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Image from Pexels

This year, in an unprecedented move, the University of California application opened on August 1st, two months earlier than usual, to give students more time to work on their application without feeling rushed and pressured. By this logic, all of you, as responsible and diligent readers of The Prospect, should be done and ready to hit the submit button come November 1st.

Hahaha, no. I’m just kidding. Around this time last year, I was probably in the same shoes as many of you, having barely filled out my application. But that’s okay! TP is here, and we have got you covered with a step-by-step guide to filling out the UC application.

With November 30 right around the corner, it’s time to buckle down (literally, because this is a long guide), chuck procrastination out the window and conquer that application, so you can get it in during the Nov. 1 to Nov. 30 submission window.

0. Create an account. 

Step zero. I had to do it. Although it seems obvious, you can’t apply without creating an account at the UC application website. This is just basic information about yourself, with the hardest thing probably being trying to come up with a password that fulfills all the different requirements.

1. Start Your Application. 

You’re in! …to the application website that is. Actual decisions won’t be coming around until March, with a few exceptions (we’ll go over that later). The first thing you do is check which application term you’re applying for. There’s only one option, so that should be pretty self-explanatory. Then, indicate what level you’re applying as. This guide will go over the application assuming that you’re applying to be a freshman in the fall (sorry, transfer students!).

There’s more basic information required (your address, phone number, etc.), and then there are questions about your California residency. If you’re a California resident, make sure you fill this out very carefully. It determines whether or not you’re charged in-state or out-of-state tuition, and you probably don’t want to tell your parents that you goofed this up.

Finally, fill out your citizenship and social security number (if applicable), and you’re ready to move on to stage two.

2. Campuses and Majors.

This stage is pretty self-explanatory as well. You’ll be able to choose which of the nine  UC schools you would like to apply to. That’s the greatest thing about the UC application. You can apply to nine schools using only one application. However, before you go crazy and check all the boxes, keep in mind that it is $70 for each campus that you send your application to. If you qualify for an application fee waiver (more on that later), it only covers four schools. If you choose to apply to over four, you’ll be paying $70 for each additional school.

The following few pages will have a list of majors for each school that you’re applying to. Based on your current interests, choose the ones that appeal to you the most. If you really have no idea, feel free to scour through TP’s amazing compilation of articles on majors. Keep in mind that many college students change their majors up to three times before they graduate, and what you choose by no means locks you into a specific major or career path.

This part is pretty straightforward, unless you’re applying to the University of California, San Diego. UCSD is trickier, since they’re split into six smaller colleges where you live and get to know the people in your “home” community. Check out the links that they provide, and see which ones would fit you best and rank them accordingly. Be aware that each college within UCSD has different general education requirements.

3. Scholarships.

Scholarships, free money, yay! In this section, check as many (up to 16) boxes that apply to you as you can. Although I am personally unaware of receiving any scholarship opportunities from this when I applied last year, maybe it’ll work for you! After all, what do you have to lose? Fun side-note: I ended up competing with my friends to see who could check off the most boxes.

4. About You.

Well, finally. You’re the one who’s applying to college, so it figures that they would put in a section to find out more about you. It’s kind of strange that they wait so long, since you are the star of this show.

The first page is mostly common sense. Fill out the information that they ask for. The only thing of interest is the option to apply for the Educational Opportunity Program. Their description of EOP on the sidebar is rather sparse, so check out this link for more information. Keep in mind that this program is only open to California residents and American Indians from any state.

The next page requires you to fill out information about your parents, which is self-explanatory as well. The following page asks for more information about your family and your family’s income. The income question is important, because the application fee waiver does not require a separate application; rather, you qualify only if your income is below a certain level for your household size. Note about family size: siblings should not be included if they live on their own, and do not receive substantial financial support from your parents.

Once you finish this, you’re halfway done with the UC app!

5. Academic History. 

For this section, begin by filling out classes you took in 7th and 8th grade. I’m not really sure why this is important or even here, but nonetheless, you still have to fill it out.

The way the following section is filled out will vary based on whether or not you are a California resident. Before you begin, make sure you have a transcript on hand, and do not make any mistakes.

For California residents, find your school in the drop-down menu and proceed. The UC system has compiled a list of all the courses at California high schools, so all you need to do is check off the courses you took and the grades you received for each year. They make it so easy for you, so be happy about that! For out-of-state applicants, you’ll need to find your high school or manually input it. As for your courses, you’ll have to type everything out as well. Make sure your transcript is readily available, so you can type out the official names of all the courses you took. A frustrating note for out-of-state applicants: school-designated honors courses are not weighted in the UC GPA; only AP and IB courses are weighted.

A helpful thing to note is the sidebar, which has more answers to a bunch of crazy scenarios than an applicant could ever need.

