When Karen and I attended the UC conference at the beginning of September, we attended an application case study session. Admissions representatives from several of the campuses highlighted some “best of” practices and common missteps when filling out the UC application. Below are some of the big takeaways:
1) Give Context to Your Activities—When you list your activities on the UC application, you are required to fill out a box to describe or elaborate on each one. It may seem like common sense that these boxes are not there to give dictionary definitions of commonly understood activities. In other words, under tennis you shouldn’t write, “a sport played with a ball and two racquets.” Instead, use the boxes to give greater insight into your commitment and skill level. Have you been playing for eight years (not just four)? Have you been playing at a varsity level? Have you gone to post-season? Do you attend summer camps to supplement your school-year practices? This information will give readers a better sense of how tennis has been an active part of your life.
2) Assume Readers Don’t Know What Activities Are Offered – On the other hand, if there’s an activity that might not be perfectly understood by its name, make sure you clearly explain it. DO NOT assume that a reader knows your school or community’s activity offerings. Admissions readers will not know that at your high school the “Tyler Murphy Club” is a cancer awareness club and that last year you raised $10,000 for St. Jude’s unless you expressly tell them. And don’t assume if they don’t know what an activity is, they will Google it. When admissions readers are responsible for dozens of files a day, there is no time to do additional research.
3) Assume Readers Don’t Know What Special Academic Programs Are Offered – Likewise, if you are in a special magnet program or selective pullout program –maybe your school offers a humanities magnet or a biotechnology academy program –do not assume that admissions readers understand the program, the selectivity, the time commitment or the work requirements. It is your job to explain this to them on the applications. There are a couple of places on the application to give additional information. One of these text boxes is part of the academics section of the application and it is there so that you can explain special academic programs.
4) That Said, Don’t Fill In the Additional Information Box Just Because- You don’t need to fill up the additional information sections simply because they are there. This isn’t a case of, if I don’t write anything they will think I’m not interested in the schools. Use them if you have something to explain, but don’t use this space to paste another essay or plea to UCSB to accept you. Only use it if there is something contextual which would be useful for the readers to understand.
5) UC Personal Statements are Not Essays-A misconception about the UC personal statements are that they are exactly the same in style as an essay you might write for the common application. In fact, while there are similarities – both are used to learn more about you and both should be well-written – the UC personal statements are more about providing information that will give greater context to your application than about demonstrating your chops with creative narrative. The UC representative summed it up by saying that you should use the personal statements to “tell, not show.” So, leave the story intro on the cutting room floor. Don’t use the space to take me to the middle of a play in the big game. Instead, use the space to tell the readers something more about who you are and what you do.
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