University of California, Irvine
It is hard to overstate the extraordinary programs, ambiance and location of the UC Irvine (UCI) campus. UCI is also known for excellence in a large range of academic programs. Among the UC campuses, UCI has among the broadest range of undergraduate and professional programs, including schools of business, medicine, nursing, law, and pharmacy, many of which offer one or more undergraduate majors.
This mid-century campus surrounds a large park with open green spaces and shady groves that draw students, staff and faculty throughout the year for relaxation or campus events. The campus is also well located in a suburban area, near Newport Beach, Balboa Island, and Laguna Beach, and is just a few minutes from John Wayne Airport (SNA).
UCI students and faculty are diverse and accomplished, and the campus is inclusive. UCI has been federally designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution and an Asian American & Native American-Pacific Islander-Serving Institution, with more than 35% of students from underrepresented populations. Faculty diversity is increasing, with more than one-quarter from minority populations and about 45% women. UCI researchers raise nearly $600 million in research funding each year, and UCI is one of seven UC campuses among the 63 members of the American Association of Universities, a group of the most prolific research universities in North America.
Hard to Switch Majors
- Students who thrive
- Students who may have challenges
- Successful applicants
- How the application process handles majors
- Academic support
- Support for disabilities & learning differences
- Housing & transportation
- Social life, recreation & campus spirit
- Graduation requirements
Students who thrive
Students who thrive at UCI are generally self motivated and independent. They are comfortable taking some lower-division courses in large lecture halls and seeking support that they need when they need it. Very bright students will find their courses sufficiently challenging, and most students will not find the courses overwhelming, if they have established a solid academic foundation in high school and put in solid effort with good self-accountability.
Students who want to get involved in research will have access to world-class research facilities and professors who care about their students. UCI is an ideal location for students who like sunshine, mild weather, ocean breezes and spending time at the beach. However, UCI attracts very diligent and ambitious students who enjoy creating their own social scene on this suburban campus, given that off-campus social experiences typically require transportation.
Students who may have challenges
Students who have a hard time with self-accountability may have challenges at UCI. Students looking for a more personalized learning experience with broad academic advising services will have to make more of an effort to find it at UCI, or any large public university, because the professors have large teaching loads and academic advisors serve many students. However, UCI’s Student Success Initiatives provides robust support programs for students with unique needs in particular, such as low-income, first generation, non-traditional, transfer, and disabled students.
As one of the seven UC undergraduate campuses on the quarter system (Berkeley and Merced use semesters), UCI’s terms move very quickly and there is no time to fall behind. Most students come to Irvine having taken many advanced classes in high school, and the professors generally start their courses where the advanced high school courses left off—which is generally true at UCs. So, students whose GPA puts them in the bottom half of admitted students or who have taken few, if any, AP, IB, honors or community college courses may find UCI’s curriculum challenging. All students who experience difficulties should seek out academic support resources, including tutoring services and regular interaction with professors and teaching assistants; developing personal relationships with instructors and support service providers can greatly improve educational outcomes.
While the UCI campus and suburban surroundings are lovely and close to desirable beaches, shopping and entertainment, students looking for a more urban college town with historic record shops, grungy pizza joints and a dive scene will want to look elsewhere.
Successful applicants are high achievers in their high schools, typically in the top 5 to 10% of their graduating classes. Successful applicants challenge themselves by taking the most rigorous coursework available and demonstrate deep involvement in extracurricular activities that have a purpose, whether to improve themselves, their school or their community.
All UC campuses are test blind and will not consider SAT or ACT scores, but they will consider AP and IB scores. All UC campuses are prohibited from considering “hooks” that favor students based on factors beyond the student’s control, such as demographic factors, ability to pay, being related to faculty, alumni or donors, or knowing politicians or other famous people. A “hook” that may be used in the admissions process is recruitment for a special talent, most commonly athletic talent, for the purpose of filling a spot on an athletic team. However, of the 29,500 undergraduates at UCI, only about 400 (less than 2%) are student-athletes, some of whom are walk-ons (and are therefore not recruited). As a result, the overwhelming majority of students must find admission to UCI through the normal channel of outstanding academic and extracurricular performance.
