"It's disappointing, it's painful, we feel terrible about turning away so many excellent students," UC Davis Undergrad Admissions Director Pamela Burnett said.
The bad economy is partly to blame. With tax revenues down, the state cannot give UC campuses the money it promised to increase enrollment.
"Unfortunately, because of the overall budget and economic situation, we haven't been able to provide that additional component for enrollment growth," California finance department spokesperson H.D. Palmer said.
State leaders also say UC should bear part of the blame. They have over-enrolled by 11,000 students over the years, leaving less room for incoming freshmen.
Nonetheless, California's money problems are taking a toll. One of the telling figures in California's budget woes lies in how much of the total cost of educating a student the state subsidizes.
Nearly two decades ago, the state chipped in more than $15,000 per UC student, or 78 percent of the total cost of his or her education. Last year, it was $9,500, just 58 percent of the total cost.
"It's out of these highly educated people that we create the new industries and we're seeing a starvation of the higher education system," UC Regent and Lieutenant Gov. John Garamendi said.
Katelyn Rowe of Carlsbad has a 4.2 grade point average, honors classes and a high school basketball title under her belt, yet UC Berkeley told her it does not have room for her until the spring
"There are a lot of overachieving students like me applying, so it's just getting more and more competitive each year," Rowe said.
Despite the budget problems, UC was still able to increase admission offers to Latino students by 4 percent and black students by 2 percent.