By Lola Hadley

Long coastal stretches, warm valleys, scorching deserts, and the beautiful mountain ranges that we get to call home — stereotypes about California are abundant. Another popular stereotype for California residents is that most high school students should go to a California State University (CSU) or University of California (UC) school. Yet these West Coast Ivy League schools, which are the college dream for many kids, are almost impossible to get into.


For those planning on going to college there are the obvious options — junior college, the classic in-state option, out-of-state, or abroad. With in-state prices being slightly cheaper and a day’s drive from home, parents often pressure their students to consider going to these schools. The tuition at UCLA, for example, is $71,000 for out of state versus $38,500 for in state per year; almost half the price. However, the acceptance rate for UCLA is 8.6%, not that much higher than Stanford’s rate of 4.3%. Other UCs have a higher acceptance rate — UC Santa Barbara is 30%, about the same as CSU San Diego — but those schools are still hard to get into.

The 10 UCs are highly competitive and the price shows. The 23 CSUs offer just as good an education but are at a slightly lower cost. For example, Chico State’s tuition for 2023/24 is $8,064; the nonresident tuition is currently around $20,000.

For those ambitious and competitive few, preparation for college starts at the end of middle school or the summer before your freshman year. Students put in extra hours doing extracurricular activities to set themselves apart, like volunteering, coaching youth sports teams, interning, and working. All leading up to a few teeth-clenching seconds to open an email to see if all that hustle got them where they wanted to go. College is a significant chapter in a young person’s life. California schools that are held to a higher standard can make this pressure much more intense.

A perfect GPA, sprawling list of enrichments, millions of hours of community service, and flawless entry essays should be the ticket to one of these pedestal schools, right? For Truckee High School senior Sawyer Geary, all that was not enough. With a perfect record and above a 4.0 GPA, but apparently too few AP classes, he was declined acceptance to UCSB and UC San Diego, while one of his peers with almost the exact same grades and a very similar transcript to Geary but with more AP classes, was granted acceptance to the very same school.

“I did feel pressure to apply there [UCSB]. They are great schools, great locations, and I live in California,” Geary said. “They are the best public universities in the world so I understand why they are harder to get into than a lot of other schools, including out of state. I think not taking lots of AP classes did have a small effect because a lot of colleges look to see AP classes instead because they know community college is an easier route.”

The importance of AP classes is still highly relevant. Additionally, UCs are test blind, meaning they no longer accept ACT and SAT scores. This affects admissions because students who are strong test takers rely on these scores to make themselves stand out.

Money is a large factor in the decision to go to any college, it can open or close almost any door. The generosity of the Truckee/Tahoe community, which offers hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships to local students, can help in making a decision by relieving the financial pressure.

Speaking of money, a state audit in 2016 said the UC system had sold out to out-of-state tuition, stating the school had “undermined its commitment to California resident students in exchange for revenue generated by nonresidents.” The UC 2030 plan, put in place last summer, includes plans to cut non-resident admission. In an article by the UC Newsroom, it stated, “Around one-quarter of the anticipated California enrollment growth at UC Berkeley, UCLA, and UC San Diego over the next eight years will be achieved by swapping out-of-state students with Californians.”

Interestingly, enrollment at these top California colleges has decreased in recent years. According to CalMatters, CSU’s 23 campuses have seen a decline in enrollment; in just two years they have lost 27,000 students. Seven CSU campuses are missing their state enrollment targets by 10% or more. Students are taking fewer classes and losing the need to go to the actual school. Online and asynchronous options are growing and becoming more popular.

What’s more, college may not be for everyone. In an ever-evolving world, there is becoming a newfound understanding that a college education and degree may not be needed in every industry. A degree may be helpful in climbing the corporate ladder and playing the career game, but societal evolution is making for some “wiggle room” in the situation. Going into debt is also something that students have to take into consideration when applying to college. Having student loans haunts new college graduates and adds unnecessary stress. Many students are now asking themselves if student loans are an equal exchange for a college education?

One small moment could alter the career and life that a student may have imagined for themselves, or open a thousand doors that were completely unexpected. Californians are given this opportunity to experience an amazing education at a lower cost than an out-of-state school. Or is this a pipe dream that is sold to young students? We highschoolers must decide for ourselves.

~ Lola Hadley is an ambitious high school student and aspiring journalist with millions of goals. When she isn’t obsessing over schoolwork and writing, she is painting, reading, or spending time outdoors with her family and pup.


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