At Alliant, we believe that education is the great equalizer, but for many of California’s graduating high school classes, their chance at the education they want—at the California university they want—is becoming harder and harder to attain. Since this years’ outgoing Seniors entered high school, five campuses in the UC system alone—Berkeley, Irvine, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Santa Barbara—have seen their application numbers fly past 100,000 each, and that number is still going up. And, just for some added difficulty, more than three-quarters of these applicants, accepted or not, come from California herself, signaling the end of the days in which a good, in-state school could be a safety for this current crop of high-schoolers.As illustrated in the article from Inside Higher Ed titled Wait-Listed, Rejected and Frustrated in California, the path to state-school acceptance is tougher than ever. Overall, the number of applications to the University of California rose 5.7 percent from 2016 to 2017, and that rate is expected to get even higher in the coming years—for example, UC Riverside saw a 12.2 percent increase in applications, 9.7 percent at UC San Diego, and 8.6 percent at UC Davis. This isn’t limited to the UC System, however, as CSU schools, such as Cal Poly San Luis Obispo received 65,000 applications in 2017, a jump of over 13 percent. These numbers beg the question: How do you stand out to an admissions counselor in California's competitive higher education landscape?
This explosion of competition, from California and elsewhere, has left California students to face a unique and difficult environment among college applicants and has put more weight than ever on the answer to the question: What sets me apart from everybody else?
Here’s the answer: You.
You set yourself apart from everybody else. It is the specifics of you and your life that are going to get the attention of admissions officers with thousands of students with great grades and SAT and ACT scores to sift through. The good news is, there are a lot of ways to highlight your individuality and stand out to college admissions counselors, such as:
Your Personal Essay
The personal essay might feel like just another standard part of the standard application, but it really is your one great chance to make yourself shine in the eyes of the people that are going to read it. Use this space to showcase who you are in a way that goes beyond your likes and dislikes, to tell a story about how your life relates to what you want to study, or even just to explain what education means to you, and why. This is your best chance for colleges to meet the person they’re going to accept, and not just see you as a bunch of numbers and test scores that they might pass on.
The good news is, this never changes. Colleges love to see new students that spent their high school years engaged and active with their school community and their community at large. If you do Model UN, tell them about it. If you do volunteer work in your hometown or abroad, tell them about it. If you’ve tutored kids on the weekends or after school, tell them about it. If you’re the captain of an intramural basketball team, tell them about it. Colleges look for well-rounded applicants, and this is your way of showing them that this is what you are.
Letters of Recommendation
Have a favorite teacher? Ask them to write you a letter. Maybe a coach instead? They’ll work too. Letters of recommendation are a chance for respected members of your community to say nice things about you, and since respected members of the university community are going to be the people looking at your application, a vote of confidence from a peer will go a long way. Choose someone that you respect and like, odds are it’ll go both ways and get you the glowing letter that you’re looking for.
At Alliant, we believe that everyone should have access to an education at their top choice school, but many people can’t afford to travel to visit those schools. So, while we won’t hold it against you if you don’t pay us a visit in person before applying—if you are applying to a school in the UC or CSU systems, perhaps a visit or another form of “demonstrated interest” can give you the upper hand over someone that didn’t take a campus tour.
Knowing the Faculty
This can be especially helpful in specialized programs but isn’t a bad idea in general. Getting to know the faculty teaching in the programs you wish to attend, and understanding their research, will show that you have a genuine interest in attending that specific school to study with and learn from those specific teachers. This information can be worked into your personal essay, if applicable, or into your interview, if you have one. Schools like to see students that want to attend their school and not just any school offering the program you are applying to.
Janet Napolitano, President of the UC System, has made promises that they will be better equipped to handle the huge number of students applying to and attending their schools in the future, but—after the UC Irvine fiasco in 2017, and with UC Davis expected to also reach 100,000 applicants in 2018—it’s hard to see how that promise can be readily fulfilled, especially in the stark contrast to the mere 40,000 applications Harvard saw last year.
With all of this in mind, it has become more important than ever to work hard at setting yourself apart in the application process, especially since California expects more applications than ever this year, and even more the next.
So, if you’re going to make a Californian university your top choice—or even one of your safety's—it’s best to be proactive and give these admissions teams what they really want: someone unique, someone like you.
To learn more about Alliant and our admissions process or, better yet, get your admissions questions answered, contact an Alliant admissions counselor today.