University of San Francisco (USF)
The University of San Francisco (USF, or USFCA) is a private Jesuit university in the Lone Mountain neighborhood of San Francisco, near Golden Gate Park and the Haight-Ashbury. Founded in 1855, it is among the oldest universities in California. It is a medium-sized university with a wide variety of majors, courses, residential communities, academic enrichment programs, and community service opportunities. It is recognized as one of the most ethnically and racially diverse national universities in the US, but its high tuition and other costs make it unaffordable for many lower and middle income families, while being less diverse than many public universities in California.
Its location on Lone Mountain in San Francisco gives it outstanding views over the city in all directions, and easy access to Golden Gate Park where students can enjoy green space and concert venues. However, the campus buildings on the surprisingly compact campus are generally not too glamorous; many look dated and in need of a facelift.
- Students who thrive
- Students who may have challenges
- Successful applicants
- How the application process handles majors
- Honors College
- Academic support
- Support for disabilities & learning differences
- Housing & transportation
- Social life & recreation
- Athletics & campus spirit
- Graduation requirements
Students who thrive
USF has three major selling points: it’s a medium-sized university, with a strong foundation in community service and the Jesuit religious tradition, in one of the most interesting and eclectic cities in the world. Students at USF will not need a car to navigate San Francisco’s many communities and neighborhoods, where they will find grungy record shops, Golden Gate Park and other green spaces, upscale restaurants and malls, thrift stores and hole-in-the-wall eateries from a hundred different culinary traditions. Although USF offers several Division I varsity sports for students to support, it doesn’t compete in a major conference or have a football team—which may be just right for a student who’s looking for the rest of what USF and the city have to offer.
Students who are interested in service, city life, and a tight knight student community will do well at USF, especially if they can handle the cool, foggy weather that pours over the city from the Pacific Ocean most of the year.
Attending college at USF and in the Bay Area is expensive, but if your family can afford it, or if you receive a very strong financial aid package, it will be a great experience. The university’s numerous programs for Black scholars and emphasis on Black student success, including generous financial aid options for high performing applicants, may make it a particularly attractive option.
USF offers up to 2 semesters of deferred enrollment — perfect for students interested in taking a gap year. With both Early Decision and nonrestrictive Early Action application options, students can apply and enroll on their preferred timelines.
Students who may have challenges
San Francisco is an amazing city, but it isn’t for everyone. The weather, particular in the area where USF is located, can be grey, foggy, and cold for much of the year. It’s densely populated, expensive, and struggling to find equitable and humane solutions to the ongoing housing and homelessness crisis. The neighborhoods around USF are quieter and cleaner than many of the city’s other districts, with easy access to the open green space of Golden Gate Park, but the effects of San Francisco’s overlapping policy struggles can be felt everywhere.
USF is not a large school, and it doesn’t have a strong tradition of athletic or campus spirit. Students who want to spend their weekends supporting Division I sports teams with a big crowd of their fellow students may be disappointed here.
It is also a very expensive private university, so applicants who aren’t offered a large financial aid award, or who will have to rely on big loans to meet cost, may want to consider a more affordable option.
If you are looking for a beautiful university with modern facilities, USF may not be very impressive to you. Although it has some beautiful new buildings, such as the John Lo Schiavo Center for Science Innovation and the Sobrato Center, which houses the War Memorial Gym, most of USF’s campus buildings look dated and in need of a facelift.
USF is selective, but very achievable: about 70% of applicants are admitted. Admissions officers look specifically for applicants who can articulate how they will contribute to USF’s Jesuit mission of community involvement, service, and social responsibility. A waitlist is offered, but the admissions rate from the waitlist is only about 4%.
The university admits students with an average unweighted GPA of 3.65.
High school course requirements:
- 4 years English
- 3 years math
- 3 years social sciences
- 2 years lab sciences: biology OR physics (plus chemistry for nursing applicants)
- 2 years foreign language
USF uses a test-optional admissions policy, meaning that students can choose to submit their SAT or ACT scores or not without being penalized. For students who choose to submit (less than 10% of applicants), USF superscores the exams, meaning that it combines the highest scores from each of the test categories across all sittings of the exam. So a student who scores higher in math at one sitting and higher in reading comprehension at another will have those scores combined for the purposes of USF admission.
Importantly, applicants who do not submit test scores will still be eligible for merit scholarships consideration.