UCI gives priority to students transferring from California Community Colleges (CCC) with junior standing, per the California Master Plan for Higher Education. The master plan requires that UC and CSU campuses “establish a lower division to upper division ratio of 40:60 to provide transfer opportunities to the upper division for Community College students, and eligible California Community College transfer students are to be given priority in the admissions process.” Around 85% of all transfer applicants to UCI are California residents, with the vast majority coming from CCCs. Only 2% of UCI transfer applicants are non-California US residents and 13% are international applicants. The percentage of admitted students is substantially higher for CCC applicants (41%) than for non-CCC applicants (15%), regardless of residency. Breaking this down by GPA, among applicants with college GPA of 3.6-4.0, 67% of CCC applicants were admitted compared to only 21% of non-CCC applicants. Among applicants with 3.2-3.59 GPA, 29% of CCC applicants were admitted compared to only 14% of non-CCC applicants.
Transfer applicants are evaluated and admitted directly into the major. To be considered for transfer admission, candidates must be on track to achieve junior standing (60 transferable semester / 90 transferable quarter credits) by the end of the spring term before matriculation, and have earned a minimum 2.4 GPA for California residents or 2.8 for residents of other states. However, strong candidates for admission will have earned much higher GPAs and be on track to complete all of their lower-division major requirements by the spring term before matriculation. Ideally, most of the major coursework will be completed by the end of the fall term (the fall that students submit their applications) so that the admissions office has more grades to evaluate.
The most competitive transfer applicants will also be on track to complete any required general education courses (“breadth” requirements) by the spring term before matriculation. Breadth courses include two courses in English composition, one in mathematics/quantitative reasoning, and four in at least two areas of humanities, social or behavioral sciences, and physical or biological sciences. Articulation agreements are in place between UC campuses and CCCs for major and breadth requirements. Students should refer to Assist.org for more information.
How the application process handles majors
UCI evaluates and admits both freshman and transfer applicants by major. Successful applicants’ coursework and extracurricular activities will demonstrate a strong foundation for success in their intended major. For example, students applying for a major within the Paul Merage School of Business will be expected to have performed well in advanced math coursework (such as AP Calculus) and advanced English coursework, and they will have potentially completed electives in business. They will also be expected to have participated in significant business-related activities, such as interning with a company, starting a business, or demonstrating leadership in a business-related club, such as Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA).
While not impossible, it is very difficult for students to change majors once they enroll at UCI. Because the campus is at full capacity, course registration prioritizes students who have been admitted to the major(s) that require those courses. So, students who have not been admitted to a particular major will find it difficult to register for courses that are required for the major that they want to transfer into. Therefore, on the UC Application, it is important that freshman applicants only list first- and second-choice majors for UCI that they truly want and can live with.
UCI has among the broadest range of undergraduate and professional programs in the UC system. The university includes several schools and colleges that host majors for undergraduate students, including the School of Biological Sciences (BS), School of Humanities (BA), School of Physical Sciences (BS), Trevor School of the Arts (BA, BFA and BMus), Merage School of Business (BA and BS), School of Education (BA), Samueli School of Engineering (BS), Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (BS), Gross School of Nursing (BS), the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences (BS), and a Program in Public Health (BS). All of these schools also offer graduate (masters and PhD) programs, along with UCI’s School of Law (JD) and School of Medicine (MD). UCI also offers several majors and minors within their Interdisciplinary Studies program, including Business Information Management (BS), Environmental Science and Policy (BA), and Medical Humanities (minor), among several other interesting programs.
As evidenced by the large number of colleges and schools within the university, undergraduates have access to a very broad range of courses and majors. UCI is particularly strong in Criminology, Education, the natural sciences (Biology, Chemistry, Physics), Engineering, Computer Science, Math and Statistics, English and Literary Criticism & Theory, and Sociology, but students in nearly any discipline will find solid undergraduate courses and programs.
The majority of classes are fairly small, in the range of 20-50 students and many even smaller than that. However, as with any large research university, the lower-division foundation classes can be very large and impersonal, with class time typically split between professors’ lectures to hundreds of students and smaller discussion sections led by graduate students. Research and applied science courses are structured similarly, with a lecture component and labs. Labs are similar to discussion sections except that they offer the opportunity for students to engage in hands-on science to apply the material taught in lectures.
Upper division courses, which are more specialized, tend to be much smaller classes. In the third and fourth year, lectures are smaller, seminars are more common, and there are more opportunities for research-based courses.
UCI provides many research opportunities for undergraduate students through the Undergraduate Research and Opportunities Program (UROP). By engaging with the UROP, students can attend workshops or work directly with program staff to identify and apply for mentored research opportunities on campus throughout the academic year or during the summer through the Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP). In addition, students may apply for funding to cover research expenses, such as project-related supplies, or costs associated with publishing manuscripts (Publication Award). Students may also apply for funding to reimburse travel-related expenses to attend research conferences.
