How to Apply to the University of California (UC)

  • Alma_Matters
  • 28 Oct, 2022

How to Apply to the University of California (UC)

By Alma_Matters

September 29, 2022


In this article, we present 10 Steps to Apply to the University of California (UC).

It is based on the 3-Segment Podcast Series on “Applying to University of California” with Shveta Bagade, College Counselor based in the San Francisco Bay Area.  

Before we get to the 10-Steps, you have some Prep Work to do.


Prep Work

Before starting to fill out the UC Application, here are a few preliminary items to work on (outlined in Segment #2 of the Podcast Series), to make the process of actually filling out the Application smooth. 

  1. What you need before Creating an Online Application Account. Here’s the checklist.
  2. Make a List of all your Activities & Awards. Create a Comprehensive Reference List.
  3. Personal Insight Questions (PIQs). How to create PIQ Drafts and get it Reviewed.
  4. Researching UC Campuses and Majors. Here’s how.

The 10-Steps are:

  1. Create an Online UC Application Account.
  2. Information About You.
  3. Choosing Campuses and Major
  4. Your Academic History
  5. Test Scores
  6. Activities & Awards 
  7. Scholarships and Programs
  8. Personal Interview Questions (PIQs) 
  9. Additional Comments
  10. Review Entire Application


Step 1. Create an Online UC Application Account.

First of all, go to the University of California Admissions site to create your account.

  • Once done, Please save the password. Remember to write it down. 
  • Use your own personal email address to open the account.


Step 2. Information About You.

And once you open the account, there's a section that says About You. So fill out that information the best you can, you may need your parents or guardian to help fill out a few of the questions. 


Step 3. Choosing Campuses and Major

One of the things you have to remember is, all the campuses have their own rules about Majors and selecting an alternate major. The one outlier in this situation is the San Diego campus with their own separate colleges, differing emphasis on Majors and their own graduation requirements. Refer to the discussion in Segment #1 on Choosing the UCs to apply to.


Step 4. Your Academic History

This is really important. Keep the High School Transcript with you.

  • Start with Academic history for seventh and eighth grade. If you've taken courses that are considered high school courses, even though you didn't take them in high school, they're considered high school courses. So give yourself that credit. 
  • The more Math you have, the better it is for you. If you don't, that's okay. You just answer “No” to the question. 

Continue on to your actual High School, Academic History, so be sure to fill that out correctly. 

  • Have your transcripts ready so that you can fill in your courses accurately. 
  • If the Transcript uses an abbreviation for a Course, put it in that way, so it matches exactly what's on your transcript. So that's why it's important to have that transcript handy. 
  • Make sure the distribution of your A through G requirements are all done correctly. Make sure all meet their minimum requirements and all your courses that qualify for those sections are being represented.


Step 5. Test Scores

This section is for the APs and for IB exams and any International exams that you've taken if you happen to go to an international school. So be sure to include those O Levels, GCE A levels, things like that. 

  • If you've taken the exams, put the test dates in the Application. 
  • If you plan to take them later, put those test dates in as well.

And if you haven’t been in the US for three years or are not a native English speaker, you'll need TOEFL or the IELTS exam, so be sure to enter those as well.


Step 6. Activities & Awards 

This is a tedious section to fill out. You have up to 20 slots, but they don't give a lot of characters in the slots. Keep the Reference List discussed in Segment #2 handy.

So students get creative on abbreviations. 

  • For example, don't write, “I participated in the drama club”, just say, “member of club”, because the name of the club is in the title. 
  • If you had a leadership position, you can say “was treasurer” and maybe put in parentheses, the grade you were in that year.

It's easy to input all the Activities in first, and then you can rearrange the order in priority.

  • Put in the activities in order of how valuable it is to you and how long you've been doing it. 

Remember, the Application Readers are reading hundreds of these. So they're not looking for a lot of detail. They're just looking for a good overview of your participation in activities in school and outside of school.


Step 7.  Scholarships and Programs

Click on all the ones that apply to you. 

  • There are special programs for students who are maybe not necessarily the strongest students or need a little extra support. 
  • Additionally, scholarships around academic majors or interests outside of school. If you belong to a Buddhist community, and there may be a scholarship program for that. And the schools that have those scholarships are most likely to reach out to you. 

Go to the websites and double check. They will tell you how to apply to those through a separate application.


Step 8. Personal Interview Questions (PIQs) 

You are required to respond to 4 prompts. This is the last thing students can control. Hopefully, you worked on the PIQs in Segment #2. Make sure you have worked at it.

  • Shveta tells her students to read the PIQ out loud. It may sound hokey, but it's a great way to catch grammatical errors, spelling errors. 
  • You also hear the flow of what you've written. And you're not stumbling over any words or sentences or things that sound a little weird. You're like, “Oh, that's not what I was trying to say at all.”  

So your opportunity to catch those little things before you submit.


Step 9. Additional Comments

In this section you have another opportunity to give the Reader context. 

So for instance, you know, anything unusual that happened to you personally that not the everyday student is going through.

  • An extreme example is maybe you had a parent passing away, while you're a sophomore in high school,
  • You were sick with some kind of virus or something that kept you out of school, and doing the school, you know, from your home,
  • We've all gone through COVID, so if your school went online, or any other impact that COVID had.

Talk about the impact any of these unusual events or circumstances had on you. Maybe low grades, lack of extracurricular activities, remote education etc.


Step 10. Review Entire Application

Once you have completed the application, review the entire application. 

  • Triple check everything, make sure everything looks good, the way you want it to. 
  • Make sure you have the right responses under each of the PIQs. Horror stories abound where students write the PIQs on a separate document and then paste it in the wrong place. 
  • Just be extra careful.


If you are satisfied with the Application, you are ready to Submit!


Good Luck.

For more details, check out the Podcast Series on “Applying to University of California” with Shveta Bagade, where we discussed the UC Application in 3 Segments: 

If you are applying to the UCs, this Podcast Series is a must listen.

Subscribe or Follow our podcast College Matters. Alma Matters at any of these locations: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, RadioPublic, Breaker, Anchor.

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