Friday, June 5, 2009


After asking my classmates what they would suggest to college applicants from their own experiences, these same suggestions came up over and over:
  • Start early!
  • Read books! This means outside of school too. It may not sound directly relevant to applications, but the more you read: the better your vocabulary, the more you learn about writing and writing styles, and the more knowledge you will have to draw from for your own writing. Additionally, many Colleges and scholarship committees may ask you directly about books you've recently read.
  • Don't wait until your Senior year to take all of the tests you'll need (i.e. SAT/SAT IIs/ACT). It'll only add to your stress and you won't get an opportunity to retake the tests.
  • Keep track of ALL the activities you participate in (from freshman year on!) as you will want to list them on all of your applications. Write them down as you do them! Keep all of the certificates, etc. that you have received for these things.
  • If possible, it's good to immerse yourself in one or two volunteer/extracurricular activities over a significant period of time rather than participating in many one-day activities- quality over quantity. Colleges like to see your passion and commitment, and if you're stuck for an essay topic these experiences can be great material to work with.
  • Don't put off your applications thinking you'll do them over winter or thanksgiving break, get started whenever you find time.
  • You won't be able to finish them all in one sitting, so take a little time each day to do one or two things.
  • Write drafts of your essays early so that you have time to get them reviewed by other people, and so that you yourself can review them with fresh eyes.
  • When you think you've finished the application, look it over carefully from start to finish and make sure you are presenting yourself the way you want to. Have another person double-check it for you as well, it's very helpful. If you don't know who you can ask to read it, ask one of your teachers- any one of them would be happy to help you.
  • One senior says "Trust the system." In other words, this whole process repeats itself year after year; admissions offices know what they need. If you are really unsure about anything, talk to a teacher or counselor about it.
  • Take deadlines seriously.

Sunday, May 31, 2009


Many of the colleges you apply to will require that you submit scores from either the SAT I (Scholastic Aptitude Test) or the ACT (American College Testing Program). CSUs and Community Colleges do not require you to take these tests. Some may also ask for SAT II (Scholastic Achievement Test) subject tests (UCs require at least two). There is large number of subjects available such as World History, Literature, Spanish, German, Math, Physics, etc. These are usually optional, but can sometimes take the place of college placement tests further down the line.

The SAT is a roughly 3 hour and 40 minute test with three sections: writing, critical reading, and math. There is a short essay and several series of multiple choice questions. Each section is scored on a scale from 200-800, so that the highest possible overall score would be 2400. I recommend taking the test early on so that you may retake it if you’re not satisfied with your score. However, most people advise against taking the test more than 2 or 3 times as your score likely will not improve past that point. There are piles of preparatory books and online resources available. Even if you don’t plan to study for the test it is extremely helpful to familiarize yourself with the test format and some test-taking strategies. I recommend borrowing an SAT book from the library or Tom Pepper’s office to look over a practice test or two. The College Board website is also a good resource for SAT information.

Your other option is to take the ACT. The ACT is four-part multiple choice test, comprised of English, Math, Reading, and Science sections. There is also an optional writing section that most colleges prefer or require. The ACT scores each section from 1 (lowest) to 36 (highest) and your overall score is the average of these four (or five with writing) scores. There are also plenty of test-prep books available for the ACT, as well as online resources. Here is the ACT website with more information.

Many people take both the SAT and ACT and see which one they score better on. It varies from person to person which is 'easier.'

Click here for a schedule of ACT test dates.

Click here for a schedule of SAT test dates.

Also: If English is your second language, you may take the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language). For information about this try:

Friday, May 29, 2009

Community College

Community Colleges are a great way to start your higher education at a lower cost. They do not require intensive applications, and you can easily transfer from a Community College to a University at any time. They are also a great option if you do not plan on attending school as a full-time student.

Here is a list with contact information of all of California's Community Colleges.

Here are some tips from Mendocino College's website for students attending Community Colleges.

Here is a great article entitled: Six Benefits of Community Colleges: It Might Be the Right Path For You

Applying to the University of California

If you are planning on applying to one or more UCs, you will need to fill out their special application. You only need to fill out and submit one application, no matter how many UCs you are applying to, but you will need to pay a separate application fee for each school you check off.
The UC application filing period is November 1st through 30th. It's easy to procrastinate, but you will do yourself (and the admissions officers) a favor by submitting your application early.
UCs do not ask for letters of recommendation.
SATs: Unlike many colleges, UCs require 2 SAT II subject tests in addition to the SAT I or ACT. You must take these tests no later than December of the year you apply.

Check out their How to Apply page for a detailed checklist.

The UC application asks for 2 essays, together totaling 1,000 words or less. Here are the prompts:
  • Respond to both prompts, using a maximum of 1,000 words total.
  • You may allocate the word count as you wish. If you choose to respond to one prompt at greater length, we suggest your shorter answer be no less than 250 words.
  • Stay within the word limit as closely as you can. A little over — 1,012 words, for example — is fine.
Prompt #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.

