Applying to College? Here Are Some Tips!
So you want to go to college. No fear - I did, too. And, miraculously, I got in! But as a first-generation student, like many of UCI’s student population, I didn’t have the most guidance. Here are my top tips for applying to college/UCI that I did or wish I had known:
Explore and reflect on what you might want to do in the future.
Think you might be a doctor? Volunteer for your local hospital! I did, and while rewarding, it affirmed my belief that I did not want to be a doctor, which was actually really helpful in finding what I actually liked and was good at. Try to volunteer, work, and shadow as much as you can in different professions during high school.
Hone in on your wants and needs before choosing the universities you apply to.
College applications aren’t cheap, so narrowing down your options rather than throwing all your cards on the table is a more economical and smarter way to do applications. Consider the following: Do you want a small or big university? Private or public? In-state or out-of-state? Are sports important to you? Is research important to you?
If you can, take campus tours from sophomore to senior year.
You never really know where you’ll fit in until you go.
Talk to your school counselor and teachers early.
Chances are, they know about all the great scholarship opportunities out there, and are willing to help you work on and revise your application essays. I didn’t know about any scholarships until I actually applied myself by dragging myself to the school’s resource center and asking, and I didn’t know how helpful English teachers could be when applying for college.
Take AP and honors classes.
If you’re worried about paying for college, taking AP classes in high school will help with that. If you pass the AP tests, you often will get course credit in your institution, if not fulfill a whole requirement. Those who took AP Calculus in high school don’t regret it at UCI - Math 2A and 2B, which is correlated with the AP Calculus AB and BC curriculum, are some of the most historically difficult classes at UCI - and you have to do these courses in 10 weeks, not a whole school year. Take care of yourselves, but also make sure to look ahead at the benefits.
Keep track of deadlines.
If you are applying to different universities in different systems, there are bound to be different deadlines. Keep a spreadsheet to keep track of this - you’ll thank yourself for it!
You could be highest academically achieving student in the world, but if you have no life, volunteering, sports, or club experiences, you might want to try new things to make yourself a well-rounded candidate. Also, do something new to challenge yourself and live your life - you might discover a new talent that might give you an edge.
Focus on your personal statements/essays.
Again, you could be the best student in the world in numbers, but we want to know who you really are, and what has shaped you into being you. Don’t bank on your grades or SAT scores to get you through.
Don’t feel like you have to know what to do with your life yet. Really.
As first-generation students, a lot of us are under the pressure and impression that college is the ultimate destination to fulfill ourselves and our families, so we make decisions based on this pressure rather than focusing on ourselves. High school is stressful enough. When applying for majors, or departments, or schools, make sure you think about your life in the long run - you could be good at engineering or science, but that does not mean you could be happy applying an engineering or science degree in your life-long career. Sometimes, applying as undecided is more beneficial, because you can have a chance to explore classes you would never be exposed to otherwise, and have whole counselors and resources dedicated to guiding you. Accept that changes happen in life and in yourself, and embrace it.
When I was applying to universities, I was not in the best mental state, and I definitely did not know what I was going to do (which gave me major anxiety!). It kept me up at night. Finally, I decided to throw my cards on the table and apply to each university I knew I wanted to go to with a different major and hope for the best. I wouldn’t suggest this method to everyone, but it got me where I needed to be. And because UCI does not admit by major, I had as much of a fighting chance as anyone. I applied to STEM fields in every university except for UCI, and although I was accepted to most of the universities I applied to, I was lucky enough to come in to UCI as the major I applied for (Political Science) and stick with it. I then added my Education major after joining an organization to teach high school students, and realized how much I loved teaching.