SAT & ACT scores:
- Mid-50% SAT Composite score range: 1290-1350
- Mid-50% ACT Composite score range: 27-31
Since a small proportion of applicants submit scores, and because USF encourages test score submission only for those who exceed the average fall class profile, these scores likely represent the upper range of scores among all applicants — not the average for all incoming students. It also likely leads to score inflation, which may be designed to manipulate USF’s college rankings.
Applying and being admitted to USF via Early Decision can be very beneficial for students who are certain they want to go here. ED admitted students get to register for classes in April, well before any other first-years; have first choice for housing; and are guaranteed to be paired with their chosen roommate, even if that person did not apply ED.
USF also offers up to 2 semesters of deferred enrollment, so applicants interested in taking a gap year will have the opportunity to follow through on those plans if admitted.
The average GPA for admitted nursing students is 3.96, with an average SAT score of 1350. The nursing program has an admission rate of 22%, much lower than the university overall. All high school course requirements are the same, with the exception that chemistry is a requirement for nursing applicants in addition to either biology or chemistry.
Nursing applicants fill out the same application as all other applicants, but must declare nursing upfront. It is extremely difficult or impossible to transfer into nursing from a different major after being admitted, so interested students are strongly encouraged to declare nursing on their application if that is what they are interested in pursuing. It is also advisable to apply to several universities offering direct-entry nursing in case the student is not admitted to their first choice program.
USF is a good option for transfer students, with a 60% transfer admission rate and achievable academic requirements for admission: 24 semester units completed and a minimum college GPA of 2.5. USF accepts ACE, CLEP, and DSST units for transfer as well.
Importantly, USF automatically considers all transfer students for merit scholarships based on academic achievement at their prior institutions. Transfer students are offered scholarships in the following amounts based on the GPA cutoffs listed below:
- GPA 3.75+: $16,000 per year
- GPA 3.50-3.74: $14,000 per year
- GPA 3.20-3.49: $10,000 per year
- GPA 2.90-3.19: $7,000 per year (domestic students only)
Interested transfer students can attend USF’s Transfer Info Session and make a Transfer Admission Appointment. At the end of the appointment, eligible students will be made an on-the-spot conditional admission offer.
Transferring to Nursing
USF offers direct-entry nursing at two campuses: the main San Francisco campus and its satellite campus in Sacramento, in partnership with the VA. Both campuses are more selective than the main university: the San Francisco campus admits about 17% of nursing applicants, while the Sacramento campus accepts about 25% of applicants. The nursing program is designed for bachelor’s students with no prior bachelor’s degree; it is not designed for students seeking a second bachelor’s degree.
The San Francisco campus requires a minimum cumulative college GPA of 3.30, while the Sacramento campus requires a 3.0. Both campuses require students to have good academic and disciplinary standing at their current institution. Transfer applicants must have completed 30 semester units or 45 quarter units, including 7 of the 11 USF Core Curriculum requirements, by the time they transfer.
Transfer students must also complete the following specific courses or their equivalents:
- Microbiology with a lab
- Anatomy with a lab
- Physiology with a lab
- General or Introduction to Psychology
- Introduction to Statistics (Sacramento only)
- Introduction to Sociology (Sacramento only)
The transfer application deadline for nursing is March 1.
Transferring to Engineering
Engineering accepts transfers only in the fall semester, and has specific course and GPA requirements. Each student must have a cumulative college GPA of at least 3.0, with a term GPA in the most recent college term of at least 2.0. Additionally, each student must have completed the following course or their equivalents:
- Calculus 1 & 2
- Physics 1
- Physics 2 OR General Chemistry
- 4 out of the 11 USF Core Curriculum courses (not including A2 Rhetoric & Composition)
Additionally, transfer students who want to graduate within 4 semesters at USF must have already also completed the following courses:
- Calculus 3
- Physics 2
- General Chemistry 1
- General Chemistry 2 if applying for the Environmental Engineering Concentration
- 10 out of the 11 USF Core Curriculum Courses (not including A2 Rhetoric & Composition)
USF looks for applicants with excellence in STEM, and a strong personal statement explaining their interest in engineering.
How the application process handles majors
Students apply undeclared by default, but are free to express a non-binding general area of academic interest if they want. Depending on the content of their application and their level of interest in a given field, this may be a wise strategy for some students.
There is one exception: students who want to enter the nursing or engineering programs must apply directly into the major. It can be difficult or impossible to transfer into nursing or engineering from another major, so students interested in these programs should consider applying to other schools as well to ensure they have options when it comes time to decide on an acceptance offer.
