Facing one of the biggest decisions in a teenager's life, Jocelin Padilla is at a loss.
A Healdsburg High School senior with a 4.0 academic average, Padilla, 17, is sorting her options for a college education.
She applied to 11 schools, was accepted by six, put on a waitlist by two, and was denied by three, including UC Berkeley.
"I really don't know where I want to go," she said. "It's stressful."
Many of the more than 5,500 graduating seniors in Sonoma County share Padilla's anxiety, facing the annual spring thumbs-up, thumbs-down verdict by school admissions officials scattered around the state and nation.
Compounding their dilemma this year is a record flood of about 600,000 applications to the nine-campus University of California and 23-school California State University systems, both battered by state budget cuts.
Also clouding the annual college rush is a double whammy of rising tuition costs and a persistent economic slump, eroding the affordability of higher education.
"The kids are still achieving," said Sharon Howell, head counselor at Casa Grande High in Petaluma. But the home equity used in the past to finance college has evaporated for many families, she said.
"That's the new reality," Howell said, noting that family job losses are also deterring "college-ready" students from enrolling in four-year schools.
The UC system, which received 126,299 freshman applications for fall admission — a record for the eighth straight year and a 19 percent increase over last year — has the capacity but not the funding to enroll more California students.
"There will be more disappointment among applicants and their families because we simply don't have the funding to increase enrollment," UC spokeswoman Dianne Klein said.
CSU's 472,000 freshman applications also are a record, topping 426,000 for the fall of 2011, of which 219,000 were accepted.
'More difficult' to meet demand
"The demand is still there; it's just getting more difficult to serve them," spokesman Mike Uhlenkamp said.
Sonoma State University received 13,112 freshman applications for fall 2012, nearly 1,000 more than last year, said Gustavo Flores, director of enrollment management.
The Rohnert Park school intends to enroll 1,800 freshmen, about the same as in the fall of 2011 and 226 more than in 2010.
As a result of the application avalanche, the UC system is now wait-listing more students than ever before, postponing a final admissions decision until June 1.
"It is frustrating," said Ever Flores, head counselor at Healdsburg High, who encourages seniors to apply to UC and CSU as well as out-of-state schools.
He's seen students who once would have been "a shoo-in" for admission by UCs like Davis, Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz wind up on waitlists this spring.
Padilla was wait-listed by UC Davis, and accepted at UC Santa Cruz and UC Irvine, as well as Sonoma, Sacramento and Chico state universities. She was rejected by the University of Pennsylvania, Scripps College in Southern California and Berkeley.
Berkeley, UCLA most elusive
Berkeley and UCLA are the toughest UC schools to get into, each admitting about 25 percent of applicants.
Admission rates at other UC schools range from 78 percent at Merced, the highest, to 68 percent at Santa Cruz, about 46 percent at Santa Barbara, Davis and Irvine, and 34 percent at San Diego.