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Right after all the University of California (UC) and California State (Cal State) applications have been submitted, there is a brief lull before the January 1st deadlines. Many applicants contemplate, with a touch of apprehension, how their application will fare among the UCs and the more competitive Cal State programs.

Gaining admittance into the UCs and certain Cal State campuses is getting more competitive. To be in contention for a seat in the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) class of 2021 generally requires an unweighted GPA of 3.8. Moreover, competition to gain admission into either University of California, Irvine's (UCI) or UCLA’s nursing programs is keen. Should one pursue a Cal State Long Beach nursing major a "B" on the transcript in either freshman or sophomore year jeopardizes gaining admission into the program. Admission to bioengineering at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) or UCLA is as competitive as getting into an Ivy League School, and entry into UCLA’s Theater, Film, and Television program approaches medical school acceptance levels. Last year, the Mirage School of Business at UCI had over 11,000 applications for 230 openings. In short, the UC and Cal State programs are highly competitive and will become more so in the years ahead.

More challenging will be getting key classes once admitted. This means if you miss getting into a biochemistry class for sophomore year, your medical school plans might be set back a year or more.

Then there is the almost certain possibility of tuition and room and board increases in the years ahead. The UC Regents are discussing the possibility of rate increases tied to the rate of inflation beginning this coming fall, while the Cal States are scrambling to keep their system solvent. Since 2000-2001, the tuition for both systems has tripled.

To counter these trends, more than 17,500 students from California are matriculating into colleges through the Western University Exchange (WUE), which allows students to get tuition at 150% the in-state price of many member schools. This opens the door to the honor’s program at the University of Utah, one of the best in the country, and its modern dance program, which is considered equal to or better than The Juilliard School, at a tuition of $10,700. The University of New Mexico offers more than 200 majors with nationally recognized programs in Latin American studies, anthropology and photography and a solid core curriculum — all for $7,736 tuition.

For the truly adventurous Californian, there is another school warranting attention: the University of Maine, Orono. Through its Flagship Match program, U Maine will match the in-state UC tuition price ($13,500) for Californian applicants with a minimum GPA of 3.0 and ACT composite of 22. This is about 130% of the in-state Mainer price.

Kaitlyn Corral from Los Angeles County is just finishing her first semester at Maine under the auspices of the match program, though she is also on an athletic scholarship, playing goalie on the Black Bears soccer team. She is majoring in chemical engineering, which has cutting-edge research facilities such as the laboratory for surface science and technology. Kaitlyn offers some advice to prospective applicants: “The school is beautiful, the campus is gorgeous, and the professors are outstanding. Buy a really big winter coat.” If you are into the great outdoors, U Maine offers one of the top marine biology and environmental sciences programs in the country.

U Maine also has an outstanding honors program for a select 750 students offering experiential learning, small classes (most class sizes across its 5 colleges and 100 majors are under 20 students), diverse readings, with a capstone senior thesis.

When looking for undergraduate opportunities, keep in mind there are literally hundreds of places to consider beyond California, or the famous brands such as the Ivy League or Duke, and a lot of them will not break your budget and might very well expand your world beyond anything you might ever have imagined. Look hard and enjoy the adventure. There is a very large universe of colleges warranting consideration.

Ralph Becker, founder of Ivy College Prep, LLC ( and a resident of Long Beach, has been counseling students for the last 11 years. A former Yale Alumni interviewer, he has a certificate in college counseling from UCLA Extension, and has published SAT* Vocab 800.

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