Prompt #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?

Click here for the University of California homepage.


Here are some helpful websites:

Here is CSUmentor, a very useful website for those interested in the California State University system:
Here is the CSU homepage.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Supplementary Materials

If you strongly feel that you have additional talents to share with admissions officers, you have the option of submitting supplementary materials along with your application. All colleges stress however, that whatever you submit must be minimal, to the point, and show a significant amount of talent or skill. If not, your submission could actually work against you (or so they say). The point being: do not send a drawing of your favorite anime character, or a video of the entire school play you were in three years ago, etc.
You can send an art portfolio (slides or digital images), a music recording, a performing arts sample (often a youtube video will suffice), or an extraordinary piece of creative writing or advanced scientific research. Additional school essays are not encouraged.

If you choose to submit something, be sure to go to each college's website to find out exactly what they will accept, and how they will accept it. It can vary hugely from school to school so be sure to follow directions closely. Some schools even have an early deadline for supplementary materials so find out about their requirements early on.

I personally have no experience with the music, performing arts, or writing samples, but as I plan to major in fine arts I submitted my art portfolio to all of the schools I applied to. Here is a summary of what I did:
-I checked every college's supplementary materials page so I knew what was expected first. I decided to submit my portfolio in CD format rather than slides (most accept both, and for those who did not explicitly say I called their admissions office to ask).
-I used my digital camera to photograph my best and most recent (the past year and a half) pieces of art under even lighting, and edited the images on the computer for color correction and cropping. Colleges generally expect 12-20 pieces in your portfolio, so I selected the best 20 pieces. As I have worked with variety of media I chose pieces that showed the breadth of my skills.
-I named the image files as numbers and copied them onto a blank CD. I printed a contact sheet of the images, and an inventory sheet with the images' numbers, titles, dates, media, and sizes. I labeled them all with my name and address (some also required my birth date) and mailed the CD, description sheet, and contact sheet to the admissions office at each school. Some schools only allowed 10 pieces, and others had specific formatting requirements.

If you submit supplementary materials to a school using the Common Application, you will need to fill out a short supplement on the website which includes an artist's statement and an additional letter of recommendation.

The Common Application

Once you've decided which colleges you will apply to, it's time to start filling out their applications. Most schools now prefer that you use the Common Application online, which is a general application that you will fill out and send to all of your schools. In this application you will enter your personal and family information, your test scores, your activities, letters of recommendation, and your academic information. You will also need to submit a personal statement of at least 250 words. Here are the Common Application's requirements for the essay:

Please write an essay (250 words minimum) on a topic of your choice or on one of the options listed below. This personal essay helps us to become acquainted with you as a person and student, apart form courses, grades, test
scores, and other objective data. It will also demonstrate your ability to organize your thoughts and express yourself.

Please indicate your topic by checking the appropriate button below.

-Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.

-Discuss some issue of personal
, local, national, or international concern and its importance to you.

-Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.

-Describe a character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative work (as in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an influence on you, and explain that influence.

-A range of academic interests, personal perspectives, and life experiences adds much to the educational mix. Given your personal background, describe an experience that illustrates what you would bring to the diversity in a college community, or an encounter that demonstrated the importance of diversity to you.

-Topic of your choice.

It is best to start thinking about your essay early so that you can write several drafts and receive feedback from your family or teachers.

Along with the general application, each school requires you to fill out their 'supplement' which is also included on the Common Application. The supplement is an extension of your application with questions designed specifically for each individual school. You will have direct access to each school's specific requirements, as when you create an account with the Common Application you will need to 'Add Colleges' to your list.
Supplements usually contain additional questions relating to your interests (i.e. your preferred majors, your hobbies), and most all ask for an additional essay on a specific theme. Many also contain a series of short answer questions.

There is a lot to fill out, so give yourself plenty of time to complete each application fully.

You will need to submit two letters of recommendation from teachers, and one counselor report. You should ask these people for recommendations early on and check in often so that they have plenty of time to complete their letters. Through the Common Application you will 'request' them electronically by entering their email addresses. Be sure you ask them before you do this. The same goes for the school counselor; they will be sending in your grade reports. You may not view the letters they have submitted through the Common Application.

As mentioned earlier, each college requires an application fee be submitted, which you can do through the Common Application with a credit or debit card. The fee is non-refundable regardless of whether or not you are accepted. There are also fee waivers available for those who qualify.

Remember also that not all colleges use the Common Application. It is important that you go to each school's website to find out exactly what is required to apply. While most colleges prefer that you apply online, most will allow you to send paper copies if you wish, and some schools still prefer paper copies. Make sure you are clear about what you'll need to submit for each school.

When you completely finish the Common Application, the supplements, and the payments, you may click 'submit.' After this point you may no longer edit anything within your application, but you can still view it at any time. It is a good idea to print a hard copy for your records.