Guide To College Applications, Part II: Applying to UC Schools

Without the proper guidance, college applications can be a crazy and confusing process. That’s why high school senior George Chen decided to share his dos and don’ts of applying to schools for APA students looking for a little help. Check back to see the later installments of this ongoing series, the 8Asians Guide to College Applications.

By George

In my first post, I discussed the importance of researching potential colleges. I would like to now address the applications themselves and more specifically, for the University of California schools.

A giant chunk of each college app is just writing down all the extracurricular activities that you’ve done, awards that you have received, grades, and other small details that you can fill in in a heartbeat.

For juniors, start by digging up anything that you may consider as evidence of your activities. Sophomores and freshmen, be a pack rat and keep your stuff. It really helps if you have bins and cabinets. Also, keeping a journal of your everyday events (or at least the very important ones) really helps to keep things organized. It will also serve another purpose, which I will explain later. With that: juice out everything. Put every tiny little thing that you know of into those apps, like if you know how to cook rice, or you can brew tea, or you know how to pick out fish bones using chopsticks.

Ignore those examples; I just wrote them so you can get a better idea of what I’m talking about (though it was really done to confuse you).

Let’s start talking about the actual applications that you can do. There are some schools that have their own, individual applications (USC) that you have to find on their site. It really is straightforward from there. Head to their undergraduate admissions page, and click on “apply now” but do be wary of their deadlines, which I will discuss in another post.

The UC system has one application for all their campuses. You fill out one application and then choose to send it to different schools in the UC system. If you manage to become an ELC (top 4% of your class), you can get guaranteed admission to some of the lower schools (which still happen to be very competitive), so if you’re really lazy and don’t care, you can just submit a blank app and get in but I don’t think your parents would let you do that. Mine didn’t. You can find the UC application here and though they don’t open up applications until late summer/early fall, this means you can still work on their essay prompts:

  1. Describe the world you come from — for example, your family, community or school — and tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations.
  2. 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?

You also have a 1000 word limit collectively for both prompts, meaning you can write 500 in one and 500 in another. Some recommend writing 600 in one and 400 in another, so you have at least one essay that shines instead of two that dimly glow, but really, just write in a way that expresses YOU, because that’s all that the admissions officers care about. Personally, my essays were 501 words in one, 423 in the other, and I managed to be accepted into Berkeley.

The second prompt is simple to understand, but the first one can really confuse individuals. I, for one, was and so I will explain what it means.

IT MEANS WRITE ABOUT WHO YOU ARE, basically. But you have to narrow it down, because your complete life can’t be explained in only 500 words (hopefully). I’ve also talked to some UC admissions officers about what it means; they, too, don’t even have a direct answer. What that meant to me was that they aren’t looking for a golden essay. and that there isn’t any ONE topic that they’ll go crazy for. This means you should please, PLEASE make your essay your own.

I initially narrowed mine down to my cultural roots, so I wrote about a trip to China and my mother. But then I realized that it wasn’t me, and more importantly, a million other Asians at my school did the same. Don’t do that. I see a giant problem when it comes down to writing about how your Asian parents really wanted you to go to a good college, so they punished you when you got that A- on your transcript. It doesn’t express who you are, and the focus becomes more on your parents. When I had the chance to tour Stanford, the admission counselor said pretty much the same thing,(of course, with the Asian-parent-punishment not included). Trust me, the college admissions officers want to accept you, not your parents.

I then rewrote the prompt to this: What is it that you want to do with your life, and what have you done to prove that you want to do that? This lead me to write about how I was involved in my school’s engineering team and Science Olympiad and how they affected me as an individual to want to explore the world by designing and applying my knowledge. Please note that I wrote “me” and “my” in the previous sentence; it wasn’t about my parents.

If you don’t have an interest right now, it’s A-Okay. For juniors, you still have the summer. For everyone else, you still have the rest of your high school career to find out. Honestly, my personal interest didn’t show up until after my last summer in high school. You just need to spend time and think about which of the extracurricular activities that you did really interested you (or anything on that matter) and build off there.

Next week, I’ll cover the process of applying to private colleges.

George Major Chen is a future Los Altos High School graduate who will be majoring in Biomedical Engineering at Johns Hopkins University in the class of 2015.

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