Each year it becomes increasingly disheartening for California high school seniors and their families as the UCs and Cal States become more and more selective. But this year was particularly frustrating. Students with nearly perfect SAT/ACT scores and GPAs well over 4.0 with many AP classes found themselves waitlisted and/or rejected at UCs and Cal States that in years past would have been safety or target schools.
Inside Higher Ed Magazine’s recent article “Wait-Listed, Rejected and Frustrated in California” articulates the predicament counselors find themselves in as they guide CA students.
I have been telling my students that UCLA, Berkeley, UC San Diego, and UC Irvine are selective, meaning that no matter how strong the students' profile is, I can’t predict their chances. This is a sentiment I imagine most counselors share with their clients. Now I must add UC Davis and UC Santa Barbara to the list, and I can only imagine that UC Santa Cruz and UC Riverside are not far behind. San Diego State, Long Beach State, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and Cal State Fullerton top the list of selective Cal State Universities, and if this trend continues, I expect to add more Cal States to that list in coming years.
NPR recently produced a podcast titled Thousands of College Hopefuls Could Leave California, and Never Come Back, which looks at the reason for this increased selectivity and the impact it will likely have on CA’s economy. Clearly this problem will only get worse unless CA builds more colleges to sustain its growing population--something I don't see happening anytime soon.
As an Independent Educational Consultant, my focus is to help students apply to colleges that best fit their personality, career goals, and financial resources. Many CA students I work with want to stay in their home state, and a challenge I often face is getting those students to recognize the uphill battle they may face in getting into their CA schools of choice. I work to convince them to consider schools outside the state, especially in places like the Midwest, South, and Rocky Mountains that often court strong CA students by offering them substantial merit money that can make the cost of attendance close to or even less than attending a UC.
Fortunately, my seniors this year applied to a balanced list of schools meaning they all had at least some safeties and targets on their list. Many applied to schools all across the US, and almost all were accepted into at least one of their top choices. While some of my students received acceptances from selective UCs, Cal States, and CA private schools, several were waitlisted and denied from these same schools. BUT IMPORTANT TO NOTE IS THAT ALL HAD OPTIONS BECAUSE THEY APPLIED STRATEGICALLY.
It's crucial to be pragmatic in this unpredictable college landscape. There is no single school that will determine a student's success. I always recommend my seniors and their families read NY Times columnist Frank Bruni's book during this process, a book whose title sums up this sentiment perfectly: Where You Go is Not Who You’ll Be.
Students should only include selective schools on their apply list if they accept that these schools are reaches. In today's college landscape they cannot limit their choices to just UCs and Cal States. And perhaps most important is that they heed Bruni's words and believe it's not how they got there but where they end up that matters. This mindset will go a long way in determining their ultimate success.
Note: Click on the links above in BLUE to access Inside Higher Ed's Article, NPR's Podcast, and Frank Bruni's book.
(Everything in quotation marks is taken directly from the UC Counselor’s Bulletin)
Students can submit their application anytime from November 1 through November 30: “There is no benefit or disadvantage to students who choose to submit their applications earlier or later in the month. Once the application is submitted, however, only limited edits can be made.”
"Additional Comments" Sections:
“The two additional comments boxes in the application are optional and should not be used as a continuation of a student’s personal insight question responses. Instead, students should use this section to explain anything that may be unclear in other parts of the application.
The first additional comments box follows the “Academic History” section and should be used to explain course taking or grade patterns, a circumstance that prevented the student from taking more rigorous courses, or a prolonged illness that affect their grades.
The second comment area immediately follows the “personal insight questions” section. Applicants may use this area to explain a learning or physical difference, or other issues related to their academic ability.”
Tips: Personal Insight Questions
Click here for the UC’s official Personal Insight page, which includes a short video, as well as many other helpful resources.
Question of the Month:
“Can other UC campuses see which campuses a student applied to?
As the UC admission application system is a UC-wide tool, campuses do have access to see all the campuses to which a student applied. However, this is irrelevant in the campus review and selection process. All campuses review and make decisions on applicants independently. This is true regardless of other campuses or different majors a student selected. All admission decisions are based on each campus' faculty policies for admission selection.”
Students should apply broadly to give themselves the best chance of being accepted to a UC campus.
For years private colleges have been offering discounted tuition to attract top students, and US News reports in this recent article, click here, that those colleges are now increasing the amount of merit or institutional aid they award. Important for students and parents to realize is that these private colleges can often be just as affordable and sometimes even more affordable than in-state public universities. This is especially crucial for CA students to consider given the selectivity of the University of California schools.
Dropping admissions rates, large percentages of out-of-state/international students paying out of state tuition, and impacted programs have made admission to the UCs and many Cal State campuses challenging for in-state residents, including top-notch students. College counselors all over the state tell stories of students with GPAs over 4.0 and strong ACT or SAT scores getting rejected or waitlisted not just at the predictable UCLA or Cal, but at schools like UC Irvine, UC San Diego, and UC Davis. UC Irvine received nearly 98,000 applications for fall 2016 admission, and I personally heard of a student last year who was accepted at Stanford but waitlisted at UC Irvine!
