UC Application Guide


The University of California system recently redesigned its application and released a new guide, which explains what the updates are. This guide is a helpful resource for understanding the granular details of the application.

The purpose of this guide is to provide you with tips and guidance for approaching the Apply California application. We seek to explain the strategy and thought-process behind the application process, illuminating what the university wants to see for each question. This guide is a useful look into the kinds of applications the California University system hopes to receive.

About You

This section is similar to the Common App but has an added question, which asks you if you would like to apply to the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP). The EOP is a program meant to help students who are first-generation college students, or from low-income or otherwise disadvantaged backgrounds. The EOP provides mentorship, counseling, and various other support services on campus.

It is recommended that students apply for EOP if they are first-generation college students, or if they face financial hardships. There is some additional, mostly demographic, information required: whether your parents went to college, and what their financial situation is like. A brief response is also required which asks why you are applying (applying for this assistance will not bias the school against your admission).

School Choice

This phase of the application neatly parallels the Common App. One thing to look out for is that the majority of schools in the UC system, except for Berkeley and Merced, are on the quarter system and not the semester system. This is something to keep in mind while deciding which schools to apply to. The implications of the quarter system are: 

  • A delayed start and end to each school year, with classes starting in September and ending in June. This can interfere with many summer programs offered by schools that are not on the quarter system. If your family has summer plans aligning with an August-May calendar instead, consider omitting quarter system schools like UCLA and UCSD from your college list. 
  • 10-week terms instead of 15 weeks, with fewer classes at a time. This means the material is learned at a faster pace. In the quarter system, students who prefer to focus on a few topics in depth thrive, while the semester system is better suited for students who want to explore topics more broadly at a slower pace.
  • The quarter system has three sets of midterms and finals each year, but fewer tests at any one time. Students who prefer to study for fewer tests at one time would do better here, though the number of tests overall is similar between systems. 
  • In effect, deadlines are tighter in the quarter system, and there is a faster pace overall, though there are fewer courses to focus on at one time.


The main difference in this phase is the campuses, colleges, and majors section, where you select which UC schools you wish to apply to, which college within that school contains the type of majors you want, and which two majors you want to pursue. The majors selection allows you to select both a major and an alternate, so, if you are undecided in your choice of major, this is a built-in opportunity to express that. Not every school in the UC system considers second majors. The ones that do are: Santa Barbara, San Diego, Davis, Irvine, Riverside, and Merced. UCLA and UC Berkeley do not. 

From the UC Berkeley Counselor Conference 2009For applicants to majors in the colleges of Letters and Sciences, Natural Resources, Chemistry and Environmental Design, major is not considered and students are not disadvantaged by applying Undeclared. For applicants to Engineering, major choice is considered in selection; Engineering Undeclared is highly selective. In other words, don’t apply Engineering Undeclared!

From the UCLA Counselor Conference 2009Applying Undeclared has no bearing on admission decisions in the College of Letters and Science. The schools of the Arts and Architecture; Engineering and Applied Science; Nursing; and Theater, Film, and Television admit applicants by specific major only.


Applying in the UC system allows you to apply for a range of scholarships, most of which are need-based rather than merit-based. Many of the scholarships are also only for in-state students, so read carefully when applying. The complete list of these scholarships may be found at the following pages for Berkeley and UCLA.

There are some restricted scholarships, which only go to students with certain characteristics, such as residency, desired major, parent’s financial situation, or place of origin. There is a form to select these, and a student is allowed to select up to 16. When making your selections, rare characteristics are more valuable than common, so keep that in mind if more than 16 of the characteristics apply to you.

Academic History

This is similar again to the Common App, and you should take care to ensure that your grades are reported accurately, as signs of falsehood can cause an application to be discarded out of hand. It is best to enter grades based off of a physical copy of your transcript.

The UC system also has unique course designations, which might be unfamiliar to students outside of California. These are the A-G requirements. These requirements must be filled to gain admittance into the UC schools. They are: 

  • A- History: at least 2 years of history, at least 1 of world or European, and 1 of American. 
  • B- English: 4 years of college preparatory English. 
  • C- Mathematics: 3 years (4 recommended) of college preparatory mathematics, including elementary and advanced algebra and geometry. 
  • D- Science: 2 years of college preparatory science, covering 2 of the following 3 topics: physics, biology, chemistry. Computer science, engineering, and applied science can count as D for 3rd year and beyond. 
  • E- Language other than English: 2 years (3 recommended) of the same language other than English. 
  • F- Visual and Performing Arts: 1 year of visual or performing arts from among the following list: dance, drama/theater, music, or visual arts. 
  • G- College Prep Electives: 1 year of courses in subjects A-F in addition to those listed above. 

Eleven of these courses must be completed before senior year. While naming the courses with letters may be unfamiliar to most students, once that is clarified the process of describing the courses you have taken should be quite easy.

These courses are also the minimum requirement; students applying to more selective programs are expected to go above and beyond the bare minimum required of them. Thus, a student who has only done the minimum in each category, and filled all remaining time with study periods will be less competitive than a student who took upper level courses in math, science, or languages.


Due to a current injunction, the entire UC system has gone test-blind for the current year, and is moving to be test-blind entirely by 2025. While this had been planned already, the court case has sped up the timetable. The schools will be entirely test blind or test optional for the foreseeable future.

Activities & Awards

In contrast to the Common Application, the Apply California application allows for 20 activities and awards combined, in the following categories: Awards, Educational Preparation, Extracurricular, Volunteering, and Work.