UCI offers many study abroad programs and opportunities for its undergraduate students. One of the most popular programs is the UC Education Abroad Program (UCEAP), exclusively for UC students enrolled at any of the nine undergraduate campuses. UC students participating in UCEAP can choose to spend a summer, quarter, semester or year studying abroad in one of more than 40 countries with other UC, international and local students. All coursework is UCI-approved and will appear on the transcript as UCI courses. Financial aid awards follow participating students to their study abroad destination.
UCI also appears to be developing (or revamping) its own study abroad programs for UCI students, and UCI students are welcome to participate in study abroad programs offered and administered by other UC campuses. UC Davis, in particular, offers summer and quarter-abroad programs led by outstanding UC Davis faculty that UCI students may find appealing.
UCI offers many academic support services and resources. Students can get helpful advice about choosing coursework by reaching out to the undergraduate student affairs office of the specific college that houses the student’s major. In addition, UCI offers undergraduate students a variety of academic resources, including free peer and departmental tutors for physical science courses (chemistry, physics and mathematics), as well as recommendations for private tutors. Similarly, the Schools of Engineering, Information & Computer Science, and Biological Sciences offer free peer tutoring and exam review sessions for core courses. UCI also invests in student writing success through the Center for Excellence in Writing and Communication, which offers face-to-face Zoom tutoring and email consultations with trained peer tutors.
In addition, UCI students can access individual and group study spaces in the libraries and Anteater Learning Pavilion. Students needing computer support can access the Computer Labs on a drop-in basis, and video-editing or photo-editing support is available through the Media Editing Lab.
Support for disabilities & learning differences
UCI’s robust Disability Services Center (DSC) provides a range of academic support services for students with learning, mobility or other disabilities. The DSC provides services whether the student’s disability is temporary, such as post surgery or illness, or permanent.
Admitted first-year and transfer students who choose to attend UCI can apply for services as soon as their student account has been activated, usually in the middle of May after submitting their Statement of Intent to Register and enrollment deposit. Students apply for accommodations by going to the DSC website, selecting the MyDSC button, and logging in using their UCI student credentials. Once logged in, students can submit the required disability documentation. Documentation and accommodations are typically processed by the end of June. Processing is expedited for students who plan to attend the summer session before their first fall term. Continuing students can apply for services at any time through their student portal, and they will be contacted within five days by their DSC counselor to schedule an appointment.
The DSC provides excellent information and educational videos about accommodations on their website, including how and when to submit accommodation letters to professors each quarter, and guidelines for documentation of disabilities. Students with disabilities requiring exam accommodations will manage their exams through the DSC portal, including receiving a personalized exam schedule with testing location that they can view by logging in. Depending on each student’s specific disabilities, the DSC provides instructional materials in alternate formats and assistive technologies, such as note-taking, magnification and speech recognition, and screen readers.
Students with mobility disabilities can register with the DSC to receive Ring Road Rides to transport them to their classes and labs. In addition, incoming and continuing UCI students may apply to the DSC to bring their emotional support animal (ESA) to live with them in UCI housing. Incoming student applications for on-campus ESAs can be submitted as early as June of the year that students matriculate to UCI.
Navigating the application and admissions process for students with disabilities or learning differences can be especially challenging. If you need guidance and support, Carolyn Weirick and the other admissions consultants at Capstone offer personalized, expert admissions services for students with a wide range of differences, disabilities, needs, and challenges. Contact us today for a free consultation.
The UC Board of Regents voted in 2021 to create the Tuition Stability Plan. This plan allows for tuition and fee adjustments for each incoming class of students, but once each class of students matriculates, the tuition and fees for that class will not increase during their time of attendance, assuming that they graduate within six years. The goal of the Tuition Stability Plan is to ensure that students and families will be better able to plan for the costs of attendance without having to worry about a tuition or fee increase during college. The plan applies to first-year and transfer students, as well as the Nonresident Tuition Supplement for non-California residents, which will also be stabilized for up to six years. The fee schedule can be found here.
UCI awards prestigious merit scholarships to exceptional first-year students and transfer students entering in the fall quarter from a California Community College. The Regents’ Scholarship, the Chancellor’s Excellence Scholarship, and the Director’s Scholarship are all awarded based on information in the UC application, so no additional application process is needed to be considered for these scholarships.
The Regents’ Scholarship is available to any US citizen, eligible non-citizen (including permanent residents), and students qualifying under AB130 or AC131, including both California residents and domestic out-of-state residents. This scholarship is renewable for three years for incoming freshmen and one year for transfer students. The Chancellor’s Excellence Scholarship has similar qualification criteria, except eligible students must be California residents and the scholarship is only renewable for one year. The Director’s Scholarship is available to US citizens, permanent residents, and international students with an F1 visa who are non-California residents, and it is renewable for only one year.
