UCSD tightens rules on majors, favoring Calif. students over foreigners

At least one University of California campus is unwinding a decade of preference for higher-tuition generated by foreign students.

After years of a growing international student population at the University of California, California residents are seeing a greater emphasis put on themselves over their international counterparts with new rules at one university giving them an advantage.

New rules regarding selective majors at UC San Diego signal the UC system’s recent intent to prioritize California residents. 


The big picture: UC San Diego updated its rules for students looking to change majors and choose a selective major. 

  • A selective major is one that limits enrollment. Majors with selective status at UC San Diego are the School of Biological Sciences, Data Science, Public Health and all engineering majors. 
  • Per the rules, currently enrolled students who want to switch into a selective major will be able to apply once per year between the summer and fall quarters, with California residents receiving a boost. 

Go deeper: UC San Diego will use a point system that awards one point each for having a 3.0 GPA or higher in the major screening courses, California residents, Pell Grant eligibility and first-generation college status. 

  • That means an international student could have a 4.0 GPA but still rank far behind students from California who have far worse grades. 
  • Under the rules, a California with lacking grades could get in the selective major for being from California, for being eligible for the Pell Grant and for being a first-generation college status. 

Why it matters: While the rules only apply to students who are already enrolled at UC San Diego, the rules signal a shift in serving Californians over international students that has been celebrated by the system as a whole. 

  • UC enrollment data shows that the number of undergraduate international students had been under 3,000 total up until 2007, but that number quickly shot up by 2021 to be over 10,000 students in total. 
  • The rise in international students continued to climb year after year, reaching a peak of 27,183 in 2019. 
  • California resident enrollment climbed during that period as well, but 2020 began a marked shift in the UC system prioritizing California residents over international students. 
  • International student enrollment started to decline in 2020 and has come down to 20,871 in the fall of 2023. Meanwhile California resident enrollment grew from 185,639 in 2019 to 194,571 last fall. 

What they’re saying: UC President Michael Drake emphasized to the UC Board of Regents in January when discussing the new enrollment data that the system is making an effort to prioritize Californians, especially those from underrepresented groups. 

  • “These accomplishments are reflective of the commitment and hard work of our staff, faculty and campus leaders – all of whom are working diligently to expand opportunity for California students and support them during their time at the University,” Drake said at the time. “We’re proud of these milestones and will continue to push forward on goals set forth in the state budget and our compact with the governor.”
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