University of California Irvine

Written by: Lisa Bleich & Alex Leventhal

UCI is a sprawling campus. Most students get around on bicycles or electric scooters. In fact the center campus probably has more bike paths than pedestrian paths. There’s a big beautiful green circular center quad called Aldrich Park, and the campus buildings all form a circle around this area. It’s almost like a web or a spoke that allows students to go to any part of campus through the center part of campus. 

campus view of UC Irvine

Most of the buildings have the mid century “Brutalist” California architecture, but there are also a lot of modern buildings particularly in the engineering and sciences section–there is also a very nice arts building and arts center. The campus is self-contained, with a movie theater, Target, Starbucks and Boba shop right on campus.

We also saw little robots called Zot Bots delivering food across campus via apps. There are also a lot of tech opportunities available to students given Irvine’s designation as a tech hub.


We bumped into an engineering professor. She said the students were very strong and there were also students from out of state (20%) as UC Irvine continues to rise in ranking. She herself graduated from UCLA, and thought the UCI students were increasingly comparable.  There are several undergraduate engineering and computer science buildings right around Aldridge Park, the circular quad that connects all the buildings. There is also a brand new engineering building for research.

UC Irvine is strong in the STEM fields, business, art, and humanities. They also have a strong creative writing minor.  Our tour guide, Sarah, a humanities major and creative writing minor from NJ, said her favorite class was Drugs and the Brain, which focuses on how drugs work in the brain and why they make you feel good or bad.  It also covered  how withdrawal works and she learned a lot about brain chemistry.  This class was one of the 10 General Educational requirements.  She also recommended taking the Humanities Core course even if you are not a humanities major because it counts for seven of the 10 GE requirements. She said the class covers history, English and pretty much everything under humanities. The theme changes every three years.  When she took the course the theme was Animals, People, and Power.  Now the theme is World Building, which culminates in a 15-page  research paper.  Since  UCI is a research institution, this class was a great place to start because you get hands on help from your professor every step of the way, and there’s a lot of leeway to decide what you want to write about.  For example, one of her friends wrote about SpongeBob, and she wrote about the Pixar movie Turning Red.

UCI has a strong entrepreneurship center that encourages students to build businesses around problems they’d like to solve.  Research is also big on campus and students have the opportunity to participate in research across multiple majors.  

The most competitive majors are Nursing (1.3% acceptance rate), computer science and business. Thirty percent of students graduate with a degree in social sciences.  Pre-med is also popular and 70% of bioscience majors go onto medical school. 

Social Life

campus view of UC Irvine

UCI is a quiet campus, and our tour guide admitted that many students go home for the weekend and there can be a commuter feel.  That said, you can definitely find events if you look for them. It’s not like some schools where you step out of your dorm and there’s always a party or festival.  The student government, called ASCII, hosts a lot of events like dances, jazz band performances and well attended live music concerts. UCI had just had their Homecoming festival which is another really fun tradition, and alumni attend so you can meet grads, ask them questions and get their perspectives on the school and their career choices. Our tour guide communicated that homebodies and introverts can feel right at home at UCI, and for those who are more extroverted, you just need to put yourself out there.

UCI does not have a football team, but they do have strong D1 volleyball, water polo and basketball teams with the Anteater mascot.  Even though this is not a huge sports school, there are many active clubs.  Of the 600 clubs offered, golf is quite popular given the access to surrounding courses, and our tour guide also mentioned that Fashion and Lion Dancing (Chinese cultural) Clubs are also quite popular. 

Greek life is also very small on camps with roughly 5% of the student body participating in Greek life.  Eighty percent of first years live on campus but that number drops significantly over the next three years.

When Alex and I were eating lunch in the cafeteria, even though students filled the tables, we were the loudest people in the cafeteria!  The calm student body matches the serene campus, filled with tall, beautiful Eucalyptus trees.

Student Body

UCI students have a laid back vibe, with sweatpants, hoodies, and electric scooters everywhere. As mentioned, there are a fair amount of commuters looking for a quiet experience. The school boasts their own serene gardens, which are then used as a food source for campus eating options.

The school has a huge focus on research, is strong in the arts, and biggest majors are bio sciences and computer science. If you are a gamer, you will have found your mecca, as the school has a lot of gaming enthusiasts, and there are many gaming companies in the Southern California area for professional connections.  And in true Southern California fashion, there are beach volleyball courts that add to the relaxed feel of the UCI student experience.  

80% of the students come from California, with 13% international and 7% domestic out-of-state students. 

Surrounding Area

Right outside of campus there is a little shopping center with a Target, Trader Joe’s, In-N-Out Burger and a Taco Bell. The campus is located 10 minutes from Newport Beach and all of the beach communities along the Pacific Coast Highway are an easy drive or bike including Laguna Beach, Costa Corona Del Mar, Balboa Park, etc.  

Fashion Island, a huge outdoor shopping center, is an easy ten minute drive.  Irvine is home to many biotechnology companies, Frito Lay and other Fortune 500 companies.  Students will not lack for things to do from exploring local hikes, beaches, bike paths, sailing, and all the So.Cal lifestyle experiences.

Admissions and Financial Aid

Admissions to UCI is competitive. Most admitted students are in the top 10% of their high school class. 

Weighted GPA

First-Year Median: 4.2
First-Year Middle 25% – 75%: 4.07-4.28

Unweighted GPA

First-Year Median: 3.95
First-Year Middle 25% – 75%: 3.86-4.00

UC Irvine is a Hispanic Serving Institution (25%+ student are Hispanic) and an Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions (AANAPISI)

The overall admissions rate  is 25.7% for incoming freshman and 43.5% for transfer students.  UC Irvine, like all the UCs, admit students based on their A-G subject requirements.  They provide detailed information about which classes from California high schools meet the requirements and which ones would be counted toward honors.  They do not have the same data for out-of-state applicants but do provide guidelines. The admissions criteria are higher for out of state students, requiring a minimum GPA of 3.4.  Here is a comprehensive guide to UC admissions by the numbers.

UCI, along with all other UCs, is test blind. They will however, review test scores after students are admitted for placement purposes.  

UCI does a comprehensive review; they want to get an idea of what your personality is like and whether or not you will thrive on campus. The activities section and the Personal Insight Questions (PIQs) play a critical role in the admission process.  The UC application allows for students to list up to 20 activities, awards, work experiences, community service, etc on their application. There are eight PIQ questions of which students answer four. 

The most competitive majors are nursing (1.9% acceptance rate), computer science, and biological science. 

UCI provides need to 75% of its students.  UCI is part of the California Tuition Stability Plan, which freezes tuition and fees for up to six years from the initial date of enrollment.


UC Irvine is a great school for students who want strong academics, enjoy the outdoors and beauty of Southern California lifestyle.  It’s also a good option for students who are self-starters or prefer a quieter college experience in an amazing location close to beaches, hiking, shopping, and other beach towns. 

UC Irvine

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