  • Awards and Honors provides 250 characters to describe the criteria for winning the award, and 350 characters to describe how you won the award.
  • Educational Preparation and Extracurriculars both provide 60 characters for a title, and 350 for a description.
  • Volunteering and Work give 60 characters for the name of the organization, 250 to describe the organization itself, and 350 to describe your contribution.

However, just because you have additional space doesn’t mean you have to fill the entire description. At the same time, though, you should avoid simply copying directly from the Common App without adding any further detail and information. Merely copying and pasting descriptions from one form to the other will stand out to schools, and make them think you didn’t put as much effort into applying as you could have. 

This is especially true when given space to explain things which would not fit on the Common App, such as details of an organization.

Here is a sample Common App entry, and an expansion into an Apply California entry. 

Common App entry: 

President, Applied Chemistry Society, ‘18-19

Set an agenda, raised funds, directed experiments, and coordinated with school and safety officials. Demonstrated before entire Junior-Senior classes.

Apply California entry: 

President, Applied Chemistry Society, ‘18-19

Set meeting agendas, planned the year’s activities, directed experiments researching the applications of chemistry, and raised $5,000 through community sponsorship. Coordinated with school leaders and the fire department for safety during experiment demonstrations held before 1,000 students in the Junior and Senior classes. 

As you can see, the overall activity description isn’t much longer than the Common App, but nevertheless contains information that provides context for what the student has accomplished. 

Ways to expand this section include the following: 

  • If an activity is extensive enough to go into the additional information section on the Common App, this can all be added back into the description for Apply California. 
  • More detail should be provided for each activity, and further examples are given. Still, avoid repeating yourself, but go into more depth. In the above example, the author adds how much money was raised during fundraising efforts, giving concrete evidence of their accomplishments. 
  • Each activity should be expanded, giving additional examples of your involvement. In the example above, active verbs were included, and more concrete details about the activity provided.

Description of Categories

Award or Honor: This category is a direct parallel to the Honors section in the Common App, and the honors you list there can be brought over, with the same expansions which are applied to other activities.


State Champion, Spelling Bee, 2019

Winner out of 350 highschool students from around the state, spelled the word correctly for 14 single-fault elimination rounds.

Practiced every night for three weeks, reviewed vocab, worked on stage fright, awarded the $200 first-place prize.

Educational preparation programs: This category describes programs you participated in that were educational, but which occurred outside of a school environment.


Coding Camp, Summer 2018

Attended an eight week course, learning the basics of programming, and introductory python, C, and C++. Wrote the code for an app as a final project. Learned to apply nested loops, search and sort algorithms, and binary searches.

Extracurricular activity: These are the activities you’ve participated in outside the classroom that don’t fit better in one of the other categories. They include hobbies, sports, clubs, and all else you participated in outside the classroom. 


Captain, Varsity Swim Team, 2018-19

Helped lead practices, encourage teammates, ran practices outside those scheduled for additional conditioning. Helped ensure team health and morale stayed high throughout the season. Tracked attendance and results for the entire varsity team.

Volunteering / Community service: These are activities you’ve participated in to help your community, regardless of financial compensation. 


Volunteer, Senator Smith’s Re-election Campaign

Senator Smith is an Independant in the 23rd District in Texas, and sought volunteers to help organize and run his campaign for re-election.

Coordinated outreach, managed a team of three other volunteers, performed voter outreach, distributed information to interested voters, and worked to inform the community to increase political participation. Acquired 500 signatures for a registration form.

Work experience: This area is for activities in employment or internships, either paid or unpaid. Jobs you have had, or internships you’ve participated in, go here. 


Assistant Manager, Subway 2018-19

Subway is a restaurant that sells sandwiches.

Helped schedule employees, ran shifts, supervised up to four other workers, handled customer interactions, balanced the register at the end of shifts. Trusted to close and lock the restaurant for the night.

Personal Insight Questions

The UC application does not ask for letters of recommendation, or for personal statements. In their place, there are the personal insight questions, which you must answer 4 of. These are short responses, limited to 350 words, are similar in format to the supplemental essays requested by other schools.

These questions are designed to help the schools get to know you better, in place of a personal statement, recommendation letters, and various supplemental essays. Due to their short length, these essays need to be more succinct and economical. Getting to the point quickly is key.

All of the same tips and techniques which apply to writing for the personal statement and supplemental essays on the Common App still apply here. Indeed, it is possible for supplemental essays you have already written for other schools to be adapted to suit the UC Personal Insight Questions. Because the four questions you answer are selected by you from a list of eight provided, you should choose the questions you are best able to answer. That does not mean each essay should be on the same topic; instead, each response should delve into a different aspect of your personality to show the readers the breadth and depth of your character. 

UC Berkeley will on occasion ask students for letters of recommendation, but these are only required if the school reaches out specifically, and won’t be accepted otherwise. UCLA never requests letters of recommendation.

Additional Comments

This section acts similarly to the additional information section in the Common App, and should be used in the same way. Things to include here are:

  • Extenuating health circumstances which impacted your time in high school.
  • Additional test scores or activities you weren’t able to fit in the application (although this is less likely to happen than on the Common App).
  • If you went to a non-traditional high school, that should be described here.
  • Any activities or achievements which you could not properly explain in the space provided may be expounded upon here, although this is less likely to be the case than on the Common App.As with the Common App, only include information here that is relevant which you were unable to fit in elsewhere in the application. Admissions officers have significant reading to do already, and repeating the same information does nothing to help them or you.

Finally, see the FAQ if you have more questions that aren’t answered here.

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