7 UC Application Tips from a UC Former Admissions Officer

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7 UC Application Tips from a UC Former Admissions Officer

The University of California application system is a great way to apply to multiple campuses without having to write supplemental essays for each school. It’s a single application for the whole system, which then is submitted from a central data source to separate campuses. If you’re sold on going to school in California, then the UC application is a great choice for you!

The schools included on the application are: UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC San Diego, UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara, UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz, UC Riverside, and UC Merced. Five of these schools rank in the top 50 in the United States, and UC Berkeley has been consistently ranked as the number one public university in the United States. So, applying to the UC system is well worth the work!

As you think about submitting your applications, here are a few UC application tips directly from our UC Former Admissions Officers:

#1 Start working on your application early.

The UC application is live from November 1st to November 30th, but this does not mean that you should only give yourself a month to finish the application! You should always start working on your application beforehand in order to put the best product forward. We do not start evaluating applications until after the deadline on November 30th, so if you do start late, give yourself the whole month to perfect your application.

#2 Applications are read in a holistic sense. Take advantage of that!

Scores and GPA are important, and the UC schools take the ACT with writing or SAT with the essay. They do not superscore, but will evaluate every test score you send in to the schools. As for the SAT II, it is not typically required unless you’re applying to a specific program such as engineering or nursing.

The most important one of the UC application tips I can stress, though, is that we do a holistic review.

This means that we review the whole student—we do not have score or GPA cutoffs, and we consider all applicants within the context of their schools and environments. There is no automatic rejection pile based on GPA and test scores. At UCLA, every application is reviewed by at least 2 application readers from start to finish. In some cases, the application will be reviewed a 3rd time. This is the case across the board at UC schools.

We are reading thousands of applications each cycle. And, yes, your application will be read start to finish. A lot of people ask: did you really read every single essay? Yes, each and every word!

One of the biggest UC application tips, is to use the application to explain things like a drop in grades. Let’s say you’re maybe a little weak or borderline in your academics; you can balance this out with great leadership in your extracurricular activities. Highlight those points!

#3 We look for passion in the essays.

Thus, personal statements are very important in determining applicant fit and potential to contribute to the student body. Essays help us put a student's academic performance in context to their opportunities, showing whether they took advantage of their opportunities available. Essays show an applicant's passion for learning, and what talents and skills they will bring to the university.

Give a context for your achievements, and show that you’re passionate about learning and connecting knowledge. The more individualized and unique your passions, the more you’ll stand out!

#4 Use the statements to build off of your activities—not to repeat them.

Use these statements to further explain or give missing details about any of your activities, passions, etc. that are not already fully described elsewhere in activities, GPA, classes, and SAT/ACT scores. Don't simply repeat information shared elsewhere (what we called “missed opportunities” internally). Restating your activities list is a sign of laziness, and it does not add substance to your application.

Great statements show passion for specific learning or causes, an academic spark, and also provide a context for the applicant's academic achievement to date. I remember reading several for Berkeley that made me want to meet the applicant, question whether the applicant has time to sleep, or cry because the applicant had struggled so much simply to achieve what he or she had. Having this sort of lasting impact on your reader is a great thing to strive for!

#5 Avoid these common mistakes.

Another issue we came across was when applicants chose to discuss something they were passionate about (playing music, sports) but didn’t give the reader specific or detailed information. Many times they came across as only hobbies or past-times, but not integral to academic achievement or what they want to study in college. If they are indeed integral pieces of your future goals, you need to explicitly address that on your application to avoid this.

Also, try to avoid writing about cliched topics in your personal statement. The injured athlete, inspirational grandparent, or middle school stories are typically good topics to avoid.

#6: Use the "Additional Comments" section (when applicable).

The application allows for additional comments to ensure no potentially strong student is denied based on not having opportunities that other students may have had in the high school process—which would have helped them boost their academic performance or activities.

For example, a student with a 3.5 GPA and only 2 AP or advanced level courses may be amazing if the applicant reviewers realize he/she is a first-generation, English language learner at a low-performing high school who works 30 hours a week. There’s probably a backstory of hard work and perseverance there, but this needs to be written about.

Applicants may also want to use additional comments to discuss what they learned from a low grade, or explain a dip in grades one semester, particularly if this involves an illness or family struggle. Context of achievement is very important in the review process for the UC system.

#7 Take advantage of the UC application system.

Finally, applying to multiple campuses doesn't hurt your chances at the two most competitive ones (Berkeley and UCLA). So it is much better to use these UC application tips, and apply to several campuses to increase your chances of admission at one or more of these campuses.

The only reason to only apply to one school is if you would not consider attending any other UC school besides that specific campus. But even then, interests change between November and April. Better to be safe than sorry, especially after you have put in the application work!


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