In addition to scholarships that are awarded to incoming first-year and transfer students, UCI has a scholarship portal for continuing students to apply for other campus scholarships, such as departmental scholarships, as well as outside scholarships.
California residents who meet specified income thresholds are also considered for Cal Grants, and US citizens and eligible noncitizens may also qualify for federal direct loans. International students are generally not eligible for federal, state or institutional financial aid, with the exception of scholarships mentioned above and departmental scholarships. In spite of the many scholarship opportunities available to UC students, however, it is quite rare for a student to have room and board expenses—the most expensive part of a UC education—funded through grants and scholarships.
Housing & transportation
UCI is a residential campus, and guarantees housing for two years for first-year students, under the following conditions: students must submit their housing application by a set deadline, often as early as May 2; and students must live on campus in their first year in order to be guaranteed on-campus housing in their second year. So, meeting the housing application deadline and accepting on-campus housing for the first year is critical for maintaining eligibility for the two-year housing guarantee.
UCI has high-quality housing options, including traditional dorm-, suite-, and apartment-style housing with single- and mixed-gender halls and bathrooms. On-campus housing includes themed and gender-inclusive housing, with a big focus on sustainability. Some sororities and fraternities have on-campus houses that are part of the UCI housing system.
Because there are limited on-campus housing options for third- or later-year students, most students choose to move off campus after their second year. Students moving out of the dorms can lease apartments or houses with other students, and UCI’s Anteater Housing Network provides listings for off-campus leases, roommate requests and sublets.
UCI is less than 4 miles from the John Wayne Airport (SNA), which serves the greater Orange County area. Students can easily find rideshare services for the quick ride between campus and the airport. UCI students also get discounted tickets with Super Shuttle coming from the John Wayne Airport.
Students flying to Southern California from more distant locations, including international locations, may need to fly into Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), which is about 45 miles from campus. Public transportation is not a feasible option, so families will likely need to include into the student’s travel budget the cost of rideshares to and from LAX.
Because of UCI’s close location to so many of Southern California’s treasures, including gorgeous beaches, Balboa Island, and Disneyland, students can get around quickly and fairly cheaply using rideshare services and public transportation.
The campus has a unique circular layout with graduate buildings forming the outer and undergraduate buildings forming the inner of two concentric circles that surround Aldrich Park at the center of campus. The park’s wide-open green spaces are dotted with clusters of oak, pine and eucalyptus trees, giving the campus an intimate feel. Students relax, study, or hang out with friends at the park, which also serves as a gathering space throughout the year for new-student welcome events, campus-wide barbeques, philanthropic events, concerts, club fairs, and much more.
While the UCI campus is fairly quiet, ensconced in a suburban neighborhood, there is a lot to do nearby. It is less than four miles from Balboa Island, an iconic Southern California attraction known for lovely beach cottages, boats, and chocolate-dipped frozen bananas and ice cream bars (“Balboa Bars”). Newport Beach, known for surfing and wide sandy beaches, is just five miles to the west, and Laguna Beach, known for spectacularly beautiful beaches and its arts scene, is only ten miles to the south. For shoppers, South Coast Plaza and Newport’s Fashion Island are also very close.
Students also have the option to join one of many sororities and fraternities on campus, each with its own theme and mission. Greek life can provide students at large campuses, like UCI, a sense of community and involvement.
UCI students lean liberal politically, but UCI is one of the more conservative campus communities in the UC system. Orange County, historically one of California’s most conservative counties, is still home to a large and powerful conservative political movement, though in recent years the politics have become more moderate and divided.
UCI hosts nine women’s and nine men’s NCAA Division 1 sports teams—but does not have a football team. UCI is one of the oldest members of the Big West Conference, competing against four other UC campuses (Davis, Riverside, San Diego, and Santa Barbara), five Cal State campuses (Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Bakersfield, Fullerton, Northridge and Long Beach), and the University of Hawaii, Manoa.
In addition, UCI hosts 38 competitive club teams, including several co-ed, men’s, and women’s teams. Students can participate in a wide variety of club sports, including several martial arts teams, dragon-boat racing, cricket, figure skating, ice hockey, surfing, lacrosse, water polo, soccer, volleyball, and many more.
UCI students can also participate in athletics recreationally through the Intramural Sports program offered at UCI. Students purchase a $25 pass each quarter, which gives them the opportunity to play intramural sports as much or little as they want for that quarter.