At the UC Counselors Conference last fall, admissions reps from all nine campuses emphasized the importance of encouraging our students to apply broadly. I couldn’t agree more, but I also emphasize to my competitive prospective UC students that they take it one step further by applying broadly outside of the UC system. I encourage them to apply to private universities in which they are a catch, meaning their GPA and test scores are well above the school’s average fifty percent range. No matter how strong their stats are, I emphasize they will never be a catch for the Ivies and most other selective private universities. Those schools are a reach for any student and typically do not offer any merit aid. I want them to target the smaller or less selective colleges that admit more than fifty percent of students. Those are the ones more apt to offer generous merit or institutional awards to their strongest applicants, meaning they often heavily discount that sticker price. These are great schools! They just may not be located near metropolitan cities or in areas with the most desirable weather. College is a time for students to explore something new, live outside their comfort zone, and develop grit. Attending college in an unfamiliar environment is an optimal way to achieve these goals.
Creating a balanced apply list must be a crucial step for any student applying to college, and the list should be balanced twofold: both in admissions chances and financially. With the unpredictability of college admissions, students must be cognizant of these types of strategies to give themselves the best chance not only of being admitted to college but also of being able to afford it.
The University of California just announced dramatic changes to the essay prompts for students applying for fall of 2017. Instead of two personal statements totaling no more than 1,000 words, students will now be required to answer four of eight shorter “personal insight” essay questions that are limited to a maximum of 350 words. Below is the official announcement that was published in the UC's Counselors and Advisors Bulletin:
“After almost 10 years, UC is changing the personal statement section of its undergraduate admissions application, replacing the current two personal statement prompts with short-answer questions that students can choose from. The new questions, now called personal insight questions, aim to give applicants a greater say in the kind of information they share with the University. Students can express who they are and what matters to them not only in how they respond to the questions, but also through the questions they choose to answer.
The new questions also provide students with better direction and focus on topics that are important to campuses. Each new question aligns to one or more of the14 comprehensive review criteria (nine criteria for transfer students) that campuses consider in their admissions decisions. “We hope this new format will not only provide us with additional insight into applicants, but also allow students to better choose the questions that speak to them most directly,” stated a UC admissions director.
Here are some important points about the personal insight questions:
The UCs appear to be following suit with many of the Common App colleges that require additional shorter supplemental essays. In the past, students applying to the UCs could often recycle some, if not all, of one of their UC prompts for their 650-word limit Common App essay. Starting next year, this most likely will no longer be possible with these shorter questions. Also, because of the brevity involved with the 350-word limit, students will need to be meticulous about word choice to truly convey who they are.
Have a Child in Middle or High School and a Trip Planned this Spring Break or Summer?
4 Reasons You Should Work in College Visits on those Trips:
1. Your child will see a greater variety of universities by getting an early start!
Ideally, students should not apply to a college they have not visited. Visiting colleges takes time especially when students are open to applying to colleges across the country. If students wait until their junior year, they will most likely be applying to colleges based on what they think a college is like rather than basing that impression on firsthand experience. Starting as early as middle school, I recommend working in college visits while on vacation. It’s an affordable, organic way to get a jumpstart on what can be a time-consuming process. Try to schedule a school tour and admissions session if possible, and ignore the naysayers who question why such a young student is visiting. Many of the current seniors I am working with wish they delved into this process earlier. None of them were able to visit all the schools they applied to and now are scrambling to see the campuses they’ve been accepted to before the May 1 deadline.
2. Visiting an assortment of schools can help your child determine the size/type of college that best suits him or her.
There are so many factors that go into choosing a college such as size (large, medium, small) or type (research or liberal arts). When working colleges into an existing trip, try to pick a range of sizes from a large research college to a smaller liberal arts college and everything in between. Exposure to different size campuses will help your child determine what best suits him or her.
3. Seeing colleges in different locales will help your child know where he or she would feel comfortable living.
While some students go away to college and the transition is seamless, for many, attending college away from home can be a huge adjustment. Students may be living in an unfamiliar location far from a city and with a dramatic change in weather. Ideally, you should try to work in colleges that cover a variety of locales and conditions, and starting this process early can help you cover more territory so your child can get a feel for areas of the country he or she likes or doesn’t like.
4. Just stepping foot on college campuses can motivate younger students!
Many college campuses have that WOW factor, and experiencing being on one can make your child even more determined to do well in school. Also, hearing the admissions requirements and how selective some colleges are can be an additional motivating factor.
Visiting is crucial because chemistry is hard to predict. It’s similar to a blind date; someone thinks you are going to love it, but you won’t know until you see it for yourself.