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Selective UC Majors

Selective and Capped Majors at Every UC

Now that the University of California has released the admission data by major for transfer students at every UC, I though it might be a fun experiment to cross-reference the admit percentages as noted on that page with the selective/capped major data that is supplied by each of the UCs.  Interestingly, things are not exactly what they seem.

But first, some definitions:

Both Berkeley and San Diego use the word capped to describe majors that have high applications and a corresponding low admit rate. In other words, too many people apply and only a small fraction get in.

The other UCs use the term selective.  Sometimes the word impacted is used.  The point is all three terms — capped, selective, impacted — are interchangeable, and mean that the designated majors will:

  • have a lower than average admit rate
  • be more competitive
  • have a higher admitted GPA when compared with other majors at that UC (except for creative arts, which replace portfolios for the GPA)

Essentially, when trying to determine how selective a major is, one need only look at the admit rate.  Berkeley’s Bioengineering has an admit rate of 4%, while French has an admit rate of 56%.  Which one’s easier to get into? Which one will demand a higher GPA?

So the general rule is a low admit rate equals a more selective major. What’s interesting (as I noted above) is that the selective major lists from the various UCs leave out a fair portion of other equally-low admit majors .We were never able to track this before as the the UCs kept these figures close to the vest.

But now that we can track things, I have compiled a subjective list blending both the publicly-posted selective majors (per each UC) with majors noted on the UC data page that have similar admit data.  This is my list. It’s not definitive, but it should give you an idea of the majors that will require you to up your game. (Berkeley stopped posting the capped list a few years back. You can attempt to find it by going pain-stakingly through each major — which I did not do. I found the old list.)

  KEEP IN MIND, that the official capped majors at each UC will not include every major listed here. At UCSD, for instance, you must add an alternate major in your application if your first major is capped. To do that you must work off the UCSD official list. I have put an asterisk next to those, below.

Blend of Selective/Capped and Low Admit Majors, Fall 2015:


  • all Engineering majors
  • all Biological Sciences majors
  • Art 
  • Computer Science
  • Earth/Planetary Science
  • Economics
  • Environmental Economics and Policy
  • Business Administration
  • Linguistics
  • Media Studies
  • Nutritional Science
  • Operations Research and Management
  • Political Economy
  • Psychology
  • Public Health
  • Social Welfare
  • Statistics


  • all majors in the College of Engineering
  • all majors in the College of Biological Sciences 
  • the following majors in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences:
    • Biotechnology
    • Viticulture and Enology
  • The following majors in the College of Letters and Science:
    • Computer Science
    • Psychology


  • Biological Sciences
  • Business Administration
  • Business Information Management
  • Chemistry
  • Computer Game Science
  • Computer Science ad Engineering
  • Dance
  • Education Sciences
  • Earth System Science
  • Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
  • Economics
  • Engineering
  • Environmental Science
  • Information and Computer Science
  • Math
  • Music
  • Nursing Science
  • Pharmaceutical
  • Physics
  • Psychology and Social Behavior
  • Public Health


  • all majors in Arts and Architecture 
  • all majors in Theatre, Film and TV 
  • all majors in engineering
  • all majors biological sciences
  • Astrophysics
  • Biochemistry
  • Business Economics
  • Communication Studies
  • Economics
  • English
  • Environmental Science
  • Global Studies
  • Human Biology and Society
  • International Development Studies
  • Mathematics/Economics
  • Mathematics, Financial Actuarial
  • Nursing
  • Political Science
  • Psychology
  • Sociology


  • all biology majors
  • all engineering majors
  • Business Administration
  • Computer Science
  • Environmental Science
  • Geology
  • History
  • History/Administrative Studies
  • History/Law and Society
  • Neuroscience
  • Psychology
  • Psychology/Law and Society
  • Public Policy
  • Sociology
  • Sociology/Administrative Studies
  • Sociology/Law and Society

San Diego

  • all Biological Science majors*
  • Computer Science
  • Economics*
  • Environmental Systems
  • Mathematics*
  • Jacobs School of Engineering – all majors in these departments:*
    • Bioengineering
    • Computer Science and Engineering
    • Electrical and Computer Engineering
    • Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
    • NanoEngineering
    • Structural Engineering

*You MUST choose an alternate major if you choose one of these majors.

Santa Barbara 

  • all Biological Sciences majors
  • all majors in College of Creative Studies
  • all Engineering majors
  • Computer Science

Santa Cruz

  • all Art majors 
  • all Engineering majors
  • all Biological Science majors
  • Applied Physics
  • Astrophysics
  • Business Management Economics
  • Chemistry
  • Computer Science
  • Computer Game Design
  • Ecology and Evolution
  • Economics
  • Economics/Mathematics
  • Global Economics
  • Human Biology
  • Marine Biology
  • Plant Sciences
  • Physics
  • Physics Education
  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Technology and Information Management

NOTE: UC Merced did not appear to have data.

To see a Youtube video on these selective majors, click here.

This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. Hello, I am a current senior who is drafting her application. Do these capped majors only apply to transfers or do they apply to incoming freshmen as well?

    1. Capped/selective majors apply to everyone. As a potential freshman, what I suggest is to pick another major that isn’t impacted when you apply. You can always switch later.

  2. Just wondering where you got that number for Berkeley’s bioengineering acceptance rate from? 4% seems very low, but it may be correct. I haven’t been able to find exact stats anywhere.

  3. I was accepted to my alternative major at UCI, instead of Computer Science. I asked them and this is what they replied to me:
    “You may change your major through your myadmission
    portal starting 4/1/17. However, Computer Science
    is a capped major and so you won’t be able to
    change your major to Computer science. ”
    This really stressed me out since they said I won’t be able to change my major to CS. I’m an AP CS student and I’m very confident that I want to major in CS. Can you advice me of what should I do? It’s also my first choice school…

      1. My son will be a fall 2020 freshman and we are applying to UC’s now. Did you ever get the chance to update this data – I find it extremely helpful!
        – Jim

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Lindy is an independent UC admissions consultant, who works with both transfers and freshmen. She also has just completed her first novel, a supernatural thriller set in San Francisco.

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