But his 3.5 grade-point average, advanced-placement classes and his summers doing cancer research weren't enough. Banford, who aspires to be a doctor or engineer, didn't get into any UC at all.
"There isn't enough money in the system to hire professors, to have classroom space, to provide all the support services students need," said Karen Humphrey, executive director, California Postsecondary Education Commission.
The University of California received a record 134,000 applications and accepted less than 72 percent system-wide. This year, another 10,000 students were wait-listed. In the end, only 1,900 of those were offered spots.
While the high school students graduating in the top 12.5 percent of the state are supposed to be admitted to a UC, a 4.0 GPA alone is often not good enough at competitive campuses like Cal-Berkeley and UCLA.
"A lot of students are graduating with grade point averages over 4.0," said Humphrey.
The state legislature is looking at the California Master Plan for Higher Education because lawmakers are concerned the state isn't living up to its promise made 50 years ago.
"To understand what we need to do to return to a time when we can provide access to all eligible students," said state Assmb. Ira Ruskin (D-Redwood City).
One proposal would impose a severance tax on oil companies, dedicating about $1 billion a year to higher education, but tax hikes rarely get enough votes in California.
Any fix will probably not happen in time for Nicholas Banford, who's leaning toward going to college in Texas.
"It's unfortunate," said Banford. "I wanted to stay in California."
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