Despite being a relatively small university, USF offers a wide range of courses and majors across the liberal arts and sciences, business, engineering, and direct-entry nursing. Around 75% of undergraduate classes have fewer than 30 students, and the student-to-faculty ratio is on the lower side at 13:1.
USF requires all students to complete an 11-course Core Curriculum in the following areas:
- Foundations of Communication
- Math & the Sciences
- Philosophy, Theology, and Religious Studies
- Social Sciences
- Visual & Performing Arts
Additionally, first-year and transfer students have the option of taking seminars in Core Curriculum subjects to acclimate to the university and get to know their classmates better.
USF offers numerous dual degree 4+1 and 3+2 programs, including:
- Biotechnology 4+1
- Computer Science 4+1
- International & Development Economics 4+1
- International Studies 4+1
- Teacher Preparation Dual Degree 4+1
- Physics + Engineering 3+2
A 4+1 program typically enrolls students for four years of a Bachelor’s degree, plus a one-year Master’s in their field, while 3+2 programs offer two Bachelor’s degrees in five years.
The university also offers three Special Programs: the Black Scholars Program, which offers a four-year full-tuition scholarship to all of its admitted students; majors and courses in the Department of Rhetoric & Language; and the St. Ignatius Institute.
The St. Ignatius Institute is an academic program and Living-Learning Community within the university. Students who join the institute have access to four years of on-campus housing, several enriching and exclusive electives, immersion trips to local and remote sites, and community service opportunities. Students at the institute participate in a unique curriculum emphasizing theology, philosophy and ethics. The St. Ignatius curriculum is completed alongside the student’s chosen major in any discipline, including nursing.
In line with the university’s Jesuit roots and mission, community-engaged learning is an important aspect of USF education. Students work with local organizations on projects in the city, in fields from pollination biology to politics and community organizing, to the intersection of faith and nonviolence movements.
Students have the opportunity to engage in a unique undergraduate research program through the university-owned State Route Farms, a property consisting of mixed woodland habitat and farmland at Pine Gulch Creek. Research, workshops, courses and retreats for USF students and faculty all take place at the Farms. Two interesting courses there are a Classical Studies course comparing ancient and modern farming, and a Pollination Biology course. Students can also take nature outings at the Farms through the Environmental Studies program, or participate in community garden outreach events with San Francisco community members.
After regular applications are submitted, the highest performing applicants are invited to submit an Honors College application. Current USF students can also apply if there is space in the program in a given semester.
Honors students enjoy numerous benefits relative to the rest of the student body:
- Honors College classes enroll 20 students or fewer, and engage faculty from across disciplines and throughout the university, including from the graduate colleges.
- Honors students get priority course registration.
- Honors students receive distinction on their transcript and at graduation.
- Some core curriculum requirements can be completed in smaller honors-only courses.
- The Honors College Forum offers courses with high academic rigor and unique interdisciplinary topics.
- Honors students have the opportunity to meet and engage with the J. Paul Getty Distinguished Visiting Artists in Residence each semester.
- Honors students have access to the Global JumpStart Programs to study abroad with other honors college students.
A small number of incoming Honors students are awarded the J. Paul Getty Fellowship to support educational activities, study abroad, internships, research assistantships, and specialized equipment.
Each student at USF is paired with a faculty member who provides academic advising for four years. Any student who decides to change majors is also assigned a second faculty advisor to help with the transition, though as a reminder, students cannot transfer into the nursing or engineering programs after starting at USF. First-generation students also receive an individual advisor, and students in pre-health tracks have access to specialized advising as well. Black students have access to advising and other academic support through the Black Resource Center.
One-on-one academic coaching is offered through the Center for Academic & Student Achievement (CASA).
Additionally, three field-based academic support centers offer specific services related to their subjects:
- The Learning Center offers one-on-one coaching, workshops and online resources across a variety of subject areas.
- The Writing Center offers one-on-one interactive conferences to support students’ writing in different disciplines.
- The Speaking Center provides coaching in public speaking, including speeches, oral presentations, team presentations, and visual aid demonstrations.
Multilingual and English-learning students can receive personalized language support through special courses and the Conversation Partners program, which pairs English learners with highly proficient or native English speakers for regular conversational practice.
Support for disabilities & learning differences
Although the K&W Guide gives USF a mid-tier ranking of Coordinated Services, our own review indicates that USF goes beyond what many other colleges offer for students with disabilities or learning differences.
Through Student Disability Services, USF’s disability services center, students can receive high school to college transition support, including pre-admission counseling, new student orientation, and priority registration. Very few other West Coast colleges offer similarly focused transition services for incoming students.
