By Alma Renteria | Originally Published by La Comadre

The week leading to November 30th tends to carry a whole different meaning for anyone working with high school seniors as it means the deadline to apply for UCs and CSUs is approaching. While this can be a nerve-wrecking time for students, it is important for those of us not applying and simply serving as advisors and supporters, to be knowledgeable about some tips that can help students with their applications before they officially click submit. Here are some tips on how you can best support your Senior by simply asking all the right questions:

  • How many campuses did you apply for? One of the biggest mistakes some students make is applying to only a few campuses because of myths around selectivity. While there are some CSUs that are impacted and therefore have a more selective process for admission, and there are UCs that have one too many applications for a limited number of spots, it is important for students to apply to a diverse pool of schools. It is recommended that students apply to at least four UCs and four CSUs. For students who qualify for fee waivers, this is a must as the waivers pay for exactly that many applications for each of the university systems (UC & CSU). For those who have to pay out of pocket, please ensure that they at minimum apply to two UCs and two CSUs. Make sure they have at least one safety school on their list. They NEED options.
  • What major did you select? Sometimes students have a clear idea of their interests so hopefully they selected a major that aligns with their interests. If not, selecting “Undeclared” is ok. However, the major selection is often one of the biggest challenges for students as they hear about impacted majors and are often discouraged to apply. Don’t let them be their own enemy. Instead, ask them about their major and ask follow-up questions about any possible alternate majors that may be less selective or impacted. This means they are giving themselves other opportunities to be admitted without having to give up on their first choice. All UC campuses allow you to choose an alternate major except Berkeley. Some CSUs have the majority of their majors impacted (which means the school has to be even more selective) while others have only a few. Here is a resource you can share with your senior when considering majors and alternate major selection.
  • What kind of programs and classes are offered at your high school and did you mention everything you are involved in? It is important for students to understand that they will be measured against their peers. If someone from their high school took four AP classes and your student took none, it will be important for him/her to ensure that he/she highlights other activities and programs that he/she was involved in throughout the applications. Rather than focusing on everything that they feel they haven’t done in comparison to other applicants, encourage students to focus on themselves and their experiences.
  • Did someone already proofread your application? Many students take time to polish their essays but rush the short descriptions of awards and extracurriculars without realizing that this section is as important as every other component in their application. Think of the application as a test. Each part is worth a certain amount of points. This means that even if the short responses are 50% of the points, if they did not make time to elaborate on all the other parts of their application, they just missed out on the other 50% of the points.  If they have not had someone look over their application then please do so. When looking through their extracurriculars and awards parts, remind them that they have far less impact when they use acronyms and do not describe the context of awards. Ask them: How competitive was it? How many students were competing? Was it national, state or local competition? These are all questions that their descriptions should address.
  • Can I read your personal insight questions? While the CSU application does not require short responses, the UC application now consists of personal insight questions. These personal insight questions replaced the two old “personal statement prompts” and now offer students the opportunity to select four prompts, from a list of eight prompts, to respond to. These questions are shorter in length and are meant to provide an insider scope of the students’ interests, accomplishments, etc. Read them and offer them advice. It is important that students are sincere; while there is a thin line between simply bragging and confidently sharing their accomplishments, it is important that they give themselves the credit they deserve for all that they’ve done. Without somebody else’s perspective or advice, sometimes students end up writing about other people rather than focusing on themselves. Don’t be afraid to ask them to rewrite their responses. This is their opportunity to really share who they are. If you want more insight into the prompts, here is a great resource.
  • Did you check all your personal information? I know this sounds so obvious but I have had one too many students come back asking me to help them because they clicked submit and never checked that they spelled their name or email incorrectly. These simple mistakes really do jeopardize their acceptances as the admissions committees struggles with aligning test scores with the right application if names and IDs do not match. So please, ensure that they pay attention to the details. They really do matter.

I am a firm believer that the college application process should be a family affair. I know it can sometimes feel like we are not equipped with the necessary background knowledge to provide the best support or advice but with these simple questions, you are already helping more than you think. Encourage your seniors to seek support at school as well. We are all in this together so if you have any other questions or would like to ask any follow up questions, feel free to also contact us. Our email is lacomadreed@gmail.com, we will be answering questions all the way through November 30th so don’t hesitate to ask!