Last Minute UC Application Tips

Padya Paramita

Last Minute UC Application Tips

November 30th can sneak up on college students, especially because it is so close to the early action and early decision deadlines. Why is November 30th an important date, you ask? It is the deadline for the University of California application. With just one application round, this date is your last chance to get your materials in if you have your eyes on the following schools:

  • UC Berkeley
  • UC Davis
  • UC Los Angeles
  • UC Irvine
  • UC Merced
  • UC Riverside
  • UC San Diego
  • UC Santa Barbara
  • UC Santa Cruz

If you’ve been working hard on your UC application, and you’re not sure if you’ve done everything right, fear not. We’ve prepared some last minute UC application tips to help you make sure that you have all your bases covered.

Group Similar Activities Together

First up on our list of UC application tips, the very overwhelming Activities & Awards section. Unlike the Common App, which has a specific honors section and a separate activities section, the UCs group the following together: 

  • Coursework Other Than A-G
  • Educational Prep Programs
  • Volunteer & Community Service
  • Work Experience
  • Awards & Honors
  • Extracurricular Activities
  • Review Activities & Awards

You can add up to a total of 20 that fall among these classifications. Our tip is that your should group entries that fall in the same group together, instead of having an award, followed by a volunteering activity, followed by an extracurricular and then back to an award. Our suggested order ist(1) Awards & Honors (2) Educational Preparation Programs (e.g., Upward Bound, AVID, Minds Matter, etc.) (3) Extracurricular Activities (4) Other Coursework (5) Community Service (6) Work Experience. 

Take Advantage of the Character Count—And Bring Back Common App Additional Information

Next on our UC application tips, is more activities section guidance! Aside from a total of 20 awards and activities, the UC application system in general allows you more space than the Common App. For example, you’ll have 250 characters to explain the qualifications for an award, and 350 characters to describe what you did to achieve it. You’ll also have 350 characters to describe your role in your extracurriculars. One way to fill out the space is to avoid using acronyms for club names. Spell them out and include your level of involvement. Also spell out abbreviations, if possible, in the activity descriptions.

You should also include activities that are not school-related but hold significance, if relevant (e.g., caring for siblings, elder-care, commitment to big projects like independent research). If you included a writing/research portfolio, website, or any multimedia project in the additional information of your Common Application, find ways to integrate them in to this part of the UC application. Note that it is not essential that you fill the character-count of the activity descriptions (unlike the Common Application). Even so, be sure to include important details that describe your role, responsibilities, and accomplishments. Don't focus on the activity itself.

Use the UCs to Check off Targets and Safeties

The University of California schools offer a range of colleges that have varied acceptance rates. When you make your college list, it’s always important to make sure it is balanced. Alongside reach (top-tier, highly ranked, highly selective schools), you also require targets and safeties. Target schools are those that meet your numbers—this list of schools is entirely subjective, depending on your GPA and SAT score. Target schools don’t guarantee admission either, as a lot of factors are considered beyond your grades. Choosing target and safety schools should be a well-thought-out process—you cannot take them for granted. A safety school, also called a “likely” school, is one where you feel pretty confident that you will be admitted. In other words, the odds are in your favor. Typically, safety schools are ones in which your academic credentials are above the average range for admitted first-year students. Safety schools have higher and thus more attainable acceptance rates than reach or target schools.

To figure out which of the UCs will be targets and safeties for you, you need to match your GPA with the median GPA at those schools. For example, if you have a 4.0, a school like UC Riverside might be a safety for you, considering it has an acceptance rate of 65.8% and an average GPA of 3.83. However, an important note in our UC application tips is that even if a school is a target/safety, you should be excited about it. UC Riverside has a fantastic creative writing program—and any writer would be lucky to nurture their skills in this environment. So, alongside making sure, your list is balanced, you should ensure that your list only includes colleges that you’d be excited to attend.

Avoid Certain Personal Insight Questions

For the UC essays, or Personal Insight Questions, you have to choose four out of eight prompts. You have to make your choice very carefully as the goal of your application is to make sure you stand out—in a good way. Certain pitfalls and choices might end up against your favor and you could stand out in the wrong way. Often, we encourage our students to avoid the following prompts (with reason) unless their circumstances are actually serious in comparison. 

Prompt 4: Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.

If you don’t have many academic opportunities on your high school transcript, here is your chance to show how you’ve pushed yourself in light of your limiting curriculum. Maybe you took online classes or did outside research. Anything where you went beyond regular curriculum to find ways to expand your knowledge on a topic of interest counts for this prompt among the UC personal insight questions. 

If your school presented you with ample academic opportunities, you can tackle the other half of the question. Show how your intellectual curiosity has driven you to do more than just your assigned schoolwork. Remember that you have another question for intellectual curiosity, so it may be best to use this really to talk about educational barriers you’ve faced. Have you taken courses at a community college? Have you taken all the AP/IB/honors classes available at your school? Have you done a summer academic program? The UC schools want to see that you have challenged yourself academically and have an innate desire to expand yourself intellectually. 

Prompt 5: Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?

This is an adversity question, so again, be careful here. Before you choose this topic, it is important to think about how your situation compares to your peers. Although everyone has challenges of their own, writing about not getting an allowance will not be seen as a “real” challenge to an admissions office. Other students in your applicant pool will have experienced homelessness, life-threatening illnesses, and abuse. No matter what, watch yourself so that you do not sound privileged. If your adversity isn’t significant, I’d stay away from this question. The UC personal insight questions specifically ask for your “most significant challenge”—a temporary soccer injury doesn’t really apply here. Make sure your challenge would objectively be considered significant.

If you do choose this topic, now is the time to show the admissions office how you have persevered. Focus your writing on personal growth and how the experience changed you as a person. The question asks you to address what you’ve done to improve your situation, and also has an academic component. Consider your challenge in the context of your academic experience to fully answer this personal insight question. Was your schoolwork significantly affected due to the circumstance? Did you come back from an academic downfall? Has your situation inspired your choice of major or career goal? Remember that this is for your college application—your essay should focus on you, as opposed to generally narrating a story about the situation itself.

Double Check Your Major Selection

Our final entry among UC application tips: to choose your major wisely. You must select a major for each of the schools on your list and the major you choose may be different throughout your UC applications, depending on what is available at each campus. Remember that every college has different majors and your profile might be suited to different specifications at the various campuses depending on your interests and profiles. For example, you might select Environmental Science and Policy as your major at UC Irvine but if your interest within ES is specifically climate, UC Berkeley has a more specialized Climate Science program that would be your choice in the latter campus.

No matter what excites you, there is a place in one of the University of California schools for you. They can seem overwhelming when you look at them at a glance, but once you delve into the specialties and pick a couple that appeal to you, with the right numbers and quality of personal insight you can put yourself ahead of the game. Use our UC application tips to navigate any last minute changes and you’ll be at a good place. Best of luck!

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