For a handful of future UC students, the acceptance notification they will receive March 1 will hinge on “admission by exception,” an admissions process which allows for the enrollment of several hundred incoming students annually who do not meet minimum UC academic requirements.

UC Santa Cruz, which enrolled a class of around 3,500 students in 2011, admitted 100 by exception, according to a UC Office of the President (UCOP) press release.

“To the extent which we admit students by exception — and we admit very few that way — it is almost always because of some technical shortcomings in their application,” said UCSC campus spokesperson Jim Burns.

Recent reports indicate admission by exception rates in the UC climbed recently, with a total of around 780 students admitted throughout the ten-campus system in 2011.

“Any student we admit by exception still exhibits the potential to be a successful UCSC student,” said Michael McCawley, UCSC director of student admissions. “Admission by exception provides a way for the UC to consider students who did not meet requirements but still looked like successful students.”

UC admission guidelines state applicants must complete a minimum of 15 college preparatory classes by the end of high school, earn a 3.0 grade point average (3.4 for out-of-state students) and take the SAT or ACT by no later than December of their senior year.

Admission by exception has been a part of UC policy for decades, and current university procedure allows the enrollment of 6 percent of incoming students through the process.

“We would never make exceptions in English or math — those two areas are sacred to faculty,” McCawley said.

Prior to 2011, UCSC employed an admissions process that relied on a fixed-points scale, where 14 separate criteria were weighted with point scores. UCSC has since adopted a holistic process in which applications are examined by humans rather than computers.

“We want to look at both academic and home environment, and look at the students and their peers and see what kind of high school they went to,” McCawley said. “This way, it is more of a contextualized review — there are no fixed weights or points that rate the student.’’

International students are also considered for admission by exception, as they often do not adhere to important UC exam deadlines.

“International students are not as savvy about when to take exams, and if they are done after high school, then they do not technically meet UC requirements,” McCawley said.

According to the statistics released by UCOP, almost 90 percent of students admitted to UCSC in 2011 were California residents.

Home-schooled students, who do not meet all of the technical UC requirements, are also considered by admission by exception.

“The only way we can consider them is by admission by exception, and some are top-notch students,” McCawley said.

Factors like low family income, geographical location, learning disabilities, and student responsibility during high school are taken into account in the decision-making process, McCawley said.

“Many students from [certain] socioeconomic backgrounds or from low-performing high schools are looked at,” he said. “We try to make sure that they are on par with other students, but in a technical sense, it is a way of evening the playing field.”

For students who exhibit academic readiness but attend schools with limited resources or college preparatory courses, admission by exception can provide an educational opportunity that would otherwise be unavailable.

“If we want to admit a student who comes from a school district that doesn’t provide him or her with every single course that UC requires, we have to admit this student by exception,” UCSC spokesperson Jim Burns said. “The bottom line is, we want to admit students who deserve a chance to succeed here.”