserved students also helped.

Freshman applications from African American students increased from 4,458 in fall 2020 to 6,580 for fall 2021. Freshman applications from Chicanx/Latinx students jumped from 15,744 to 21,438. All other racial groups had increases as well, although not as large of a percentage increase.

“We really tried to focus our efforts on the needs of underrepresented, low-income, rural and first-generation college-going students,” said Olufemi “Femi” Ogundele, assistant vice chancellor and director of undergraduate admissions at UC Berkeley. “That meant developing new programs and moving others virtual.”

There was a notable increase in applications from first-generation students (neither parent has a four-year college degree) and low-income students, and this was true for freshman as well as transfer applicants.

Ogundele and his team have been developing new approaches and strategies to increase diversity for two years, and it is work that has already begun to reap dividends. The fall 2020 freshman admitted class was the most ethnically diverse in more than 30 years, in terms of numbers of underrepresented students offered admission.

Increasing diversity on campus is a key goal of Chancellor Carol Christ, and it extends beyond the undergraduate student body. It also entails recruiting, admitting, supporting and funding a diverse graduate student population within the campus’s more than 130 doctoral, professional and master’s degree programs.

Officials in UC Berkeley’s Graduate Division announced today a record increase in applications to graduate programs from students from historically underrepresented (URM) backgrounds. (This announcement is distinct from the UCOP data release, which addresses undergraduate enrollment only.)

Compared to fall 2020, the number of underrepresented minority doctoral applicants increased by 42%, and URM applicants to academic master’s programs increased by 82%. URM applications to professional programs increased by 13%. Among all graduate student applicants, there was a 19% increase.

Graduate Division officials believe the increase is tied to changes in their outreach and recruitment efforts made in collaboration with academic programs, the elimination of GRE testing requirements for the overwhelming majority of graduate programs during this admissions cycle, and the move to reformat their application fee waiver program for underrepresented, low-income and system-impacted applicants.

“We made a tremendous intentional effort this year to emphasize to prospective students that not only would they find top-notch research and world-class faculty here, but that we are actively committed to creating an academic and social climate where all students can flourish,” said Denzil Streete, assistant dean for diversity in the Graduate Division.