Finally, fill out any college courses that you have taken on the next page. Before you finish this section, keep in mind that if there are any extenuating circumstances about your academics that are not reflected in your grades, let the admissions office know in the “Additional Comments” box. Pro-tip: if there are circumstances that were out of your control that prevented you from taking a more rigorous course or if a tragic and traumatic event occurred that affected your academic performance or anything along those lines, feel free to include it. Do not use this to make excuses and whine if you have poor grades, and you’re the one to blame for that. If you have no comments, feel free to leave it blank. When it says “optional,” it’s not the “optional, but not really optional” kind of optional. It’s actually optional.

6. Activities and Awards.

This section is split into six subsections, and it’s often hard to distinguish the differences between some of the subsections. Since you can only input five things for each section, make sure you choose the ones that you think are most important!

Coursework Other Than A-G

List any courses that you have taken in high school that you haven’t received academic credit for. Examples include weekend Chinese school, an immersion program, ROP courses, or music lessons.

Educational Preparation Program

This section helps to highlight your academic curiosity. If you’ve done research in the past, participated in a foreign exchange or attended a summer academic program at a university, those would be the types of things that go in this section.

Volunteer and Community Service

If you’ve helped volunteer or done community service, feel free to include it in this section!

Work Experience

This is pretty obvious. If you’ve worked (read: if you were paid), include it here! Don’t worry if you don’t have any work experience. It doesn’t put you at any disadvantage. I didn’t have any work experience, and that didn’t affect my UC admissions decisions.

Awards and Honors

In addition to your activities, if you’ve ever received any awards from competitions (think Academic Decathlon, sports, etc.) or honors such as being on your school’s honor roll, those would go here. Also, if you’ve received any scholarships (think Questbridge, National Merit, etc.), those can go here, too.

Extracurricular Activities

This section includes clubs, sports, drama, leadership, newspaper, etc. Basically anything you did outside of your high school classes can go here, so go crazy!

I had a huge debate with my friends about the Extracurricular Activities and Community Service section when we were applying. The UC app doesn’t do a good job of distinguishing between the two, so it can get pretty confusing. Some people choose to list the same things twice. However, if you have more than five activities, utilizing both sections is a good way to showcase what you were involved in. After all, listing the same thing twice doesn’t really benefit you in the process. I personally listed any community service-based extracurriculars under Community Service and other activities under Extracurricular Activities.

7. Test Scores.

Ah, test scores, everyone’s favorite part of the college admissions process. This section is relatively straightforward. Fill in the scores you’ve received or when you plan on taking any tests. The application makes it pretty clear that you need to send your official scores, so make sure you do that. Note: it says to record your highest overall score, so make sure you don’t superscore any of your scores.

8. Personal Statement.

We’re finally in the home stretch. It’s funny how they put it at the very end. Just when you think you’re about to done, bam! Two essays to write.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the UC essays, the prompts (which never change) are listed on the pages, and you have 1,000 words for both essays. The power to decide how many words you want to allot for each essay is entirely up to you, although the application suggests at least 250 for an essay.

Make sure your essays show the reader who you are. If you’re writing about an event, don’t just write about an event. Talk about how it impacted you. If possible, provide tangible results. For example, if you volunteered at a children’s hospital and it really impacted you to create a club on campus that promoted awareness of children’s diseases, it would be really cool to talk about the volunteering but focusing more on the club than the one act of volunteering. Ultimately, what you choose to write is up to you. Again, TP has a treasure trove of information on essays.

Once you finish your two personal statements, you have one last opportunity to tell the admissions office any additional comments you have. Again, it is optional. I personally would not recommend writing a third essay and throwing it in there, since two essays is already a lot to read.

YOU’RE DONE! Once the application window opens (as a reminder, it’s Nov. 1 to Nov. 30), try submit it in advance of the deadline as much as you can. I’ve heard horror stories where people are terrorized by the spinning pinwheel of death and miss the application deadline. The UC system will not be lenient. They give you an entire month to submit it, and it’s your responsibility to be on-time. After all, the UC system received almost 150,000 total freshman applications last year. They’re not really in a dire need for more applicants.

Now What?

Now that you’ve submitted your application, you can relax…unless you’re applying to private schools. That’s a whole other monster to tackle, but luckily The Prospect has Hermione Granger to take you through that process.

But in all honesty, enjoy your senior year. Don’t worry about decisions. They’ll come when they come. Just because you know when the decision will be coming doesn’t change your decision. If you’re dying to know however, all decisions will be released by the end of March, with UCLA and UC Berkeley typically releasing their decisions last. However, some UC schools send out early acceptances to students who received scholarships or are in their honors program, so you never really know. Just don’t worry about it. Whatever happens happens!

If you have any lingering questions about the UC application or what happens after you submit it, feel free to tweet them to the author @benjamindin.

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the author

Benjamin Din is a student at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, where he is studying journalism and the mathematical methods in the social sciences (what does that even mean?). When he's not writing for The Prospect, he can be found on Twitter as he tries to build his social media presence. For more information, check out his website.

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