Other accommodations students may be eligible for:
- academic guidance
- alternative testing
- auxiliary aids and services
- alternative formats
- assistive technology
- course substitutions in foreign languages and math
- residential accommodations
- transportation/parking accommodations
- referral and liaison services to outside agencies
There are no added costs for services to support students with learning differences, ADHD, or ASD.
Students can receive one-on-one academic coaching through the Center for Academic & Student Achievement (CASA). Students can also find learning support at the Learning, Writing, and Speaking Centers and Black Resource Center, discussed in greater detail under Academic Support, above.
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.
USF meets a relatively low percentage of students’ financial need — only 64%. Financial aid packages tend to total around $40,000 on average, including loans, which is less than half of the $84,500 annual cost. Of students who don’t have financial need, about 75% receive merit aid totaling around $20,000 per year on average.
Students admitted to the Black Scholars Program receive renewable four-year full-tuition scholarships.
USF is not a very generous school, while having high annual costs for students. As a result, according to the New York Times Upshot, the university enrolls higher numbers of students from the highest income families than other universities in California, and than other comparable universities in the US. It also sits lower on the NYT Upshot’s economic mobility index than other colleges.
Housing & transportation
A large majority of first-years and around half of all undergrads live on campus. No matter where a student chooses to live while attending USF, housing will be expensive. The housing market is very competitive in the Bay Area, so students living off-campus often have to group up with several other students in order to find affordable rents. Living off-campus is more common for third and fourth years, due in part to USF’s inability to provide four years of on-campus housing to all students. (Students who are interested in the Jesuit tradition and want to live on campus for all four years should consider the St. Ignatius Institute LLC; see more below.)
USF offers gender-inclusive on-campus housing for interested students, but due to limited supply, the university uses a lottery system to allocate those units. The lottery is open to any student interested in the principles of gender-inclusive housing, including trans, nonbinary, genderqueer, transitioning, and intersex students, as well as cis queer students and allies.
Students can also choose to live in one of five Living-Learning Communities in Toler Hall. LLCs offer a community-oriented residential and academic environment.
- Martín-Baró Scholars, for first years, focuses on social justice learning, including a service-learning project.
- Marshall-Riley LLC, for first and second years, focuses on the history of intellectual and political traditions of Black Americans, and engages with the Bay Area Black Community.
- Esther Madríz Diversity Scholars, for second years, analyzes the culture of hip-hop to explore issues of diversity, inequality, social justice, and social change.
- Erasmus Community, for second and third years, explores the intertextuality of ethics, service, and justice at the local and global levels.
- St. Ignatius Institute, for students in all years, explores spirituality in the Jesuit tradition, and guarantees on-campus housing for all four years.
Public transportation in San Francisco and around the USF campus is very robust. Students can easily get anywhere they want in the city via the local Muni buses and trains, or around the Bay Area more broadly on BART and CalTrain. The area around the USF campus is served by Muni buses, and lies close to the Muni N Line (Ocean Beach). Every USF student receives a free Muni pass to ride local buses and trains; Clipper Cards to ride BART and CalTrain must be purchased separately.
It is very expensive to park in San Francisco and on the USF campus, and parking is in very short supply, so students are encouraged not to bring a car unless they absolutely need one. Parking violations also result in very expensive tickets, so even with a parking pass, it can be risky to rely on a car.
USF is a small university with a strong gender imbalance: there are about twice as many women enrolled as men. In our perusal of student reviews, we didn’t find many comments—complaints or otherwise—about this imbalance, but it may be something to consider when thinking about what kind of a social experience you want out of college.
Incoming first-years and transfer students are invited to USF’s Welcome Weekends each Fall. In 2023, students took part in a watercolor class, went together to a Giants baseball game at AT&T Park, went boating in Golden Gate Park, and visited a farmer’s market.
In reviews, students have commented that there is much more to do off campus than on. San Francisco is one of the most vibrant and energetic cities in the world, with communities, cultures, and activities for everyone. Golden Gate Park, which is only blocks from campus, offers wide open green space for walking, running, biking, sunbathing (weather permitting), and other outdoor activities. It is also the home to several concerts and music festivals throughout the year, including Hardly Strictly, a bluegrass festival, and Outside Lands, the world’s largest independent music festival with music ranging from jam and funk to hip hop and dance to rock, pop, and indie. Several museums also operate in the park, including the DeYoung Museum and California Academy of Sciences.
