Five tips for UC (University of California) applicants

Today, we begin our "30 Colleges, 30 Guides to Getting In" series where we'll share Collegewise tips for admission to over 30 colleges.  We're starting with the flagship university system of the state where we were founded, California.  So here are five tips for applicants to the UC schools (University of California). 

1. Show academic initiative.

Curious learners who pursue educational opportunities are appealing to (and ultimately do very well on) UC campuses.  The history buff who takes a Civil War history class over the summer has academic initiative.  The future scientist who does independent physics research with a teacher, the flutist who takes extra music classes outside of school, or the budding journalist who enrolls in a summer school journalism program at a local university—they’re demonstrating just how motivated they are to learn more about subjects that fascinate them.  So think about times where you've sought out opportunities to learn more, and make sure you mention them somewhere in the application. 

2. Never believe people who tell you that the UCs don’t read the application essays. 
The UCs not only read the essays, but they also do so with great care and attention.  So treat your UC essays accordingly.  Set aside enough time to demonstrate your best writing.  Make sure you’re proud of what you submit.  And never recycle an essay from another application.  That’s a quick way to show UCs (or any school, frankly), that you’re just not that interested in attending.   

3. When writing your UC essays, make sure to address every component of the prompt. 

Take this UC essay prompt, for example: 

“Tell us about a personal quality, talent, accomplishment, contribution or experience that is important to you. What about this quality or accomplishment makes you proud and how does it relate to the person you are?”

A lot of students respond to this question by describing their most impressive accomplishment.  That might be a valid answer, but it doesn’t address the entire prompt.  If you read the prompt carefully, it’s actually asking you three different questions.  Successful applicants will discuss all three—the activity, why it made them proud, and how it relates to the person they are. 

4. Share legitimate hardship, but don’t create it.
Buying into a misguided notion that hardship equals some sort of admissions advantage, many students manufacture hardship when applying to the UCs, taking a circumstance that might not have been so challenging, but presenting it as if it were.  This is always a mistake.  If you’ve experienced a hardship or other life challenge that has impacted your education, the UCs want to know about it and they’ll consider your application in light of your circumstances.  But if you’re manufacturing hardship, the UCs will know it (not unlike a mother who has a sixth sense about when her kid is lying to her).  It’s not worth the risk.  Share another part of your life that will likely be much more interesting and effective.   

5. Apply broadly. 

Too many students believe that only the most famous (and competitive) UC schools offer a great education.  That’s just not true.  The UC system is one of the finest university systems in the world.  It’s OK to want to go to one of the most competitive UCs, but don’t forget that there are no weak choices in the UC system.  Don’t limit your applications to only the most competitive UCs.  Applying broadly means that, at the very least, you’ll have a greater chance of gaining access to the system.

Note:  Before you follow our tips, we recommend you read our "How to" guide here: Download HowToUse30Guides

And if you have other questions about essays, applications, interviews or financial aid, visit our online store.  We’ve got books, videos and downloadable guides to help you.  Or you could speak with one of our online college counselors.