The UCI Student Health Center (SHC) provides registered students with medical and mental health care services on an appointment or walk-in basis, regardless of the type of health insurance the student carries. The SHC is staffed by licensed primary and specialty care physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, dentists, licensed clinical social workers, and nurses, who evaluate and treat students for a wide range of common health conditions, including upper respiratory and gastrointestinal infections, gynecologic issues, athletic injuries, and mental health crises.
Nearly all colleges in the US require students to have a comprehensive health insurance plan. UCI offers the UC system’s Student Health Insurance Plan (UC SHIP). As is the case at all UC campuses, registered students are automatically enrolled in UC SHIP, which has an associated annual fee, but students can waive UC SHIP by providing evidence of their own comprehensive health insurance plan.
For students with more complex conditions, several medical practices and hospitals surround the campus, including some affiliated with UCI. UCI has primary-care and specialty medical clinics immediately adjacent to campus. Several hospitals serve the area surrounding UCI, and UCI’s highly regarded medical center, which includes an acute care hospital, trauma center and comprehensive cancer center, is about 20 minutes from the UCI campus.
UCI is fundamentally a liberal arts institution and requires that all students, regardless of major, complete general education requirements that will give greater context to their programs of study. This approach differs from some of the other UC campuses, which require different general education requirements, or none at all, depending on the college or school.
To graduate with a bachelor’s degree from UCI, students must fulfill the following requirements:
- UC systemwide requirements (2 courses): Entry-Level Writing and American History & Institutions
- UCI General Education requirements (8 categories): Writing (3 courses); Science and Technology (3 courses); Social and Behavioral Sciences (3 courses); Arts and Humanities (3 courses); Quantitative, Symbolic, and Computational Reasoning (3 courses, may satisfy another category); Language Other Than English (1 course); Multicultural Studies (1 course, may satisfy another category); International/Global Issues (1 course, may satisfy another category)
- UCI School, College or Program requirements: Varies (see UCI Catalog)
- UCI Major-specific requirements: Varies (see UCI Catalog)
Occasionally, universities will change some of the requirements for graduation, and students are often required to meet the graduation requirements that were in place when they first enrolled. At UCI, however, students have the option of meeting the graduation requirements in place when they first enrolled or the new requirements that the university developed after they enrolled, although there are some caveats for re-admitted and transfer students.
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Motto: Fiat Lux
(Let there be light)
Mascot: Peter the Anteater
NCAA Division I Big West
Public research university
30% admission rate
7,000 graduate students
1,400 full-time faculty
18:1 student-faculty ratio
70% of classes under 30 students
1500 acre campus size
Mediterranean climate with warm summers, mild winters, and mostly sunny days
First-Year Admissions Evaluation
High school GPA
Talent or ability
Character or personal qualities
First-generation student status
Geography & state residency
Does not evaluate
Letters of recommendation
Test scores (SAT/ACT)
Race or ethnicity
Admits directly to the major
Transfer Admissions Evaluation
Essay or personal statement
Does not require
Test scores (SAT/ACT)
High school transcript
Statement of good standing from prior college
October 1 – November 30
First-year application period
Transfer application period
Regular Decision only
Fall Admission only
December 1 – January 31
School of the Arts auditions/portfolios submission period
$38,000 / year
California resident total cost
$69,000 / year
Non-resident total cost
CA resident tuition:
$13,100 / year
$44,130 / year
$3,500 / year
Housing & meal plan:
$17,500 / year
~ $3,900 / year
UC Student Health Insurance Plan:
Additional $1,900 / year if not waived
Percent of financial need met (average)
$8,900 / year
Amount of merit aid awarded to students without financial need (average)
Percent of undergraduates without financial need receiving merit aid
Notable Majors & Programs
Equity & Inclusion
- Transfer housing
- Transfer Student Center
- Peer Mentors
- Transfer BOOST Summer Program
- Transfer admission rate: 38%
- Transfer matriculation rate: 30%
- Accepts ACE
- Does not accept CLEP, DSST
- Center for Black Cultures, Resources, and Research
- Latinx Resource Center
- Umoja Program
- Cross-Cultural Center
- LGBT Resource Center
- Gender-inclusive housing & restrooms
- LGBT+ housing
- Counseling Center Mentor & Mentee Program
- David Bohnett Cyber Center
Top: Aerial view of the UC Irvine campus. Photo by Jacob Boomsma / Shutterstock.
Bottom: UC Irvine campus with the UC Irvine Ecological Preserve in the foreground and the San Gabriel Mountains in the background. Photo by Steve Zylius, UCI.
All images courtesy of UCI (Flickr)