Other nearby neighborhoods include Haight-Ashbury (also known as the Haight), once a locus of ‘60s counterculture and music, and the Inner Richmond, a mostly suburban neighborhood with lots of restaurants along Geary Blvd. To the north are the Presidio and Golden Gate Bridge, and the Marina District, a hotspot for tourists and Bay watchers. Students can visit the Mission District and Castro to the south in about 10 minutes by rideshare for nightlife.
Greek chapters have a presence at USF, but a fairly small one. Only about 5% of men and 10% of women join a fraternity or sorority.
Interested students can participate in Army ROTC on campus, or travel across the Bay to UC Berkeley for Air Force ROTC.
Athletics & campus spirit
USF is a founding member of the NCAA West Coast Conference (WCC) and competes at a Division I level in several sports. However, the WCC is not a major conference, and USF does not field a Division I football team, so the athletic spirit culture is more muted here.
If you’re interested in learning more about USF student life from the perspective of a varsity baseball player, we recommend checking out Jesse Barron @JesseBarronn on YouTube. Although he has now graduated, he produced a YouTube vlog covering all four years at USF, and includes content relating to athletics, academics, and social life.
USF also offers intramurals, club sports coached by former college-level players, outdoor activities, and health-related recreation on campus. Among the latter are Exercise Is Medicine On Campus (EIMOC) and programs at the Koret Health and Recreation Center.
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San Francisco, California
Motto: Pro Urbe et Universitate
(For the City and the University)
Mascot: The Don
NCAA Division I WCC
Private Jesuit university
70% admission rate
3,700 graduate students
445 full-time faculty
13:1 student-faculty ratio
75% of classes under 30 students
Temperate climate with foggy summers and mild winters
First-Year Admissions Evaluation
- High school course rigor
- High school GPA
- Application essay
- Character or personal qualities
- Volunteer experience
- Demonstrated interest
- Class rank
- SAT/ACT scores, if submitted
- Letters of recommendation
- Admissions interview
- Extracurricular activities
- Talent or ability
- First generation student status
- Legacy student status
- Race or ethnicity
- Work experience
Does not evaluate
- California or local residency
- Religious affiliation
Transfer Admissions Evaluation
- College transcript(s)
- Essay or personal statement
- High school transcript
- SAT/ACT scores
- Statement of good standing from prior institution
Early Decision I
Nov. 1: ED I deadline
Nov. 1: ED I financial aid deadline
Nov. 15: Supplemental materials deadline
Nov. 1: EA deadline (nonrestrictive)
Nov. 1: EA financial aid deadline
Nov. 15: Supplemental materials deadline
Early Decision II
Jan. 15: ED II deadline
Feb. 1: ED II financial aid deadline
Feb. 1: Supplemental materials deadline
Jan. 15: RD deadline
Feb. 1: RD financial aid deadline
Feb. 10: Supplemental materials deadline
Feb. 1: FAFSA deadline
Mar. 1: Fall Admit priority deadline
Mar. 1: Fall Admit FAFSA deadline
Nov. 1: Spring Admit priority deadline
$84,500 / year
$58,000 / year
Housing & meal plan:
$20,000 / year
~ $6,500 / year
Aetna Student Plan:
$3,745 / year (2023-24) if not waived
Percent of financial need met (average)
$19,550 / year
Amount of merit aid awarded to students without financial need (average)
Percent of undergraduates without financial need receiving merit aid
Notable Majors & Programs
Art History & Museum Studies, BA
Biotechnology (4+1), BS/PSM
Business Analytics, BSBA
Computer Science (4+1), BS/MS
Critical Diversity Studies, BA
Data Science, BS
Entrepreneurship & Innovation, BSBA
Hospitality Management, BSBA
International & Development Economics (4+1), BS/MS
International Studies (4+1), BA/MA
Japanese Studies, BA
Management, BA or BSBA
Performing Arts & Social Justice, BA
Physics + Engineering (3+2), BS
Teacher Preparation Dual Degree (4+1)
Undergraduate Teacher Credential Program
Equity & Inclusion
- Transfer admission rate: 60%
- Accepts ACE, CLEP, DSST
- Transfer Info Session
- Transfer Admissions Appointment
- K&W Guide: CS (middle tier)
- Student Disability Services
- No added costs for LD/ADHD/ASD services
- Specialists & coaches available
- Course substitutions possible in foreign languages and math
- High overall campus diversity
- High Black student enrollment
- Indigenous students underrepresented
- Black Scholars Program
- Black Resource Center
- Marshall-Riley Living-Learning Community
- First-generation student housing